ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
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The mettle of any revolution is most severely tested not in the armed struggle phase,
but rather in the reconstruction phase. This is where Africa needs the most help
Books by Kalamu ya Salaam
My Story My Song (CD)
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African Criticisms of the Diaspora
Notes from PanaFest 1994
By Kalamu ya Salaam
Behind the Panafest Jingle
Free Press Editorial
December 16 to December 22, 1994
It was Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, one of the sages of our time, a Nobel laureate, who once lamented, “While America is reaching for the moon, Tanzania is reaching for the village”. This saying sums up the tragedy not of Tanzania alone but most of Africa as well.
In his vision, Nyerere no doubt sees the village of old where the people only scratch the surface of the earth for their bare existence on a few headloads of produce; where for their music, the village folks thwack the surface of tympanic parchment upon dug-out stems for percussion, and blow wind through wooden flute, and sing and dance with frenzied abandon; the village where for their entertainment, the young folks gather by moonlight at the village centre, sing, clap, and dance; where girls of ripen age, heavily adorned with rich beads, and baring the sexy parts of their bodies, are paraded through the village under the Dipo or Otofo custom; the village where little children sit under the shade of the compound tree to learn ABC, and the elderly drink palm wine or pito.
Yea, Nyerere must be seeing the village where the folks worship their chiefs like demigods, who decide the destiny of every soul, and whose word must be obeyed; the chiefs who having been adorned with riches are carried in palanquin on festive occasions and when they die, seven heads must carry their dead body in his grave; the village where the farming, fishing and hunting men and women retire to rest at night in the thatched-roofed mud huts.
But, O, when shall we leave this village in which we all live to where it belongs, and set our eyes towards the moon?, Nyerere would lament.
By setting our eyes towards the moon, Nyerere would want Africa to look forward not backward for development and progress.
Relating Nyerere’s lamentation to PANAFEST and its theme “The re-emergence of African civilisation” the crucial question one would ask is, is this the right time in Ghana’s political, social, and economic tragedy to devote such enormous time and resources to promote “The Re-emergence of African Civilisation” on such a huge Panafestic scale?
Is it right to spend billions of cedis in promoting “The Emergence of African Civilisation” while the economy is in shambles and inflation has become the order of the day, making life not worth living for the people, and parents cannot pay school fees?
Is it right to spend billions of cedis to organise PANAFEST while the people live in abject poverty, and while our hospitals lack the basic materials and equipment to look after the sick and the people cannot pay for the cost of health care?
What do we benefit from the billions wasted on PANAFEST while our young men and women roam the streets without jobs, some of them taking to peddling dog chains.
Our educational institutions – from JSS to the Universities – have a chilling story to tell. No classroom accommodation, no equipment, no text-books, yet billions of cedis have been thrown into the PANAFEST drain.
Where is the wisdom in sinking billions of cedis in a white elephant like PANAFEST while our police force lack vehicles, men, and even the stationery needed to establish and maintain law and order in the community, and while the defiled environment breeds diseases?
Can a country in need such as Ghana, begging for money all over the world, waste so much money on such a hopeless venture as PANAFEST just to satisfy the appetite of a tyrant for ceremony and adulation, and his admirers from the Diaspora?
Since, from all indications, PANAFEST is being organized also to enable our brothers and sisters from the Diaspora to see and participate in “The Emergence of African Civilsation”, it is fitting to bring under focus their entire relationship, their attitude towards Africans as brothers and sisters, and advancement of the continent.
It is, indeed, sad that African Americans have nothing to show the world even as a memorial to their roots, a contribution for the development of Africa, to make the motherland a place worth living in not for Africans alone but for themselves as well.
It is true that although African Americans had lived for centuries in America as slaves from Africa, whenever they come around to Africa they are shocked to see the backwardness of the motherland their forefathers left behind centuries ago. Indeed, they find their social conditions far more advanced than those of the brothers and sisters back home.
A few of them like W.E.B. Du-Bois and Marcus Garvey, concerned with this situation, have in the past made suggestions for the emancipation, advancement, and development of Africa, yet these patriots met with strong rebuff from the majority, led by the likes of Booker T. Washington and others.
So a Black Endowment Bank for Africa Development that could have saved Africa from World Bank imperialism in the 20th century for instance, never was.
Indeed, since the second half of this century, there have been Black Americans of substance who could have contributed greatly towards Africa’s well-being. From Paul Robeson, Louis Satchmo Armstrong, Bill Cosby, to Michael Jackson; from Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, Don King, to Mike Tyson; and many others, including businessmen, fund raising shows could have been and tournaments organised to raise billions of dollars into an African endowment fund, but all that never was.
Interestingly, the luckiest Ghana had been was when Farrakhan contributed 50 dollars (yes 50 dollars!) in 1992 towards an appeal for funds at the W.E.B. Du-Bois centre. One, therefore, clearly sees the mischief done by Rawlings in donating as much as 50,000 dollars to Priscilla Kruize and her Heritage Museum in America!
It is indeed painful to think that Ghana gains nothing from the camera-bearing, cap-wearing bespectacled African Americans who are occasionally invited to take part in festivities like PANAFEST, many of them addicted to taking photographs of dancers, and collecting sculptural pieces and other art works back home.
Perhaps, next time round, Ghana would need the good services of notaries like Marva Collins, and Johnette B. Cole, in the field of education; Toni Morrison, Alex Harley, Amiri Baraka and Maya Angelow [sic], in the field of Arts and Literature; Carol Moseley Braun, Jesse Jackson, Maxine Waters, in politics; Angela Davis, Coretta Scott King, Anita Hill, social activities; Dorothy Height, Phyllis Wallace, Oprah Winfrey, Cardis Collins and Joan B. Johnson, in the business fields and not singers, clowns, and clappers.
In any case, may we have the pleasure to welcome our brothers and sisters from the Diaspora who have come all the way to join in the fray, and the raping of the national coffers as it is believed to serve other political ends in the name of PANAFEST. O’ what a great contribution to the cause of the motherland. (p. 6)
Source: Free Press (Accra, Ghana) December 16 to December 22, 1994
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Infusion of Diaspora: Is Continental Africa Better? (Kalamu ya Salaam)
For a number of reasons, ranging from the negatives of our deteriorating social conditions where we live to the positives of ethnic pride in our motherland, Africans in the diaspora will increase our interaction with the continent. Moreover, when we go to Africa, we will also want to bring Africa back with us. As more and more of us go, that pool of those who have returned and immersed ourselves into Africa’s reality will produce individuals and opportunities which will result in serious capital investment.
As I travel around the United States, whether traveling by car via interstate, or especially when flying through various airports, two characteristics strike me: one, the enormous size and level of development of the United States, and, two, the fact that America is in no way willing, prepared or even minimally inclined to share the resources and material development built up in the 20th century.
Look at a small town like Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana, which doesn’t even register as a major city by U.S. standards. In terms of physical infrastructure, Baton Rouge is light years ahead of Accra, the capital of Ghana. There are literally thousands of American cities the size of Baton Rouge with fully functioning airports, higher educational institutions, health and sanitation, communications and other industrial infrastructure. Although this density of development would be extraordinary in any other country in the world, most of we African Americans are blissfully unaware of the immensity and import of America’s industrial infrastructure
In many, many ways, because all we really know about industrialism is consumerism, African Americans are unaware of what industrial development entails. We don’t think about heavy machinery manufacturing, transportation concerns, sanitation, general utilities, medical services, and on and on. I remember reading one of the Sandinista writers who talked about the bewildering process of administering newly liberated Nicaragua.
The mettle of any revolution is most severely tested not in the armed struggle phase, but rather in the reconstruction phase. This is where Africa needs the most help, and this is precisely where the bulk of we African Americans are deficient simply because we have not been in management and skilled labor but rather traditionally we have been relegated to being the brawn and brute strength of the American economy.
On the level of material standard of living, we are, of course, very aware of being “better off” than most people in the world, and especially “better off” than Africa. Yet our “better off-ness” is both relative and solely material rather than absolute and social. As citizens of the U.S.A. we have some (depending on our particular financial wherewithal) access to the “good life” and some enjoyment of the material trappings of a modern industrial society manifested as a so-called high standard of living.
Yet our relationships to the wealth and means of production, the infrastructure that makes all this possible, is tenuous at best. Whatever access we have is generally one of proximity or of being a “servant of the system” (whether as Joint Chief of Staff or Supreme Court Justice does nothing to change the ultimate reality that our participation in the affairs of the ruling class is to serve at their pleasure and to do their bidding).
There is a big difference between being close to power or serving the interests of power and actually sharing power. Indeed, when looked at in detail and on an economic basis, those of us who live poor and Black in the inner cities of America have a standard of living (in terms of health care, life expectancy and other measures of social well-being) which is amazingly similar to our brothers and sisters in major cities throughout sub-Sahara Africa. We neither control nor produce, and therefore are dependents in relationship to America’s industrial standard of living.
Finally, to whatever degree we are better off, it is only in possession of material things. In terms of social well-being, in terms of individual and collective sanity, in terms of mental health and community, morals and ethics, well, let’s just say things ain’t what they used to be for African Americans at the end of the 20th century. Confronted by Africa’s underdevelopment in an industrial sense combined with our own penchant for the material trappings of the so-called good life, Africa quickly teaches the diaspora that African Americans in general are the “whitest” Africans in the world. Our up side is that we have greater access to “things”. Our downside is that our proximity to American power and mores has bleached us spiritually and socially.
My critique of African Americans allegedly being better off than continental Africans focuses not only on our relationship to U.S. industrial development and our adoption of an American consciousness, but also we should focus on and question the cost of that development — the whole world has suffered so that those of us in America can live as we do, even those of us who have limited access to and share very little of the wealth and power of America.
The recent rise of the Republican party in America is further reinforcement that there will be no sharing of this wealth. From coast to coast, border to border, I go into what is left of the “Black community” and I am saddened. While we were never in a position to compete, at least, during the first half of the 20th century, we African Americans were building an internal economic infrastructure. Today, with far more political freedom, we have regressed into a state of near peonage, into an economic serfdom which is most accurately measured by noting deficiencies and lacks.
Those of us who try to start businesses find ourselves severely outclassed and hampered not just by a lack of expertise and capital, but also hampered by having to compete with fully developed multinationals who are becoming increasingly adroit at employing niche marketing schemes designed to sew up the African American market. If we are to develop and compete as a people, it just seems that there is so very little room for growth available to us in the United States.
People talk about opportunity, but what kind of opportunity do we have when we are first generation business people going up against the major, minor and even bush leagues of Wall Street corporations? Africa is a much more sensible and level playing field in terms of competition and also in terms of need.
In African developmental terms, a $50,000 project is serious and significant. In the USA, that amount barely qualifies as venture capital in business development. African Americans who want to develop businesses and make serious money, stand a much better chance at competing and succeeding in Ghana than they do in the home of the brave and the land of the free.
While they are not discouraging nor overlooking the tourist dollar, at this historical moment, Ghana is seeking African Americans to make venture capital, developmental investments in Ghana. There is both a genuine need and a genuine desire for an infusion of diaspora African skills and capital. When it comes to foreign exchange, the Pan African potential is enormous.
Some suggest that South Africa will be the new “promised land”. My particular reading is that South Africa will see blood shed and rough times before it sees a real improvement in the lives of African people. The White controlled, industrial infrastructure which makes South Africa so attractive to investors, is also the major obstacle for indigenous African development. Although I am not a prophet, the clash of Black expectations for a significant increase in their standard of living versus White determination to hold on to wealth and economic power is an obvious and unavoidable obstacle in the path of South African national development.
Although Ghana is certainly not the only African country which is desirous of and could benefit from an infusion of diaspora capital and skills, psychologically, Ghana is the most prepared to make use of the unique disaspora configuration of foreign exchange. Some refer to this as the “Israel” model.
The basic foundation of a large diaspora able to offer capital and political support is a point we and Jews have in common, there are also significant differences, not the least of which is the fact that Israel is one state, while Africa is a continent made up of many states. More important than logistical questions is the fact that the Jews as a people have never had a serious inferiority complex about themselves nor have they, as a people, been brainwashed into believing that the White man’s ice is colder, the White man’s businesses are better, and the White man’s brains are smarter. While individual Jews have displayed feelings of guilt and inadequacy, Jews as a people always cast themselves as “the chosen” ones. Yes, they might suffer disproportionately to others, but they never considered themselves the cursed tribe of “Ham”.
This was the underlying point of the movie “Schindler’s List”. In terms of business acumen, the movie portrayed Schindler as a figurehead whose business was actually run by a Jewish accountant. Moreover, throughout the movie, every time a specific skill was needed a “persecuted Jew” was presented who, when given the chance, competently and admirably fulfilled the job.
In fact, even when not given the chance, the Jews were portrayed as “more skilled” than their German persecutors. This was the point of the concentration camp scene in which a young Jewish woman steps forward to offer her architectural expertise. She speaks up to correct the construction methods used in erecting a building. The German commander listens to her, weighs her advice, cold-bloodedly shoots her dead, and then directs the soldiers and prisoners to follow the advice of the murdered architect. The point of the scene was not just the capricious cruelty of the German military officer, but also to portray the intelligence of the Jewish victim. Thus, “Schindler’s List” reinforces the intelligence and skills of Jews and fights against any suggestion of Jewish inferiority.
We Africans, both continental and diaspora, have a much tougher battle to fight. By Western industrialized standards of education and skills, we are not only generally underdeveloped, we also have serious and deep-seated feelings of intrinsic inferiority. In short, we believe ourselves not just ignorant but fundamentally stupid. In this regard, the attraction of the diasporan African is our access to and possession of Western education and capital.
Regardless of how inadequate we in the diaspora may feel within the nations of our birth, the fact is, in terms of education and skills, the diaspora is the advanced sector of the African world. We are both an emotional and a material asset to African development. This is obvious. However, we are also a problem for African development because, to date, the continent has not fully faced the history nor traumatic effects of the slave trade on all of Africa. Underlying every exchange at PANAFEST was a groping with the difficulty of settling the issue of diaspora reintegration into the African family.
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Panafest Is to Expose the True African Identity — President
…He touched on the second theme of PANAFEST ’94 — ‘Uniting the African Family’ — and said that endeavour should not just be an exercise in nostalgia for lost years, but should strengthen Africans’ determination to work together for the development of the continent and raise the dignity of people of African descent. (p. 1)
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Ghana is beginning to face the full ramifications of the horror and trauma of the slave trade’s devastating historic disruption, and through facing the truth, is beginning to welcome the return of the diaspora. The fact that Ghana is actively courting the diaspora is a major league statement in and of itself.
When President Rawlings extends a hand of welcome, and when people on the street spontaneously do the same, the point is driven home in ways which are difficult to explain in rational terms but which are emotionally overwhelming.
When we Africans need serious help, most of us seldom think of each other. In the midst of Ghanaian economic development deliberations, the push to expand Pan Africanism from romantic cultural concepts and nation bound political expressions to encompass international economic development is a bold move.
The “feeling of self worth” that results from Black people struggling to live and work with each other across “tribal” lines is an unbelievably potent tonic. This invigorating brew gives a higher and healthier meaning to the phrase “foreign exchange.”
Source: Ghanaian Times. Monday, December 12, 1994
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ARE YOU HERE FOR PANAFEST?(Kalamu ya Salaam)
Angela Lee lives in Canada. She has been telling us she knows the mayor of Accra. Not bragging. Simply sharing information.
I like Angela’s enthusiasm.
We are eating dinner. A man dressed in a batakari, a traditional Ghanaian shirt, and who looks like James Earl Jones’ cousin, comes over to our table.
This is Nat Amarteifio, the mayor of Accra.
Before the night is over he drives us around the city. Treats us to a drink at a ritzy hotel after he has driven us through the various sections of town including the poorest sections that most politicians would try to hide.
As we drive, we talk.
I ask him what is the murder rate.
Honestly. He doesn’t know. Never had to think about that.
In Ghana the policemen don’t carry guns. The thieves — what few of them there are — don’t carry guns either, not if they want to live. In Ghana they execute armed robbers. The second day we were there a newspaper headline trumpeted a murder — a crowd caught a thief and beat him to death.
Do you have a drug problem?
Nothing you would recognize as a problem. Ghanaians think marijuana makes you crazy. Ghana’s major drug related problem is the increasing numbers of Ghanaians working as smugglers hired to carry hard drugs into Western countries.
Crack is non-existent. In fact, most people don’t even smoke cigarettes. It’s refreshingly astounding to see thousands and thousands of Black, non-smokers.
Do you have a health problem?
Sanitation mainly. But no plagues or anything of that sort.
What do you need most?
I comment on the walking variety stores. Almost every conceivable product hawked up and down the lanes between cars on crowded Accra main streets. Toilet paper. No problem. Batteries. Chain link fencing. Light bulbs. A moving Walmart of sandaled entrepreneurs giving a new meaning to retail marketing.
Some people want us to shut them down.
Some people who?
Some people in government. But you know those young people stand there all day in the hot sun selling their wares. I’d much rather they’re doing that, making honest money, then hitting people in the head.
I have never been driven around by a mayor before.
At the hotel when we stop for drinks, we run into Jane. We were going in. The mayor was first and then the four of us: Angela, Nia and me, and Norbusse Philip, a Toronto, Canada based Caribbean writer from Tobago, Trinidad. As we approached the door, a small party of people were coming out. One White woman spoke to us. Really, she spoke to the mayor. Pointing to his flowing, stripped batakari which hit him mid thigh.
“Oh, you’re here for PANAFEST.”
The mayor was cool.
“No. I live here.”
Leave it to Jane to assume that the Ghanaian mayor of Accra was visiting Africa on vacation.
Where did she think she was, in the delusions of her mind?
Who did Jane think she was?
Who did she think we were: the American Negro extras come to audition for spear chuckers in Tarzan’s next movie, the one starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, set in modern times where he battles the warlords who are creating more misery than the spear chuckers can carry?
Why did Jane feel safe enough to handle up on us like that?
Walking back to the car around eleven p.m. in a city of over two and a half million residents, the overwhelming majority of them poor. The parking lot was a long corridor lying parallel to the street. The car sat quietly. Untouched. A quarter block away a lone sentry with a simple, soft-white beamed, flashlight motions that all is well. We were safe. the car was there. Good night.
I’m impressed, Nourbusse said. In the States, women out at night, for whatever reason, going to their car in the parking lot, in the parking garage, a block and a half away from the hotel, across the street, women in the States walking at night to their car — that’s an ordeal. I’m impressed.
Later, well after midnight, when we are at an atonement function, all of us feel safe. We don’t speak the language. We are in the poorest part of town. Standing in crowds. No policemen around. Lights only on the periphery. When the camera people shut down the floodlights we are in semi darkness. Walking willy nilly about without a clue to specifically where we are. We feel safe. Not just me in my burly male Blackness. But the sisters too: Nia, Norbusse, Stephanie. We all feel safe. Ghana feels safe.
Back at the Novatel Hotel — a French oasis of material insolence offering a “continental” (as in “the” continent) cultural experience for US$120 a night — another Jane in painted face, spandex slacks, and jangling jewelry feels safe enough to walk her little unattractive pet dog through the lobby, out the front door, and who knows where from there.
Later in Cape Coast, young European students will attend all the functions and walk safely away at night through the dark streets and on the pitch dark road sides.
At one of the colloquium sessions May Ayim, an Afro-German (half Ghanaian / half German) talks about Germany’s rising tide of racist attacks. About the two thousand people of African descent that Hitler put in concentration camps. About how a unified Germany is not the healthiest place for people of color. “With the collapse of the GDR, racism has erupted into open violence and became more strong in East Germany than in West Germany. Some people say that the open racist violence is a problem of the East which the West has been infected with. This is not true, and I am asking myself how West Germans would have reacted, if after the reunification their traditions, values and ways of thinking would have been declared to be wrong and changed radically.”
Meanwhile back in the States — the United States is not the healthiest place for people of color.
And even though Jane thinks the mayor is a tourist, Ghana is a safe place regardless of your color.
Isn’t that the way the world should be?
Regardless of color.
Source: Kalamu ya Salaam. Tarzan Can Not Return to Africa, But I Can — PanaFest 1994
posted 17 January 2006
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music website > http://www.kalamu.com/bol/ writing website > http://wordup.posterous.com/ daily blog > http://kalamu.posterous.com twitter > http://twitter.com/neogriot facebook > http://www.facebook.com/kalamu.salaam
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By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarcerationbut her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.Publishers Weekly
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Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 5 January 2012