Africa and the Politics of Identity

Published on 5th July 2010

Africans must be intelligent and live in a world where they are politically astute to broader interest. Outside interest for a long time realized that the first and most sophisticated line of attack is to challenge the concepts which unify African people. By posing challenges to African identity, they undermine the foundation of concepts such as African unity, African culture, African history and African empowerment to name a few.

If 'African' as a concept is swallowed into the colonial linguistic definition of Europeans, then ultimately the attachment to the word "African" floats around and serves no constructive process in liberation. Europeans have long realized that language is a tool of oppression and warfare; unfortunately, most Africans are passive to this attack. Others have also realized that ownership and controlling the academic process is another good investment in the war against African growth. So it is no surprise that scholars and academics come out of the woodwork in defense of the most ridiculous Eurocentric assertions. 

Some people have issues with putting boxes around people; however, the politics of agency demand that people with similarity do so in response to a world that does prejudice people and group them into boxes for easy oppression. Moreover, human behavior, for ease and function, has a natural habit of defining and naming creation. Who is a Muslim? Who is a male? Who is a female? Where is Africa? All of these have definitions, which are critical in language and human behavior. If the color red is blue to some people and green to another, then red as a color has no meaning. 

"And God taught Adam all the names (of everything), then He showed them to the angels and said, "Tell Me the names of these if you are truthful." -Qur'an 

Terms such as ‘African’ have a deep social and historical location in our modern history as well as the contemporary moment. Being African 200 years ago was the difference between being human or chattel. Thus vague open ended terms further serve in the muddy of this historical narrative of a specific group of people whose primary commonality in oppression was based on their place of origin; native Africa. Linguistic terms have always been controlled by the strongest- as opposed to a people who have been the greatest victims of white supremacy.

The crisis of identity sits hand in hand with all the other crises that African people are faced with. Cultural ownership and historical placement all contribute to the dilemma of the Global African. As a weak self-identifying group compared to others, Africans are susceptible to being knocked off course by non-Africans, like leaves in the wind blowing to everything that has the power to blow. ‘African’ cannot be a term to hug everything that comes its way, for then, it has no concrete meaning. It is an integrative term but not for Europeans, Indians, ethnic Arabs, and other non-Africans.

Diversity of African people

"Africans are the most genetically diverse group of people on the planet. There is more genetic diversity among African people than between all the other races of the world" - National Geographic Genome project

Within Africa's indigenous people, we find all textures of hair, colors of skin, types of eyes and noses. So beyond the European defined boxes of what a "real African" looks like we find a continent representing most of the features found throughout the world. The straight nose is a feature of Africa; light skin is a feature of Africa; even Chinese eyes are found among African people. The old theory of the darker you were, the more African you were, is now buried as a plantation tale to create the self-hating slave. We now know that the oldest people on the planet in terms of genes are the "yellow skin" San of Southern Africa. One of the blessings witnessed in the Americas is how quickly African-Diasporian people have moved beyond "what massa wants us to think." Why would it be a surprise to find the aquiline features of the Tutsis, Amhara, the Fulani and Somali in Africa?

When we venture back into history, or pre-history, it is a fact that people left Africa in numerous waves over thousands of years to populate the world. Thus, African people have the greatest genetic diversity inclusive of every single race on the planet. The reverse is not true. As people left Africa, some unique features came about due to mutation and adaptation via Darwin's favorite word, Natural Selection. However, the physical features seen in India and the Middle East originally came from an African genetic pool. Thus within the African is the ability to produce every race on the planet. Within the skin hues, texture of hair found on the continent it is possible to make Europeans, Arabs, Chinese, Indians, etc. 

Africans and the environment

The African in a pure sense is a biological human adaption to the environmental parameters of Africa. The African is a product of a specific range of biospheres. The pigment and the general texture of hair are all necessary adaptations to living on the continent in a natural way. In the absence of artificial mechanisms, the European cannot survive on the continent comfortably. Europeans have a physiological adaption which makes them ideal for Europe, hence one reason they are called Europeans; people of Europe. Technology, and technology alone, allows the European to escape the African environment.

To be continued

By Owen 'Alik Shahadah
Scholar, Film maker and Pan - Africanist

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