Who is African and who is not? Inconsequential question? The reality of the matter is that the wrong answer has been proffered over and over again. This is the reason why there is such prejudice and racism in the African continent even now. A controversial answer was given by Sentlese Diakanyo for Thought Leader when he said, “No white person can either through birth or naturalisation assume an identity of African.” He stirred up a hornets’ nest, of course, and in the process started a discussion Africa needs to have. In response to Diakanyo, one Khaya Dlanga said, “We are Africans. All (of) us. Black, white, Indian, coloured, Chinese.”
The fallacy of an African-ness defined by skin colour
African Holocaust is one of the most radical sites that anyone will stumble upon. Its definition of what an African is obviously the expression of radicalism. It goes something like this, “‘African’ refers exclusively to the historical people of Africa and their descendants in the Diaspora. In plain language, no one is an African unless they can also be considered a ‘Black’ person. But not every ‘Black person’ is an African.”
This definition is deliberately coined to exclude other ethnicities from the definition just as Diakanyo intended to do with his blog post. The idea is akin to what scholar and filmmaker, Alik Shahadah said, “African identity is not an open door, it does not have open membership. You cannot just come in like that. It does not work like that. It is exclusive because it has to be, it is exclusive because our experience is exclusive.” The unfortunate reality of all these profound observations is that they promote fragmentation of African society on the basis of skin colour.
The African experience that is used as a benchmark for determining whether one fits the bill to be “African” is something exclusive to black people thus meaning anyone else though identifying with the continent is denied of the identity. Diakanyo for example uses the argument of how during the slave trade there was never a demand for an African to be any colour but black and yet now there is a huge drive to “redefine the colour scheme of an African.”
This essentially means because other ethnicities particularly whites do not share the history and experience of the blacks, they cannot claim to be Africans. It is an emotional understanding of what it means to be African and yet emotions are rarely ever progressive. Is this scholastic understanding of the African identity what Africa needs? It is one thing to write an impressive blog post that proves one ascribes to a unique understanding of Africanism and another to have a progressive mind-set that embraces the possibility of a united continent.
The progressive definition of an African
The progressive definition of an African is a politically correct understanding that encourages integration of society. Where people cling to academic definitions that support their own prejudice, it is hard to unite the people. As Khaya Dlanga says, “If a white person is born in a particular country in Africa, that white person is a native of that country. Since they happen to have been born in a country in Africa that means they are African.”
That is a simple definition that is straight to the point. There is a fear that such understandings steal away from the history of the black people in Africa but history should never be the justification for exclusion and veiled prejudice. There are so many white people in Africa who would not feel at home anywhere else in the world. Are they not Africans if Africa is their home? It has been said that every struggle that forgets history repeats but also true is the fact that an obsessive focus on history inhibits movement to the future. Surely this continent is more than just its history.
It is very possible to include everyone who identifies with Africa: every citizen of an African country regardless of skin colour in the definition of African without downplaying the continent’s history. This flawed understanding that tells people that acknowledging the white citizen’s African identity is selling out should be discarded. The future of Africa should not be determined by complexion. If race defines being African, what makes the modern African better than the authors of apartheid and even the slave-trade?