The Joseph Principle Enacted

The Joseph Principle Enacted


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



 For some Africans in the Diaspora, the belief is that Africa selectively sold them into slavery.

They have been emboldened in recent years by a procession of village chiefs and self-styled

 kings who came to America to render apology and to admit “guilt” for the crime of slavery



The Joseph Principle Enacted

By E. Ablorh-Odjidja


The Joseph Project is gaining ground. The government of Ghana, through its tourism programs, is promoting it; with the view of issuing special visas to enable Africans in the Diaspora to visit Ghana at least once in a life’s time. There are promoters of The Joseph Project in the US too whose hopes are that this project will serve as a spring board for a return to the continent by a large population of Africans in the Diaspora. The idea of a return for Africans in the Diaspora has to be promoted and supported for its own sake, but it does not have to be burdened by guilt. The project theme is borrowed from the Bible. A brother was sold into slavery by his own siblings but later returned to his people to save them. With this project, it is hoped that Africa can complete a journey of loss, and rejection, and finally arrive at atonement and redemption. The story of Joseph, as a metaphor, has had a magnetic pull for displaced people throughout history. Among African Americans, no other Biblical narrative can strike such deep emotional core. But one must beware. Beneath this emotional response may dwell resentment for Africa in some people. For some Africans in the Diaspora, the belief is that Africa selectively sold them into slavery. They have been emboldened in recent years by a procession of village chiefs and self-styled kings who came to America to render apology and to admit “guilt” for the crime of slavery on Africa’s behalf. The apology continues, but the agenda of these apologists are not clear. However, the enthusiasm with which they claim “guilt” has left open speculations of scam within some circles. This notion of “guilt”, especially one that is admitted insincerely, is dangerous and must be corrected. And as close as we are to religion with this theme, the sooner the correction the better. Moreover, the appeal to “guilt” is a disservice to the true Diasporan African for he is already a pan-Africanist. And since the notion of a return is embodied in the concept of African Unity, no pan-Africanist will ask for a confession of “guilt” before he embarks on a pilgrimage to Africa. W.E.B Dubois, George Padmore, Dr. Lee and others, who settled in Ghana in the 60s in the Nkrumah era, were and are still perfect examples of the pan-African reach. The continent owes them and all pan-Africanist stalwarts gratitude for their willingness and dedication to the development of human capital on the continent. Africa must continue to welcome such persons with open arms. Certainly, the continent can put to good use the abundant skill and resources that the pan-African experience or the Joseph Project can pour into Africa. However, it also has to be acknowledged that there are some Africans in the Diaspora who have no love for the continent, nor the intention or inclination to return. For these people, the admission of “guilt” can also serve as justification to hate Africa some more and this would be wrong. The story about Africa’s motive and complicity in the slave trade is not clear. Any attempt to promote a blanket admission of “guilt” is not worth it because it bears the risk of creating further rift between the continent’s descendants; a rift that can create a greater a tension than what existed before the slave trade. Read “Out of America”* by Keith Richburg to understand this risk. And note his outburst against Africa, “Talk to me about Africa and my black roots and my kinship with my African brothers and I will throw it back in your face, and then I’ll rub your nose in the images of the rotting flesh.” The positive relationship that The Joseph Project seeks to build must be allowed to stand on its own merit. The confession of “guilt,” on the part of Africa as a condition for Diasporans to love her is not needed in this project. All Africans, in or out of the Diaspora, to a greater or lesser extent, are victims of the slave trade. We must all regret it happened. The Joseph Project can silently serve as a cleansing measure. It can be cleansing because the Biblical narrative contains a powerful lesson for both Joseph and his brothers and Africans in the Diaspora and those on the continent. It is about man and his emotions on earth and how both can be equally powerful and unreasonable. The lesson here is not to create privilege versus a class of “guilty” fellows. Joseph the man of the “coat of many colors,” who was dearly loved by his father, was consequently hated by his brothers and sold into slavery. The Joseph Project must not create a “coat of many colors” or set up another Liberia. March 1807 was the beginning for the abolition of the slave trade. Coincidentally, March 2007 is Ghana’s 50th independence anniversary, the first African country to become independent. It can be the occasion to put it all behind us.- the tribal conflicts, the chaos and the marauding that produced the slave trade – with the knowledge that it was a matter of chance that caused some to remain and others to be taken away from the continent. What need not be forgotten is that slavery happened because of our sheer and shared stupidity in response to the onslaught of western civilization. Washington, DC, July 2, 2006

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Peace Rahim, Yes, I believe the project is well intended. But, as you know, I am not in to going back to Africa even for a visit. Been there, done that. And, I am not sure that it will do anything material for us here in the States. The high tide of African Consciousness has ebbed. What is left is a hodge-podge of reactionary ideas. I listened to the BBC one morning to hear about a young African girl who bled to death after trying to circumcise herself. It is this kind of ignorance that I want to stay away from.

I have no interest in the kings and high chiefs of Ghana. I believe I saw the golden stool of the Ashanti in the British museum. Relics from feudalism have little meaning to me in a post-modern world. If Africa is to survive it must remake itself. There are too many Dafurs for my liking. And, African-Americans are too timid in their criticism of the genocide that goes on in Africa. You have spoken better than I on the romanticism that pervades most Blacks thinking when it comes to Africa. I do not define my existence in terms of Africa anymore. There is too much work to be done right here for me to consider Africa as a priority.


amin sharif

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That is good wisdom. I think we have to start from the bottom and build up, one person at a time, one family at a time. It is a slow process. That is the soundest approach, especially if we desire the other to make sacrifices on our behalf.

Though I made a promise at the edge of Lake Kivu, in what was then eastern Zaire, I doubt if I ever will return. In some sense I suppose I have just done so in recalling the event. Have you ever talked to a god of a lake? Well, that is a silly question.

In any event, it was a beautiful lake set among red hills of banana trees and cassava plants. And I’d daily see natives in small boats, fishing, on the lake. No, I have not made a good lasting friendship with one African, though I have brought two to the house here in Virginia—one a Liberian woman who feared Mama; the other a young fellow from war-torn Sudan. However Pan African our feelings we would still be foreigners in Ghana. There is no way to escape that.

However we might want to shine the light of reason on it, sentiments of racial nationalism are difficult to escape, either abstractly or concretely.



E.  Ablorh-Odjidja: Graduate, Howard University, BA Communications 1973, and Columbia University, School of Fine Arts, MFA Film Arts 1976  Professional experience: Writer, producer/director GBC-TV and Freidrich Ebert Foundation in Ghana.  Has five documentaries films to his credit.  Has to date published numerous political commentaries on Africa and Africans in the Diaspora in periodicals in Europe and Africa.  He is the current publisher of

posted 14 July 2006

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An exhortation to political involvement within the decrepit electoral system by the Georgia state legislator and former SNCC activist who stole the show in the 1968 Democratic Convention by becoming the first black man to receive Vice Presidential mention. Bond writes the balanced, sagacious prose of the would-be junior statesman casting about for a national constituency. A reformist who senses the limits of reformism, Bond sees the Nixon Administration (“the bland leading the bland”) endeavoring to strangle the “second Reconstruction” of the 1960s. What he is looking for is an “escape from the circle of politics that always escalates to protest, culminates in rebellion, and results in repression..” The diagnosis is astute enough but the solutions suggested are partial, problematic and equivocal.

He plumps strongly for community control—including black-run rackets, prostitution and numbers if they must exist in the ghettos—and heralds the need for a nationwide organization “Negroes and Practical Politics, Inc.” (NAPPI) to channel information, political expertise and funds to prospective black candidates.

At present there are some 1800 black officials in the U.S. and Bond wants to double and triple their numbers but he shies away from any discussion of how unity is to be achieved among the highly fragmented leadership and black power ideologues from LeRoi Jones to Carl Stokes. Once or twice he raises the specter of violence and black guerrilla warfare in the cities but without any real conviction—it may be morally justified, but it won’t work. Despite the firm recognition that “representative democracy has yet to work for us,” Bond can endorse no other way: “I find it increasingly satisfying. It is a pleasure to be a politician.” In the end this is no more than a temperate and somewhat forlorn plea to “the young people” to return to the electoral mire at the grassroots level and combat the mounting apathy that threatens . . . 1972; 163 pages


Google Reviewer

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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.

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What prevents young Muslims, even in the West, from expressing their need for religious reinterpretation? What scares non-Muslims about openly supporting liberal voices within Islam? How did we get into the mess of tolerating intolerable customs, such as honor killings, and how do we change that noxious status quo?

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

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Ancient African Nations

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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 /

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

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update 21 July 2012




Home  Transitional Writings on Africa

Related files: A Critique of the book Out of America  Disadvantaged by race, set back by language  The Joseph Principle Enacted

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