While preparing a barbecue in the crowded picnic area of İzmir’s Eşrefpaşa district, they sing old Turkish pop songs and eat Turkey’s indispensable picnic food: stuffed grape leaves cooked with olive oil.
As in any typical Turkish family, the men are preparing the “mangal” barbecue while talking about soccer matches or recent political developments. The heroic acts of their grandparents in the War of Independence also feature prominently in discussions. The old women chat with one another and wear headscarves, as do most older women in Turkey.
Who are these people? Mehmet, Ali, Ayşe, Rabia, Arzu, Emine, Hatice and Hüseyin, to name a few. Everything is typically Turkish except for one detail: They are black. Afro-Turks, as they prefer to be called, are the descendents of African citizens of the Ottoman Empire. They have come together under the African Solidarity and Cooperation Association (ASCA) to revitalize one of their oldest traditions — a holiday celebrated by their grandparents: Dana Bayramı, or the Calf Festival.
According to Deniz Yükseker, a professor in Koç University’s department of sociology, gave a speech on the culture of Afro-Turks during a conference held at Ege University. Dana Bayramı was celebrated from 1880 until the end of the 1920s. “Leaders of the Afro-Turk community, known as ‘godya,’ used to collect money in order to buy a cow. On the first Saturday of each May, they sacrificed this cow. Failing to make this sacrifice would cause draughts, according to popular folklore,” Yükseker explains.
She adds that in those years, Dana Bayramı was celebrated in İzmir for three weeks. Things have changed over time and this year’s celebrations only lasted two days. On the first day, Yükseker presented at the conference on the history of Afro-Turks and a photo exhibit prepared by Özlem Sümer showed snapshots from daily life as experienced by the community. The second day saw a large picnic at which Boğaziçi Gösteri Merkezi and Ege University’s Music Band performed. Melis Sökmen, a famous jazz singer whose grandmother is from Ghana, joined the band and gave a small concert.
During this year’s Dana Bayramı, the focus was on having fun and a cow was not sacrificed. “Some of our friends said that it would be fine to sacrifice a sheep, but maybe next year,” says ASCA Chairman Mustafa Olpak. He points out that Dana Bayramı used to be an opportunity for their ancestors to have a family reunion. The festival served as a venue at which members of a family dispersed by slavery would come together.
Gülay Kayacan, who works for the History Foundation, an institute that researches and publishes articles on Turkish history, says that some of the Afro-Turks are descendents of slaves who used to work on farms or in houses. Slaves working in agriculture were concentrated in areas where cotton production was high. It is for this reason that most Afro-Turks today live on the Aegean coast and some in the Mediterranean region.
“Some 10,000 slaves, black and white, were brought into the Ottoman Empire every year. During the constitutional monarchy period (1876-1878), slavery was abolished and former slaves settled in areas where they used to work. Some of them were even given land by the government,” Kayacan says.
Kayacan is the coordinator of the History Foundation’s “Voices Coming from a Silent Past” project, supported by the European Union Commission Delegation in Turkey. She underlines that their oral history project aims to form an archive that will aid in researching the cultural, economic and social status of Afro-Turks today and to place them in the mosaic of history. To this end, the foundation is recording the personal histories of the Afro-Turk community.
“Unfortunately, most of the elders of the Afro-Turk community who could remember the stories of immigration and the cultural aspects of the community have passed away. Written documentation is also scarce, so we are trying to preserve this undocumented past before it is too late,” Kayacan says. According to personal accounts collected so far, the ancestors of Afro-Turks came from various countries, including present-day Niger, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Kenya and Sudan. In fact, the Embassy of Sudan sent a representative to participate in this year’s Dana Bayramı.
Kayacan also notes that some of the descendents of former slaves remain poor. Educational opportunities for them have been scarce and they are generally not property owners. The number of Afro-Turks graduating from universities is below the national average and most women tend to be agricultural workers if they live in villages or housewives if they live in the urban areas. The women that have found opportunities to become educated work as mid-wives or nurses.
Not all or the Afro-Turks’ ancestors were slaves. Some came from the island of Crete following the Lausanne Treaty, signed in 1924. This treaty called for a population exchange between the Greek Orthodox citizens of the young Turkish Republic and the Muslim citizens of Greece. Most of the black on Crete were Muslims, so they were subjected to this population exchange. Like many others who were moved through this population exchange, they settled on the Aegean coast, mainly around İzmir. Eighty-year-old Emine Konaçer’s mother and Olpak’s family were among these immigrants.
Konaçer’s mother spoke only Greek, which explains why Konaçer is bilingual. She and her husband have four children, including Mehmet Konaçer (48), a physical education teacher.
“When I was young, our neighbors would sometimes speak in Greek on our street in Ayvalık and I used to shout at them: ‘Citizen, speak Turkish!’” he says. At the time, the Turkish government had launched a program calling on all citizens to speak only Turkish.
Mehmet Konaçer enjoys dancing the traditional folklore dances of the Aegean area and he performed a dance for the crowd at this year’s Dana Bayramı.
As with every teacher, his students coin nicknames for him. “They first used to call me Clay [after the famous African-American boxer Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali]. But nicknames come and go. As other blacks become famous, the nickname my students choose for me changes,” he says.
Konaçer is married and has two children. As is the case with multiracial children, they take on the features of both parents. This is the case with many Afro-Turks as the small community has many interracial marriages. Some Afro-Turks are blond and some have green eyes, like Konaçer’s cousin, Hüseyin Hançer.
Being “different” has, however, also led to discrimination. The society at large holds many misconceptions about Afro-Turks.
“Our interviews show that Afro-Turks living in villages do not feel discriminated against. They are not labeled as the ‘other’ or excluded. In a village, everyone has known one another since birth. Cities, on the other hand, are a different matter altogether, though Anatolia is still a land that is able to absorb a variety of cultures,” Kayacan says.
Ayşe Sözer, a young Afro-Turk, says that Turkish society does not have a racist approach, but that sometimes the Afro-Turk community does experience “exaggerated interest” and social discrimination from society.
“I am asked many odd questions; for example, some ask if I get whiter by taking baths. Sometimes people stare at me and end up tripping or bumping into a pole. I have learned to not get angry at people, but when I was at the university, my roommate left our dorm room because she said she was afraid to live with someone that is black,” Sözer says.
Sometimes people have a hard time believing that Afro-Turks are Turks. On one occasion, Sözer was shopping in Denizli and the shopkeeper, mistaking her for a tourist speaking in perfect Turkish, tried to complement her by saying she speaks Turkish better than him, a native Turk.
Not being considered a “Turk” can at times be problematic. Most Afro-Turks live in the Aegean region, famous for human smuggling. This has cast suspicion on the Afro-Turk community.
Locals in the Aegean region also have some superstitious beliefs about “black people.” Some believe that if they see a black person and pinch the person next to them, their wishes will come true. Sözer recalled one case in which two ladies pinched each other upon seeing her. She was understandably upset. “I told the ladies that if they really wanted their wishes to come true, I also had to pinch both of them! They accepted and I pinched them very hard,” she says, laughing.
Another superstition some hold is that the kiss of a black person can bring luck. “When I was small, I was asked to kiss many girls because there was this superstition that if a girl does not get kissed by a small African child, she would not find a husband,” Olpak says.
Apart from being the focus of some superstitions, most Afro-Turks say they have never been humiliated or discriminated against by the society. However, overcoming prejudice while looking for someone to marry is not as easy as one would hope. Kayacan notes that sometimes the family does not approve of their son or daughter marrying an Afro-Turk.
Afro-Turks are often called “Arabs” in Turkey. They also refer to themselves as Arabs, at times. This has led to a situation in which “Arab” means “black.” Ege University Professor Ahmet Yürür explains. “For the Turks, Africa was only the northern part of the continent: from Egypt to Morocco. This part was of course under Arab influence. Turks were never really interested in the south of the continent. This is why this community has come to be called ‘Arab,’” he says.
Yürür suggests that Turkey can build bridges between itself and Africa with the help of Afro-Turks. But even establishing an association was difficult, Olpak says.
“Our people did not even know of the word ‘association.’ They were suspicious at first, but in Turkey, all ethnic groups have solidarity associations except for us. We had some difficulties at first because we lived in a closed society,” he says. This is not to say that Olpak is pessimistic. The Dana Bayramı is evidence that the Afro-Turk community is being revived.
Olpak has authored two books: “Slave Woman Kemale,” which tells the story of his own family, a slave family from Kenya that lived on Crete and had to migrate to Turkey, and “The Shores of Slaves,” in which Olpak presents a collection of stories by other Afro-Turks.
“I am a third-generation Afro-Turk. My grandparents were slaves. The first generation lived through the sad events, the second generation tried to forget and deny these events, but the third generation wants to know what happened and how,” Olpak says, adding: “We are black and we are from here. We are a part of this rich Anatolian culture and we are ready to make an effort to be noticed by the society. I believe that in this way we will be able to contribute to the tolerant culture of this beautiful land.” Olpak has a wish for his community: to celebrate Dana Bayramı on the national level one day as a festival of tolerance.
“500 Years Later” is the title of an independent documentary film directed by Owen ‘Alik Shahadah, written by M. K. Asante, Jr. released in 2005. Crime, drugs, HIV/AIDS, poor education, inferiority complex, low expectation, poverty, corruption, poor health, and underdevelopment plagues people of African descent globally. 500 years later from the onset of slavery and subsequent colonialism, Africans are still struggling for basic freedom. Filmed in five continents, and over twenty countries, 500 Years Later engages the retrospective voice, told from the African vantage-point. In 2010, the sequel Motherland was released.
“It’s so amazing to me that so many of us speak of unity, yet we are to assume we know what is meant by unity and unification. The word is never clearly defined by the user. In the between time, there is a mean spirited tone to the discussion that should be avoided if we are truly in process of unifying. This is based on my own definition of the word.” Bro. Amenta
This is part of a comment by my Bro. Amenta on a previous post. He and I agree on the fallacy of black unity that is preached by the majority of Black people. At the very least, it’s a slogan of bygone days (during the activist stage of their life) or at the very most, it’s an intellectual talking point. Regardless, there is no real substance nor commitment to making this ideal a reality.
Furthermore, what does black unity really mean? I acknowledge it means different things to various people. For myself, there are some Black people I have no desire to “unite” with. In the words of Public Enemy: “a brothah ain’t a brothah just because of collah”… (I would add “sistah” too). The reason I have no desire to unite with certain Black people has nothing to do with their political ideology, or religion, or sexual orientation, or gender, or nationality, or “add in whatever”. It has everything to do with their character, sincerity of purpose and having the same goal (maybe different strategies) to empower people of African descent. I would much rather work to find common ground in an effort to unite with a Black conservative than with a White progressive. Working to unite with only Black people who believe as you do, whether politically, culturally or religiously, is neither work nor unity.
With all this in mind, I was not surprised by all the disparaging and demonizing comments leveled against the Black Republican speakers Arthur Davis and Mia Love, by some in the African-American community. I understand it’s all apart of the “Plantation” politics that the majority of African-Americans, who identify with the Democratic Party Plantation, are engaged in. However what I found troubling was some of the “mean spirited tone” of the attacks against Mia Love.
These two posts are examples of what I found utterly distasteful: “Women of color in a strange place” and “The questionable racial and ideological authenticity of Mia Love“.
Both articles stress the fact that Ms. Love parents were Haitian immigrants and one even falsely makes the point that she “represents the typical immigrant who came to America looking for a better life with her family”. The fact is that Mia Love was born and raised in the United States. However, by highlighting the nationality of her parents and by extension her heritage, both authors went on to use this fact to question her understanding, relating and empathizing with the so-called African-American experience. One went so far as to question her “racial authenticity”. Really!? This smacks of the “birther” arguments leveled against President Obama by the Republicans who question his American citizenship.
Both articles further makes the point that due to her Haitian heritage, Ms. Love has no understanding of the history of slavery that was faced by Blacks in America, and that the Black immigrant experience in America is so much different that the African-American experience:
“Ms. Love, in her mind, isn’t burdened by America’s sad history when it comes the blacks who were brought here under quite different conditions. So sadly she doesn’t even view herself as one of those American blacks.”
“The fact of the matter is that she is the only one of her generation in her family born and raised in these United States. As such, she doesn’t have a personal historical background as do the many black people living here descended from the slaves set free (on paper at least) by Abraham Lincolns’ Emancipation Proclamation a hundred and fifty years ago.”
The actual fact of the matter is whether you were born in Haiti, Jamaica or America and are of African descent, then we have this in common: we are all descendants of African slaves or servants of European colonialism. The actual fact of the matter is whether you fought for your freedom, granted your freedom or your freedom was proclaimed, today those of us of African descent worldwide have this in common, we are all under assault from White supremacy based capitalism and/or imperialism.
The actual fact of the matter is just because your parents were immigrants and you have a different political affiliation that most African-Americans, doesn’t make you any less “Black”.
Let me briefly discuss an aspect of the Black immigrant experience in the North America, whether in Amerikka or Kkkanada. Her politics aside, I can relate to Ms. Love in this respect. My parents came to Canada from Jamaica via England. I was born in England, spent some of my formative years in Jamaica, but I was primarily raised in Canada. My parents instilled these values in my sisters and I: take advantage of all opportunities available to you, but never depend on them to succeed. Regardless of whatever benefits government programs may provide or whatever obstacles society may put in your path, failure is not an option. Our success is dependent on the grace of God and on hard work.
Immigrants from the so-called “third world” have experienced that whatever programs their government provides to benefit the masses, they can be easily taken away by the next U.S. backed government or U.S. controlled international organizations such as the United Nations, World Bank and IMF. Therefore they are sckeptical of what they see as “government handouts”. They have also experienced that social capital, such as education and affordable health care, are not regarded as a “right” by the government in the country of their birth. You have to pay out of pocket to be well and for your children to get even the basic elementay education and most cannot afford either. Therefore, good health and education, especially having the opportunity to attend secondary school or college is the domain of the rich, the children of government officials… not the poor and certainly not the intelligent.
So most children of immigrants are shaped by this message: you better work hard, maximize your opportunities, depend on your own knowledge, skills, abilities, most importantly resourcefulness, to get and keep what you have. Don’t put your faith in anyone or anything other than your God. Focusing on blaming the “white man” for all our ills as a community or as an excuse for your personal failures will get us nowhere… just do it!
One of the authors referred to Ms. Love as the “top token negro” in the Republican Party at the present time… which may be true, just as Barack Obama was at one time seen as the “top token negro” of the Democratic Party during their 2004 convention. Just like the Republican convention last week, the Democrats during their convention this week will parade their plantation negroes to the nation and the world, to extol the glory of their party and their presidential candidate. They will however trump the Republican’s “top token negro” with their own: Bill Clinton… and then by their close second… Barack Obama.
When you get involved in politics, align yourself with a political party and put your views, policies and platform out there as to be assessed and voted on, then they’re fair game to be discussed, debated, criticized and even attacked vigorously. Plantation politics aside, these types of attacks on Mia Love, by other members of the African-American community is neither constructive nor do they move us as a people towards real unity. What they are… in the words of one of the authors… “it’s serious House Negro behavior.”
Repost inspired by this commentary from Sis. Carolyn Moon:
“The difference that I’m noticing more now and it’s a perception which I’m sure can be debated but there is this extreme animus towards the various countries on the continent of Africa and their historical role in promoting the triangularity of the slave trade that culminated in a diaspora seriously adrift. We’ve encountered at times, a dismissive or condescending attitude towards American blacks by those who were born and reared in the various countries on the continent. This became painfully apparent when the dialogue about describing ourselves as ‘African-Americans’ became the topic on various blogs and if that is truly an accurate description. There seems to be a grace and forgiveness for those who provided a market (Europeans & western whites) for the selling and purchasing of human beings and also promoting one of the most virulent and devastating forms of slavery that the world has ever witnessed.”
Powerful commentary by Nigerian writer, poet, playwright and 1986 Nobel Laureate in Literature, Wole Soyinka, on Africa’s role in the slave trade and it’s consequences. These are 2 must read articles posted in the online magazine theRoot:
Allow me to present these questions to you directly:
1. What is your position, and more specifically, what do you suggest as an alternative to voting for the president, and
2. If you are a non-African American living in Canada, what dog do you have in this fight? What is your purpose of arguing that AFRICAN AMERICANS should not vote?
I was in a debate on an African American Facebook page about Barack Obama and the upcoming US 2012 presidential elections after I had posted this insightful article by Black Agenda Report: “Tired Old So-Called Leftists Give Same Old Excuses For Supporting Obama in 2012“. Of course the Obamabots (one in particular) took exception to the article and my continual opposition to the presidency of Obama. Par for the course, the strategy of “killing the messenger”… since it’s impossible to discount or refute the message… was employed by the Obamabots. Those in opposition to the Obama administration are termed “ignorant, turncoats, snitches and yes… Herman Cain!” (that last one really hurt, ’cause I consider myself much better looking than Herman…lol!)
The fact is though, I don’t take it personally. First, I am fully aware that there are two political plantations in America that most African Americans have enslaved themselves to. These “Plantation Negroes” would gladly give their lives (and some do) to defend their white master’s Democratic and Republican plantations to the detriment of their own self-interests as a community. Second, I’m not an African American, so I have no allegiances to either plantations, nor do I have an emotionally distorted/biased attachment to Obama just because he is Black.
Therefore in reality I have no “dog in this fight”. To be honest, I do get a somewhat juvenile guilty pleasure in riling up the Obamabots (especially one in particular), so whenever I get an opportunity to do so, I will post an anti-Obama article and he always takes the bait. Regardless, the fact is I do expect Obama to easily get re-elected. Why not? Under his administration, the rich have gotten richer, poverty levels are at an all time high in America, and American Corporate Imperialism continues to be expanded and entrenched militarily throughout the “Black and Brown world” unabated… by the 2009 Nobel Peace Laureate. Other than cosmetic and media manufactured differences, both Obama and Romney are pretty much the same guy. Obama has clearly stated that he is not the President of Black America, however his actions are clear that he considers himself the President of Corporate America, Hispanic America, Jewish America and Gay America.
I was asked the above questions by an admitted Obama supporter on the Facebook page. These are legitimate questions that I am happy to answer. In regards to the first, the plantation negro only envisions two choices. If you don’t reside on one plantation, then you must belong to the other. If you don’t support Obama and the Democrats, then by default you must support Romney and the Republicans. However, I do see other alternatives.
One is not to vote for either party. Both political plantations are corrupt and under corporate control, so they are in no way committed to serving the interests of the majority of the electorate… and African Americans in particular. It’s also counter-productive (as well as foolish) to take the approach to vote for the lesser of two evils. In the words of WEB Dubois: “I believe that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no “two evils” exist. There is but one evil party with two names…”
However, if one does believe that engaging in the current political process is the only avenue to address African American concerns, then why not field your own candidates under the banner of your preferred political plantation to influence your party and government policies for your own self-interests… sounds familiar? Whether their power was real or perceived, the handful of elected “Tea Party” legislators have been able to influence the policies and direction of the Republican Party, as well as that of the Obama administration. For as long as they have been around, why hasn’t the Congressional Black Caucus been able to have this type of impact within the Democratic Party, nor with the Obama administration? Could it be they are in reality just a group of “Plantation Negroes” whose purpose is to be stooges for the white masters of their Democratic plantation? If so, then they all need to be replaced. They are the real “turncoats and snitches”!
A third alternative is to get off the plantation altogether and research the policy positions of third party and independent presidential candidates. During the 2008 presidential campaign, if I was an American, I would have voted for Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente of the Green Party. Interestingly, when I discussed with the plantation negroes who were going to vote for the then presidential candidate from their Democratic plantation, Barack Obama, the idea to support the McKinney and Clemente ticket… a Black and Hispanic woman whose political platform and policies were more in line with their interests, they all had the same response: “they won’t win”. Well that’s the classic American attitude… it’s not about principles… it’s all about winning!
The second question posed I find interesting. Isn’t it ironic that an American would ask what is my “purpose” in expressing an opinion on their electoral process!? Since World War II, which country has interfered most in the electoral processes and outcomes of African and Caribbean nations!? Which nation has continually assassinated our elected leaders that they couldn’t control and rigged elections to install the ones they could? Which nation has financed armed rebellions against our democratically elected governments, destabilized our countries economies, sponsored sanctions and embargos against our nations, vetoed United Nations efforts for our empowerment and encouraged our genocide by deed or silence? All for the purpose of corporate greed! The good ole USA! So let’s see if I understand this correctly: it’s quite alright for Americans to interfere in our political affairs abroad, but we… those of African descent in the motherland or diaspora… have no right to offer any opinion nor criticize your corrupt, corporate driven political plantation system? Such is the audacity of the plantaion negro.
As I discussed in my previous post: “African American Arrogance“, those of us of African descent outside of the USA are painfully well aware that “Black Americans are still Americans”. Most embody the American imperialistic worldview and display their American arrogance in their dealings with other people of color. It is therefore no surprise that African Americans make up a significant portion of the US armed forces and have no problem doing their patriotic duty by invading and killing other Black and Brown people for the glory of American Corporate Imperialism. In fact, the first commander of AFRICOM, created by President George W. Bush on the recommendation of then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, to militarily recolonize Africa for American interests, was an African American, General William E. “Kip” Ward. See also:
These two African Americans, “Plantation Negroes” from opposing political plantations, have this one thing in common. They are both warmongers who brought death, disease and destruction to the nations of Black and Brown people in the name of American Corporate Imperialism. Isn’t it also ironic that African Americans fear that voter i.d. laws are a strategy being employed by the Republicans to deny them of their right to vote, while these same African Americans are literally the foot soldiers of the American strategy to deny those of African descent worldwide, the right to vote for the governments of our choosing. The chickens have indeed come home to roost.
Therefore my answer to the question: “What is your purpose of arguing that AFRICAN AMERICANS should not vote?”, is the same as the (African) American soldiers and military helicopters I saw as a boy growing up in Jamaica, engaged in a supposed “drug war” against the supporters of the anti-US and pro-Castro political party, for the benefit of the pro-US government. I do so because I can.
“I stated that Kony 2012 is pro-imperialism, pro-militarism propaganda. Again, here is the link to the article explaining my position. http://new-possibilities.blogspot.com/2012/03/kony-2012-is-imperialistic-propaganda.html
Most of you have not provided any logical arguments refuting that assertion. Instead, many of you have resorted to ad hominem attacks. It is easy to call me “Negro pseudo intellectual” and “only a mouth”, question my level of activism and make disparaging remarks about African Americans. It is far more difficult to challenge my argument. I challenge you to debate me on substance.”
@Ana..I did not “deny that some blacks have been and are the enemies of other black people”. In my article, I condemned Joseph Kony and called for him to be brought to justice. All groups, including black people, have their traitors. I never said or implied that the victims should wait. I said that Africans should and can solve their own problems. Anson Asaka
First, I had made it quite clear in my previous post that the article and term “Negro pseudo-intellectual” wasn’t directed at nor a personal attack against you. I also directed you to analyze my definition and clearly stated: “My definition is above and if you personally don’t fit into that category, then it doesn’t apply to you.” However from your above statement: “It is easy to call me “Negro pseudo intellectual”, I can only surmise that you did analyze my definition and have determined that you do fit into that category. I will therefore defer to the substance of your superior logical argument and surrender that point to you.
Secondly, I did read your well written and well researched article explaining your position. Interestingly, I found it ironic that all the sources you used as the substance of your logical arguments were taken from “western organizations”, as you previously branded Invisible Children. You freely quote Wikipedia, ABC News, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Council of Foreign Affairs, Amnesty International and the Wall Street Journal. You are correct that I didn’t challenge or debate you on the substance of your argument. However, if I ever do wish to challenge or debate the substance of logical arguments based on an eurocentric point of view, I’ll find a white man to debate with… and not one of his black surrogates.
Thirdly, I have observed that when those of African descent outside of the USA, don’t conform to the narrow-minded beliefs, opinions and logical arguments of our African-American brothers and sisters… and have the audacity to be critical of your arrogant view of the world, you make accusations that we “make disparaging remarks about African Americans.” I have discussed this attitude before in my post and adjoining comments: “African-American Arrogance”. I invite you read the post. You may learn something about people of African descent who are not African-Americans. You may also learn something about yourself.
Finally, your above comment has inspired me to analyze the issue of the miseducated Negro pseudo-intellectual. I observed on your blog that you proudly disclose all your educational achievements. It’s impressive and I sincerely congratulate your academic successes. I am constantly teaching my son that education is certainly a powerful and invaluable tool for our people… if it is utilized as the foundation for action and enlightenment! However for the miseducated Negro pseudo-intellectual, education is the basis for inaction and narrow-minded thinking. For the miseducated Negro pseudo-intellectual, education is ghetto-ized into a quest for the debate of logical arguments to quench the thirst of the eurocentric fed ego. For the miseducated Negro pseudo-intellectual, education is not seen as a resource to turn viral awareness via social media into action, but as a tool to be wasted in another viral bitch session.
“The above outlines the root cause of things in Nigeria and I am sure there is not much difference in other countries. So, at this juncture, are we, black people of the westen hemisphere, truly obligated to step in and do for Africa what it appears that many Africans won’t do for Africa? Are we to assume the Africans are less informed than we? They somehow do not know and understand that they are being dupped, handled and used by the IMF, AFRicom and the world bank and their minions?”
The questions within this statement was asked by Bro. Amenta at the end of his comment on the post: Boko Haram: The New (Black) African Al-Qaeda?. These are questions I have asked myself many times, in different ways over the years. Again they are timely and relevant.
As I was drafting a response last night, life happened. The baby needed attention. The Queen wanted some “stuff” taken care of right away. The little man had to be bathed, have story time and put to bed. Once it was all said and done… I was done! Off to bed I went with the intention of completing my response sometime today.
This morning, by happenstance (if you believe in such a thing), I visited a Black based yahoo group I am a member of here in Ottawa. I hadn’t visited since the beginning of the year and had an unexplainable desire to do so. To my surprise there was this article from the blog Mind of Malaka posted there entitled: “You Lazy (Intellectual) African Scum!” It was so pertinent to this discussion, the comment by Bro. Amenta and what I was going to say, that I decided to share it here first, let it percolate for a few days, then complete my response. The sentiments in this piece could refer to any country in Africa, the Caribbean and Black community in North, Central and South America.
They call the Third World the lazy man’s purview; the sluggishly slothful and languorous prefecture. In this realm people are sleepy, dreamy, torpid, lethargic, and therefore indigent—totally penniless, needy, destitute, poverty-stricken, disfavored, and impoverished. In this demesne, as they call it, there are hardly any discoveries, inventions, and innovations. Africa is the trailblazer. Some still call it “the dark continent” for the light that flickers under the tunnel is not that of hope, but an approaching train. And because countless keep waiting in the way of the train, millions die and many more remain decapitated by the day.
“It’s amazing how you all sit there and watch yourselves die,” the man next to me said. “Get up and do something about it.”
Brawny, fully bald-headed, with intense, steely eyes, he was as cold as they come. When I first discovered I was going to spend my New Year’s Eve next to him on a non-stop JetBlue flight from Los Angeles to Boston I was angst-ridden. I associate marble-shaven Caucasians with iconoclastic skin-heads, most of who are racist.
“My name is Walter,” he extended his hand as soon as I settled in my seat.
I told him mine with a precautious smile.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“Zambia!” he exclaimed, “Kaunda’s country.”
“Yes,” I said, “Now Sata’s.”
“But of course,” he responded. “You just elected King Cobra as your president.”
My face lit up at the mention of Sata’s moniker. Walter smiled, and in those cold eyes I saw an amenable fellow, one of those American highbrows who shuttle between Africa and the U.S.
“I spent three years in Zambia in the 1980s,” he continued. “I wined and dined with Luke Mwananshiku, Willa Mungomba, Dr. Siteke Mwale, and many other highly intelligent Zambians.” He lowered his voice. “I was part of the IMF group that came to rip you guys off.” He smirked. “Your government put me in a million dollar mansion overlooking a shanty called Kalingalinga. From my patio I saw it all—the rich and the poor, the ailing, the dead, and the healthy.”
“Are you still with the IMF?” I asked.
“I have since moved to yet another group with similar intentions. In the next few months my colleagues and I will be in Lusaka to hypnotize the cobra. I work for the broker that has acquired a chunk of your debt. Your government owes not the World Bank, but us millions of dollars. We’ll be in Lusaka to offer your president a couple of millions and fly back with a check twenty times greater.”
“No, you won’t,” I said. “King Cobra is incorruptible. He is …”
He was laughing. “Says who? Give me an African president, just one, who has not fallen for the carrot and stick.”
Quett Masire’s name popped up.
“Oh, him, well, we never got to him because he turned down the IMF and the World Bank. It was perhaps the smartest thing for him to do.”
At midnight we were airborne. The captain wished us a happy 2012 and urged us to watch the fireworks across Los Angeles.
“Isn’t that beautiful,” Walter said looking down.
From my middle seat, I took a glance and nodded admirably.
“That’s white man’s country,” he said. “We came here on Mayflower and turned Indian land into a paradise and now the most powerful nation on earth. We discovered the bulb, and built this aircraft to fly us to pleasure resorts like Lake Zambia.”
I grinned. “There is no Lake Zambia.”
He curled his lips into a smug smile. “That’s what we call your country. You guys are as stagnant as the water in the lake. We come in with our large boats and fish your minerals and your wildlife and leave morsels—crumbs. That’s your staple food, crumbs. That corn-meal you eat, that’s crumbs, the small Tilapia fish you call Kapenta is crumbs. We the Bwanas (whites) take the cat fish. I am the Bwana and you are the Muntu. I get what I want and you get what you deserve, crumbs. That’s what lazy people get—Zambians, Africans, the entire Third World.”
The smile vanished from my face.
“I see you are getting pissed off,” Walter said and lowered his voice. “You are thinking this Bwana is a racist. That’s how most Zambians respond when I tell them the truth. They go ballistic. Okay. Let’s for a moment put our skin pigmentations, this black and white crap, aside. Tell me, my friend, what is the difference between you and me?”
“There’s no difference.”
“Absolutely none,” he exclaimed. “Scientists in the Human Genome Project have proved that. It took them thirteen years to determine the complete sequence of the three billion DNA subunits. After they were all done it was clear that 99.9% nucleotide bases were exactly the same in you and me. We are the same people. All white, Asian, Latino, and black people on this aircraft are the same.”
I gladly nodded.
“And yet I feel superior,” he smiled fatalistically. “Every white person on this plane feels superior to a black person. The white guy who picks up garbage, the homeless white trash on drugs, feels superior to you no matter his status or education. I can pick up a nincompoop from the New York streets, clean him up, and take him to Lusaka and you all be crowding around him chanting muzungu, muzungu and yet he’s a riffraff. Tell me why my angry friend.”
For a moment I was wordless.
“Please don’t blame it on slavery like the African Americans do, or colonialism, or some psychological impact or some kind of stigmatization. And don’t give me the brainwash poppycock. Give me a better answer.”
I was thinking.
He continued. “Excuse what I am about to say. Please do not take offense.”
I felt a slap of blood rush to my head and prepared for the worst.
“You my friend flying with me and all your kind are lazy,” he said. “When you rest your head on the pillow you don’t dream big. You and other so-called African intellectuals are damn lazy, each one of you. It is you, and not those poor starving people, who is the reason Africa is in such a deplorable state.”
“That’s not a nice thing to say,” I protested.
He was implacable. “Oh yes it is and I will say it again, you are lazy. Poor and uneducated Africans are the most hardworking people on earth. I saw them in the Lusaka markets and on the street selling merchandise. I saw them in villages toiling away. I saw women on Kafue Road crushing stones for sell and I wept. I said to myself where are the Zambian intellectuals? Are the Zambian engineers so imperceptive they cannot invent a simple stone crusher, or a simple water filter to purify well water for those poor villagers? Are you telling me that after thirty-seven years of independence your university school of engineering has not produced a scientist or an engineer who can make simple small machines for mass use? What is the school there for?”
I held my breath.
“Do you know where I found your intellectuals? They were in bars quaffing. They were at the Lusaka Golf Club, Lusaka Central Club, Lusaka Playhouse, and Lusaka Flying Club. I saw with my own eyes a bunch of alcoholic graduates. Zambian intellectuals work from eight to five and spend the evening drinking. We don’t. We reserve the evening for brainstorming.”
He looked me in the eye.
“And you flying to Boston and all of you Zambians in the Diaspora are just as lazy and apathetic to your country. You don’t care about your country and yet your very own parents, brothers and sisters are in Mtendere, Chawama, and in villages, all of them living in squalor. Many have died or are dying of neglect by you. They are dying of AIDS because you cannot come up with your own cure. You are here calling yourselves graduates, researchers and scientists and are fast at articulating your credentials once asked—oh, I have a PhD in this and that—PhD my foot!”
I was deflated.
“Wake up you all!” he exclaimed, attracting the attention of nearby passengers. “You should be busy lifting ideas, formulae, recipes, and diagrams from American manufacturing factories and sending them to your own factories. All those research findings and dissertation papers you compile should be your country’s treasure. Why do you think the Asians are a force to reckon with? They stole our ideas and turned them into their own. Look at Japan, China, India, just look at them.”
He paused. “The Bwana has spoken,” he said and grinned. “As long as you are dependent on my plane, I shall feel superior and you my friend shall remain inferior, how about that? The Chinese, Japanese, Indians, even Latinos are a notch better. You Africans are at the bottom of the totem pole.”
He tempered his voice. “Get over this white skin syndrome and begin to feel confident. Become innovative and make your own stuff for god’s sake.”
At 8 a.m. the plane touched down at Boston’s Logan International Airport. Walter reached for my hand.
“I know I was too strong, but I don’t give it a damn. I have been to Zambia and have seen too much poverty.” He pulled out a piece of paper and scribbled something. “Here, read this. It was written by a friend.”
He had written only the title: “Lords of Poverty.”
Thunderstruck, I had a sinking feeling. I watched Walter walk through the airport doors to a waiting car. He had left a huge dust devil twirling in my mind, stirring up sad memories of home. I could see Zambia’s literati—the cognoscente, intelligentsia, academics, highbrows, and scholars in the places he had mentioned guzzling and talking irrelevancies. I remembered some who have since passed—how they got the highest grades in mathematics and the sciences and attained the highest education on the planet. They had been to Harvard, Oxford, Yale, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), only to leave us with not a single invention or discovery. I knew some by name and drunk with them at the Lusaka Playhouse and Central Sports.
Walter is right. It is true that since independence we have failed to nurture creativity and collective orientations. We as a nation lack a workhorse mentality and behave like 13 million civil servants dependent on a government pay cheque. We believe that development is generated 8-to-5 behind a desk wearing a tie with our degrees hanging on the wall. Such a working environment does not offer the opportunity for fellowship, the excitement of competition, and the spectacle of innovative rituals.
But the intelligentsia is not solely, or even mainly, to blame. The larger failure is due to political circumstances over which they have had little control. The past governments failed to create an environment of possibility that fosters camaraderie, rewards innovative ideas and encourages resilience. KK, Chiluba, Mwanawasa, and Banda embraced orthodox ideas and therefore failed to offer many opportunities for drawing outside the line.
I believe King Cobra’s reset has been cast in the same faculties as those of his predecessors. If today I told him that we can build our own car, he would throw me out.
“Naupena? Fuma apa.” (Are you mad? Get out of here)
Knowing well that King Cobra will not embody innovation at Walter’s level let’s begin to look for a technologically active-positive leader who can succeed him after a term or two. That way we can make our own stone crushers, water filters, water pumps, razor blades, and harvesters. Let’s dream big and make tractors, cars, and planes, or, like Walter said, forever remain inferior.
A fundamental transformation of our country from what is essentially non-innovative to a strategic superior African country requires a bold risk-taking educated leader with a triumphalist attitude and we have one in YOU. Don’t be highly strung and feel insulted by Walter. Take a moment and think about our country. Our journey from 1964 has been marked by tears. It has been an emotionally overwhelming experience. Each one of us has lost a loved one to poverty, hunger, and disease. The number of graves is catching up with the population. It’s time to change our political culture. It’s time for Zambian intellectuals to cultivate an active-positive progressive movement that will change our lives forever. Don’t be afraid or dispirited, rise to the challenge and salvage the remaining few of your beloved ones.