By Brenda Robinson
President Barack Obama, as with all U.S. Presidents, has had his share of critics. Some of the criticism was legitimate, some just politically necessary, and some just because he is black. Yet, of all the the things he did wrong, he certainly got some right. His position on the continent of Africa was not only right, but also necessary and a legacy message to African Americans—that message being, African Americans must acknowledge and be proud of their African heritage. Any less sentiments mean we will remain in mental slavery mode and never reach our fullest potential.
President Obama spoke earlier this month at a U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C. This was the first such gathering. Obama boldly made two commitments: The United States can play a major role in empowering Africa; the United States will always have a strong and reliable partner in Africa. The president boldly stated he disagreed with African countries’ discriminatory laws on lesbians and gays, corruption and human rights. He said, “We can be effective in criticizing Africa (and other countries) for human rights and other categories, while working with them in others.” He was referring to economics, improving businesses, building homes, and installing utilities and plumbing.
The question becomes, since the president has set an example for connectiveness with Africa, why can’t we do the same? Back in the day, during the Black Power Movement, natural hair afros and dashikis were common place. This hairstyle and apparel was an indication, though simplistic, an attempt to show an allegiance to our native land. Unfortunately, the movement was short lived and never developed into real relationships with Africa. Significant social, economic, and business interest were never developed. Kinships, as shown with other countries (i.e. Jews to Israel and Hispanics to Mexico) never occurred.
Comparatively, African Americans make efforts to disconnect with Africa. We commonly hear blacks in this country make statements regarding African people which have no validity. For examples, “Africans think they are better than us, they don’t want to be bothered with us,” “I’m not an African, but rather an American,” and the most troubling, “I don’t deal with Africans.”
Reportedly, the great majority of African Americans descend from slaves brought directly from Africa and the Caribbean. The continent of Africa is home to most of us. Africans were being sold by African slave traders, prior to the arrival of Europeans. However, the trade was expanded by Europeans as they sought low-cost labor for plantation development. The slave trade was comprised of various tribes with different cultures, customs, language, and religions. Yet, what they had in common overrode the differences. They were all slaves and their lifestyles, which included captivity, were unlike the Europeans. They formed a bond which was necessary for their freedom.
Most Americans are aware of the economic, employment, and educational disparities between blacks and whites. Other problems exist among blacks: mistrust, black on black violence, and minimal support of black entrepreneurship. There are reasons for the “state of black Americans,” and we must add to those reasons our refusal to connect to our native land.
President Obama has set the tone. Politically he can now establish goals that may have risked his election and re-election. A bond with Africa is one of those goals and we would be well served to follow his lead. Let’s discontinue denying our heritage. We must befriend native Africans and learn about our native land. Those who travel abroad, make Africa a part of your travel plans. Entrepreneurs would do well to invest in Africa. Some of our charitable dollars should be earmarked for the continent.
The Staple Singers express it best:
Can’t you feel it in your bones? Oh, a change is coming on. From every walk of ife, people are seeing the light. Hey what about you my friend? Any time you come on in. “Live the united way, why don’t you join us today? Reach out touch a hand, make an [African] friend, if you can.”
Now that we know better, let’s do better.