Bearing the Owners Names

Bearing the Owners Names


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



It is the African masses more than any who are saddled with an African identity and all

of its negative connotations. They are the ones who receive the fewest of the rewards,

 either spiritual or material of being “African” or being citizens of the newly created “nations.”



Bearing the Owners’ Names & Other Burdens

By Rudolph Lewis


Reluctant, I must say it, we are Western (or white) creations when we speak of ourselves in Western terms such as “African” or “Negro” (“black”) or “Ethiopian” (“burnt faces”) or “Berber” (“barbarians”). We are seen arbitrarily and have been labeled from without, and much too often we see ourselves from without. Africa was merely a Roman province, roughly in the area we now know as Tunisia and Algeria. The name “Africa” is a name derivative of a local tribe, the “Afric,” lost in the fog of ancient history; the “a” was added to mean the “land of.” As far as we can discern, these “Afers” may not have been dark-skinned people, but belonged to those peoples of the Mediterranean part of the northern continent that the Greeks labeled “Berbers.”  

Then much later Europeans extended the designation “African”  to what was discovered was an entire continent and specifically came to be associated with those politically disconnected peoples Westerners decided were “pure Negro,” that is, those dark-skinned peoples south of the Sahara, excluding such regions that contained “mixed races,” such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Eritrea. That is, the term “African” settled on those people of the continent who came to be known as Bantu-speaking peoples.

We continue to struggle with these identities imposed from without and as much as we can we make the best of them, filling these ethnic and racial designations up as Arthur Schomberg in “The Negro Digs Up His Past,” once said, with, “vindicating evidence of individual achievement.” Schomberg continues, “The American Negro must remake his past in order to make his future. . . . For him, a group tradition must supply compensation for persecution, and pride of race, the antidote for prejudice. History must restore what slavery took away, for it is the social damage of slavery that the present generation must repair and offset” (The New Negro: An Interpretation, 231; my emphasis). This movement to prove one’s humanity has had some results, and continues, but such “African” persons in the mass still in the 21st century find themselves among the most racially despised and exploited.

Negro (African) in the Americas

Today, in our post-African liberation era, there are millions on the continent and off who are “Africans,” by imposition and choice, for good and for evil.  Personally, my parents and grandparents claimed no African identity; what it means to be an “African,” except in its more negative connotations, I am uncertain. With close examination and comparison of both the New World Negro cultures and the indigenous African cultures, primarily Africa’s West Coast, one may note, however, cultural similarities in body movement (including dance), musical expression, and other artistic, secular, and religious expressions, that is, there are sufficient American retentions to say there are “African-like” characteristic among the New World Negroes.

Initially, the influential anthropologist, Melville Herskovits—in his 1925 essay in The New Negro (edited by Alain Locke,1886-1954), “The Negro’s Americanism,”—however, found among American Negroes with regard to “African culture, not a trace.” But with further scholarly investigations, Herskovits says in his Myth of the Negro Past (1941) “manners” is one of the distinct aspects found common among indigenous Africans and the American Negro. By 1941 Herkovits had been to Africa and the Caribbean, had done comparative anthropological readings and correcting his past blindness, noting linguistic and other cultural connections between American Negroes and West Africans.

Satisfied with a disassociation of “race” and “culture,” Herkovits concluded, says the historian Wilson Moses, that the “roots of African culture are detectable wherever African peoples have been dispersed, and that politics of race relations would remain insoluble until policies of education and integration were adjusted to reflect the roots of cultural diversity that separated Europeans and Africans” (Afrotopia, 12). Of course, retentions in themselves are not sufficient to establish identity (or consciousness)—personal, tribal, racial, or national.

These cultural characteristics have blended so well into the American cultural fabric that they have, in a sense, become invisible, manifesting themselves into the psycho-social fabric of all fully acculturated Americans. With a more objective science and more liberal, cultural relativist views, an African identity, however, can be claimed by a broad array of Americans, such that one might say that all of America cultural life has been “Africanized.” In Shadow and Act (1966), the famed Negro American writer Ralph Ellison referencing African musical influences, expressed it this way:

For as I see it. From the days of their introduction into the colonies, Negroes have taken, with the ruthlessness of those without articulate investments in cultural styles, whatever they could of European music, making of it that which would, blended with the cultural tendencies inherited from Africa, express their own sense of life—while rejecting the rest. Perhaps this is only another way of saying that whatever the degree of injustice and inequality sustained by the slaves, American culture was, even before the official founding of the nation, pluralistic; and it was the African’s origin in cultures in which art was highly functional which gave him and edge in shaping the music and dance of this nation (“Blues People,” 248; my emphasis).

Of course, such a statement remains a subtle political dilemma for white domination and white supremacy determines much of the socio-political behavior in America.

Still one can say that radical changes have taken place in racial and cultural perspectives since the period of the Atlantic Slave Trade (16th century through the mid 19th century) with its racial laws and restrictions and with its nineteenth-century pseudoscientific rhetoric for justifying and abolishing slavery. In those days “African” was strictly a racial term (with cultural undertones of “savage” and “barbaric” attached to all that was Africa) rather than a continental term, as “European” was until it too became a racial, as well as a cultural, term, indicating a superiority and a natural right to rule over non-European societies and peoples. These two—the African and the European— were polar opposites in a vertical—north-south, white-black, superior-inferior—sense of the words.

By the middle of the twentieth century, the scholarly investigations of both West African cultures and New World Negro cultures were sufficiently advanced to undermine the racialism of the previous centuries. Culture was seen in less absolute terms and more based on context. The more scientific investigations beginning in the early 1930s with Jewish sociologists and anthropologists, such as Franz Boas, Melville Herskovits, and Bronislaw Malinkowski, concluded West African cultures were much more sophisticated, tenacious, and supple than initially believed, capable of surviving the white European cultural onslaught and capable of modifying cultures in which Africans subsisted.

Though these retentions are more readily found in Brazil and the Caribbean region, they too could be detected among the Negroes of the rural South and substantial enough to develop distinct cultural traits. The work of Herskovits The Myth of the Negro Past  has been substantial and influential, a classic that has affected the writings of subsequent ethnologists and scholars in Afroamerican Studies (Afrotopia, 10-12). In his Introduction Moses points especially to the work of Henry Louis Gates, The Signifying Monkey (1988) and Sterling Stuckey, Slave Culture (1987) as ones heavily influenced by Herskovits.

With the exploitation of the “inferior” by the “superior,” a new human being came into existence, especially in the Americas, namely, the “negro,” the anglicized version of a Latinate word meaning “black.” He was the detribalized, whose ancestors had been kidnapped and shipped from the African coast to labor on European plantations in the Americas. On this cultural change, in his review of Blues People by LeRoi Jones, Ralph Ellison makes these incisive comments:

Mr. Jones sees the American Negro as the product of a series of transformations, starting with the enslaved African, who became Afro-American slave, who became the American slave, who became, in turn, the highly qualified ‘citizen’ whom we know today. The slave began by regarding himself as enslaved African, during the time when he still spoke his native language, or remembered it, practiced such aspects of his native religion as were possible and expressed himself musically in modes which were essentially African. These cultural traits became transmuted as the African lost consciousness of his African background, and his music, his religion, his language and his speech gradually became that of the American Negro. His sacred music became the spirituals, his work songs and dance music became the blues and primitive jazz, and his religion became a form of Afro-American Christianity (“Blues People,” 244)

I suspect that the “enslaved African” was a concept introduced from outside rather than a conscious aspect of identity. It’s more likely that the enslaved individual’s conception was more in the sense of tribal identity—Ibo, Yoruba, Ashanti, Bassa, etc. Though denied his full humanity, literacy and marriage, by racial laws, the African essentially culturally became a Westerner, an American, or a European.

That African coherency—those tribal identities “stripped” away, “sloughed” off—existed only on the African continent. There was also that least often spoke about, though widely practiced instances of “miscegenation,” expansion of American blood lines by slave owners, into great human varieties, as in Negro writer Jean Toomer, who contended he was not a Negro but a special kind of American, while others like Alain Locke insisted he was a “New Negro.” As Herskovits points out as well, in his “The Negro’s Americanism, “the vast majority of Negroes in America are of mixed ancestry.” And if the “Negro” (African) was in the blood it had been diluted in millions of varieties.

Technically, Toomer is correct: there have been millions of mixed-race individuals who have “passed over” into the “white race” and ostensibly culture-wise are no longer Negroes (or Africans) but rather by skin Euro-Americans. But Walter White clarified the situation in 1925 in his “The Paradox of Color”:

The constant hammering of three hundred years of oppression has resulted in a race consciousness among the Negroes of the United States which is amazing to those who know how powerful it is. In America . . . all persons with any discernible percentage of Negro blood are classed as Negroes, subject therefore to all the manifestations of prejudice. They are never allowed to forget their race . . . Negroes of the United States have been welded into a homogeneity of thought and a commonness of purpose—combating a common foe. (The New Negro, 361-368; my emphasis)

That is to say, people descended in any way from African ancestors (mixed also and as well descended from indigenous Americans as well as Euro-Americans) are made into a race arbitrarily whether they desire it or not and are made to feel part of an inferior caste.

But that Ibo who became an African, who became an American, approached culture-making from an entirely different perspective than his “pure” Euro-American brothers. In J.A. Rogers, “Jazz at Home,” Leopold Stokowski, the Polish American founder of the New York City Symphony and The American Symphony Orchestra, expressed Rogers sentiment, which is related to Ellison’s, in this fashion:

The Negro musicians . . . have an open mind, and unbiased outlook. They are not hampered by conventions or traditions, and with their new ideas, their constant experiment, they are causing new blood to flow in the veins of music. The jazz players make their instruments do entirely new things. Things finished musicians are taught to avoid. They are pathfinders into new realms (The New Negro, 222)

This “open mind and unbiased outlook” have had an impact on other aspects of American socio-cultural life, such as dance and storytelling. Despite this recognized broad and deep cultural influence of African Americans, the ruling popular notion, however, remains that America is a “white man’s country,” White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP), and the “negro” has yet to quite measure up to white humanity’s exclusive club.

The liberated American slave and great orator Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) insisted on the capitalization of the racial term and so it became “Negro.” With the high rate of involuntary racial mixing, there was coined in the United States—a substitute for the more Latinate words like “mulatto,” “octoroon,” and so on—the Anglo-substitute “colored,” and was applied to all Negroes, whatever the complexion. In some ways “colored” was a more respected term for the Negro in all his hues, which ranged from coal black to lily white. It was used in such nineteenth expressions as “free persons of color or (FPC), among whom were the children of Louisiana French slave masters.

The term “colored” was still current in the early twentieth century when the civil rights organization the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was formed. Though the Black Consciousness Movement of the late 60s forced it out of popular usage and substituted “black” for all Negro persons whatever their complexion, the NAACP retained the former “colored” usage even after there was a movement from “black” to “African American,” a sign of a growing identification with things “African.”

Many African nationalists, like Kwame Nkrumah, objected to the word “negro” when speaking of the African (on the continent).

“Africans are Africans . . . not natives . . . not Negroes! And as far as the Africans are concerned, no white man is an African! They are Europeans, Americans or just plain white men. But Africans? Never! It doesn’t matter a damn how long he or his ancestors have been in Africa, he is NOT an African” (The Reluctant African, 2)

For the African nationalist the exploitative and dehumanizing experience of the Americas were planted without distinction by Westerners, especially the British, into African soil and the minds of the indigenous peoples of the continent, regardless of ethnic group or identity or station. Moreover, from the African nationalist perspective it was a derisive term, dividing the continent along competing ethnic lines. We will have more to say on this manifestation of nationalism in Africa.

Frederick Douglass was a mulatto born in the state of Maryland. His condition was widespread: maybe a tenth or more of the 4.5 million slaves liberated by the 13th Amendment (1865) of the United States Constitution. For political reasons, that is, to identify with the “black” American peasantry who tended to be darker than the educated elite, Douglass, the liberal racial leader, opted for the more cohesive term “Negro” rather than the snooty connotations implied and accrued to the word “colored.”

Much darker in complexion than Douglas and also a “free negro,” with all-African bloodlines, Martin R. Delany (1812-1885), who explored along the River Niger in the late 1850s, in his publication Origins and Objects of Ancient Freemasonry (1853), according to historian Wilson J. Moses, claimed “that all wisdom could be traced to black Africa” (Afrotopia, 7).  In the 1850s, Delany advocated an African identity. Douglass did not view himself as an “African” but rather as an “American.” So we had two lines of ethnic identification developing in the United States among the American Negro from at least the late 18th century onward.

Whatever the complexion (lily white or coal black or in between), whatever the color of eyes (blue, brown, green or black) or the breadth of the nose (broad or aquiline or in between) or texture of hair (kinky, knotty, straight or curly) or any combination of the aforementioned, if it could be discerned by a bona fide, pure-blooded white man that there was an African connection—that person, regardless of education or technical knowledge, in the popular imagination  and in social contacts—was set apart, deserving of less human respect and dignity than the lowest class of white men and was labeled a “nigger,” that is, an “African”—both terms were soul-cutting and could prompt violence  within the group or outside the group  

As late as 1944, the poet and novelist Richard Wright raised the existential question, “Could a Negro [African] ever live halfway like a human being in this goddamn country?” (American Hunger, 97). The American Negro tried to make the best of a bad situation. The decolonization of Africa and the rise of African nations with leaders like Sekou Touré, Kwame Nkrumah, and Julius Nyerere and their African ambassadors at the United Nations performing their international duties contributed to and inspired a more ready acceptance of Africa and Africans. Indeed, one might say these African liberation movements sparked a more openly vigorous rebellion in our struggles against racial repression in the United States.

Colonialism and Neo-Colonial Payoffs

At the turn of the 19th century, the world changed. Europe and America no longer needed “slaves.” Empire-minded, they needed to secure territory, natural resources, cheap free labor for their industrial machines: they needed colonies. Though the word “African” and “colored” and “negro” still retained their history, they gathered an additional history on the African continent, after the Berlin Conference of 1886, when the continent was “carved and parceled to its European participants” (Through Black Eyes, 12). That style of political domination by Europe of Africa peoples lasted over a century and was finally lifted in the 1990s. European economic domination of Africa continues.

So we have now 900 million people in 54 independent countries, with an area of over 30 million square kilometers, rich in mineral and natural resources, which some view as a curse. European and American and other outside economic influences have been rather negative. The former African fathers of liberation are dead and have been replaced by a new generation of leaders who have bought into Western development at the expense of their exploited masses. These new leaders are the fathers of vast political corruption which rise into trillions of dollars and political crimes, famine and poverty, genocide, and tribal wars. This crushing situation and madness continue under the superficial rubric of African nationalism, a mere ghost of what was imagined by the revolutionary generation.

It is the African masses more than any who are saddled with an African identity and all of its negative connotations. They are the ones who receive the fewest of the rewards, either spiritual or material of being “African” or being citizens of the newly created “nations.” They are being constantly introduced to what it means to be “African” in all of its former connotations. They live at subsistent levels. These Africans carry the weight of their new national identities, either on their heads or their backs or in bloated bellies. Though possessing the ballot, these new African citizens have found it worthless. Their vote usually translates into neither educational nor economic opportunities.

These Africans are nominally “free” of Western domination, acquiring new debts, new oppressors from among themselves. Those who court and represent them have yet to deliver the revolutionary goods.  At the bottom of the scale of humanity, these are the rural indigenous “Africans” still living more or less the life of their tribal ancestors and just above them are the recent migrants to African urban centers. They tend to live on the outskirts of the prosperous elite or middle-class urban enclaves. In both cases, their spiritual weight for the harshest of cruelties they suffer ranges from a humiliating pity to a distant sympathy.

The Negro (African) in Africa

It is rather instructive to look back at struggling Africans during the crucial latter half of the twentieth century through the eyes of three American Negroes: Richard Wright, Elton C. Fax, and Louis Lomax. Their sojourns were revelatory. In the early 70s, Fax, a visual artist, traveled in East Africa to Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia and Tanzania—lecturing, sharing his perspectives and putting on canvas images of the people he encountered—and recorded his experience in Through Black Eyes: Journeys of A Black Artist (1974). One of his more striking experiences occurred in Sudan, territorially the largest nation in Africa, a place now where millions of black African Muslins have been displaced as victims of “Arab” ethnic cleansing.

But first let us take a look at Uganda and their Asian situation, a situation to fester even unto the 21st century. Fax reports how Asians (Hindu Indians and Muslim Pakistanis) had lived in Uganda for generations. Living on the continent for generations one might take them as well for “Africans.” They themselves may argue an “African” identity in a rather tortured sense of the word. They had initially been brought to Africa by the British as a “buffer group,” as a labor force (1889-1892), to build the railroad from Kampala to Mombasa—500 miles of East African soil—rich in cotton, tea, coffee, and sugar. They were clannish these Asians; their children became prosperous merchants and bankers. The majority of their clientele was black.

These transplanted Asians had no social contact with indigenous Africans—“their religions, customs, dress, and language enabled them to establish and maintain an aloofness that was to be, ironically, the pinnacle of their strength and the roof of their undoing” (16-17).  They established exclusive schools and residential districts, clubs and places of public accommodation.  These Asian Africans became arrogant and wealthy. In 1962, when  Uganda became an independent state—of 80,000, only 25,000 accepted the terms accountable to the new black government” (21). The remainder secreted their wealth out of Uganda.

In Sudan, Fax was told by the white American consulate “the Arabs are dominant and they hate the Negroes who live in the southern part of this country. The Arabs are determined to dominate the Negroes” (36). Fax could not understand the reality that was being related to him:

I had been looking intently at the people of Khartoum from the moment I had arrived. Most of them were black. There were varying shades of brown among them and hair textures ranged from straight to kinky . . . . few resembled my artist’s concept of Arabs, swarthy skin, fairly sharp features, piercing grey or brown eyes, and straight or curly hair . . . the majority I had seen so far, at the airport, on the streets, in the hotel, looked more like blood relatives of mine. To the best of my knowledge, few of them are likely to be mistaken by any well-traveled white American for Arabs (36)

This area called Sudan (Arabic for “land of the Blacks”) had once been known in ancient times as Nubia and at times Ethiopia. Over the centuries in the northern provinces, there had been “racial mixing” between “Arabs [and Turks] and black Africans and they were loosely referred to as ‘Arabs’ because of their ethnic mixture and Arabic tongue” (37).

Fax put the question to a small group of Sudanese artists: “Do you of the north designate yourself as ‘Arabs’ and your fellow Sudanese in the south as ‘Negroes’? . . . The question evoked smiles and knowing glances.” The artists responded evasively: “We call ourselves Sudanese—Northern Sudanese. Our brothers to the south, they are Sudanese, too—Southern Sudanese. And you my friend’—and here the speaker begin to grin—‘You are an American Sudanese’.” (52) In the last decades of the 20th century an Islamist faction seized the reins of government and attempted to dominate these “Southern Sudanese.”

In Ethiopia, Fax also found racial and ethnic distinctions recognized. Among its people, there seemingly are black Asians referred to by anthropologists as “Cushites (a Hamitic language group) and Amhara (a Semitic language group).” These peoples were, Fax learned from white anthropologists, “groups [who] managed to get themselves mixed up” with “a Negro element which possibly appeared as early as the eighth millennium B.C.” But he could not discern the truth of these scientific reports and concludes “Ethiopians bear a striking resemblance to Afro-Americans who, with ethnic roots in Africa, are a people of various Indian and European bloodlines” (59-60).

In his The Reluctant African (1960), Louis Lomax, a Negro reporter and professional writer, tours Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanganyika, providing special insights to the growing and intense African nationalist perspectives as reflected in East Africa. He too point to the racialist attitudes that existed in Ethiopia prior to the growing African liberation movements:

Heretofore they [Ethiopians] had not considered themselves Africans, or members of the black brotherhood. When I was a Washington, D.C.,  newspaperman in the early forties, I was barred from a press conference at the Ethiopian Embassy because I was a Negro. Even now a residue of this anti-Negro attitude remains in Ethiopia. A Negro secretary at the American embassy has applied for a transfer after being pelted with stones and called a “slave” by a group of Addis Abba teenagers. Several American Point Four officers told me that their Ethiopian house servants frequently refer to American Negroes as “niggers and slaves.” (52)

In 1960 Lomax concluded that the Ethiopians under the heat of African nationalism were having a change of heart; they had begun to adopt “the nonalignment gospel” and Lomax believed the African nationalists would emerge as champions of the “liberated Ethiopian masses” (54). That is, Lomax predicted the overthrow of the Ethiopian monarchy and the over-reaching Soviet influence in the nation’s politics.

In Egypt, Lomax encountered the racial propaganda of General Gamal Abdul Nasser who was teaching “Egyptians to be black men.” Nasser, ostensibly an Arab, dreamed of a united Africa under his leadership and thus supported African freedom fighters—exiles from Uganda, Somali, Kenya, the Cameroons, Nigeria, South Africa, Southern Rhodesia, and Southwest Africa. They all “had offices in Cairo when I was there,” Lomax reports.

But Lomax was not won over by Nasser’s “gospel of black brotherhood,” in which even those who were dead ringers for white residents of Miami Beach, Florida, spoke of themselves as “black” (17).

This was my first encounter with planned ignorance, half-truths, well-calculated to condition the masses to die for whatever bold cause the state declares. . . . the Egyptian people now look upon themselves as Africans. This is what I encountered in Dr. [Yehia]  el-Alily” (The Reluctant African, 20 and 21).

Nor were the exiles convinced of this “blackism,” which concealed for some a potential Arab racialism, with the black African as Other: “They [the freedom fighters] think Nasser’s stance as a black African is a bit strained, yet they cannot deny that in a very real sense, the Egyptian people have come to feel one with the Africans” (22). Lomax reports further: “This was Nasser’s Egypt, a strange and forced world of black men, not really black but feeling as if they are, who put their arms around and honor all things black and then douse them in all the hates that make Nasser run” (34). One of these hatreds, of course, had to do with the support or non-support of the Israeli state.

In the mid 1950s the famed Negro American writer Richard Wright visited Africa for a month or so as the Gold Coast was being transformed into Ghana by Kwame Nkrumah and the Convention People’s Party. In his biography of Richard Wright, The Most Native of Sons (1970), John A. Williams wrote of Wright’s response to his African experience. “He [Wright] discovered he was more American than African. . . . [He] felt that there was a similarity in the way people danced in the Gold Coast and the way blacks danced in some of the religious sects in the United States; he saw a resemblance in the way Africans and Afro-Americans laughed. . . .[Yet the] hungry boy from Mississippi, grown to forty-five years, walked the land of his ancestors and felt himself an alien” (102).

Wright did not have very much hope for the “African Revolution,” as he observed it in the Gold Coast, which he felt was emblematic of the other bourgeoning African liberation movements. The men who led such movements, Wright felt, were in a “psychological trap.” They were trying to make a social revolution, Western-style, when “the population of the colony was more than 90 percent illiterate.”

These men . . . were living in a situation in which they did not really belong. They had been plucked by the hand of the white man out of their tribal societies, educated in Western institutions, and then thrown back into the jungle to sink or swim. They knew the West from the outside; and now they saw and felt their own from the outside. They shared a third but not quite yet clearly defined point of view (White Man Listen! 114-115)

When educated in the West, the African becomes fragmented; he is, Wright points out, “neither European nor African. The truth is . . . he [the African] has yet to make himself into what he is to be” (White Man Listen! 121).

From Wright’s perspective African tribal life was “wholly religious.” Christianity, nationalism, Marxism (all tools to be used when necessary and discarded when troublesome) did not increase the “volume” of religion but rather left a gaping hole, filled by racial and ethnic antipathies. The African nationalist movements could not have been “launched” and with such quick success, however, without African leaders “looking at their people through Western eyes” (White Man Listen! 136).


In his lecture “The Miracle of Nationalism in the African Gold Coast, Wright left a warning:

The white man injected race feeling in Africa. And the easiest, the cheapest, the most vulgar, and the least worthy road that the African can travel is to become a racist like the white man, which would mean that the African has learned his lesson too bitterly and too well. To steer clear of the foul road of racism is not left to the decision of the African; too much pressure upon him can take him down that road, and, if he goes, and if the Asians follow him, then the vile logic of racism, which the white man helped to sow in the world, will grow and bear blighted fruit (White Man Listen! 13; my emphasis).

Well, we have seen the “blighted fruit” and the rot continues. Everyone knows of the past ethnic wars in Nigeria, Rwanda, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Zaire, and Darfur—millions upon millions slaughtered by fellow “Africans.” But it is the small wars that take place daily that go unreported and undetected and ignored beneath the international radar that are the most insidious.

In his recent book, Prisoners of Freedom: Human Rights and the African Poor (2006), Harri Englund reports a correlation in Malawi between skin complexion and wealth:

Complexion remains an index of wealth and opportunity, with most Europeans and Asians enjoying vastly higher standards of living than most black Malawians. Virtually all expatriates, as well as those Asians who have acquired Malawian citizenship and the black elite, live in urban residential areas that the impoverished majority visit only as servants, guards, petty traders, laborers, and occasionally, armed robbers. Although apartheid was never formally instituted in Malawi, segregation is also evident in diet, modes of transport, pastimes, and numerous other everyday contexts. Foreign professionals also tend to be paid more than similarly qualified Malawians. Expatriate aid workers, in turn, usually wallow in their luxury, exempt from tax and employing domestic servants and other support personnel” (132-133).

Even where minimum wage laws exist they are not enforced. An African worker employed by an Asian merchant received the equivalent of $13 a month, much less than a dollar a day, much less than the Malawian government stipulated equivalent of $8 a day.  Illiteracy is high and most workers are not familiar with their rights and the public servants whose responsibility it is to assure that the law is carried out often fail to do so.

In the absence of a significant reduction of poverty, ignorance, disease, famine, and violence, many African sympathizers among the elites and the middle classes have settled for racial and ethnic chauvinism, the wearing of tribal robes and other garments, the pouring of libations and other ancestor worshiping rituals, the extolling of ethic foods, the extending of tribal titles and names, and other romancing of a tribal or an ancient civilized past that has now only a superficial resonance.

Those who perform such sincere acts call themselves “Africans.” Maybe they are indeed. Maybe they will indeed fill out Wright’s third view into that which is substantial indeed for the majority on the African continent. But clearly Africa has not come close to the hopes of its leaders when it set forth on seizing the “political kingdom.” For the African masses the rest has not followed as quickly as the seizing of black power. They continue to bear the economic burdens of the most negative aspects of an African identity.

Rather than “Who Is an African?” the more appropriate question may be “Who Wants to Be an African?” Except for an exploiting political elite economically invested in Western banks, many prefer a hyphenated African existence somewhere in America or Europe. Though America and Europe may provide economic benefits, the African fragmentation of humanity continues. In one of the most civilized of Europeans nations, Austria, the historian Runoko Rashidi reported recently, “They [Movement of the Young African Diaspora in Austria] told me that white people in Austria felt that they should be able to refer to African people as “niggers” without Africans taking offense.”


Ellison, Ralph (1966), Shadow and Act, Signet Books, New York.

Englund, Harri (2006), Prisoners of Freedom: Human Rights and the African Poor, University of California Press, Berkeley.

Fax, Elton C. (1974), Through Black Eyes / Journeys of a Black Artist to East Africa and Russia, Dodd, Mead and Company, New York.

Locke, Alain (1925,1997), The New Negro: An Interpretation, Simon and Schuster Publishers, New York.

Lomax, Louis (1960), The Reluctant African. Harper and Brothers, New York.

Moses, Wilson J. (1998), .Afrotopia: The Roots of African American Popular History, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Williams, John A. (1970), A Biography of Richard Wright: The Most Native of Sons, Doubleday & Company, New York.

Wright, Richard (1944,1964), American Hunger, Harper and Row, Publishers, New York.

Wright, Richard (1957,1964), White Man Listen! Doubleday & Company, Inc., New York.

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *

Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—


*   *   *   *   *

Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *


*   *   *   *   *





posted 20 October 2007  / update 30 December 2011




Home   Rudy’s Place   Langston Hughes Table

Related files: Okonkwo’s Curse  Why Africa is not Israel   Sensualization of Pain  Bearing the Owners Names

Post Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.