A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

Us vs. Them
By Aba Taylor
Obviously, I write for a magazine. Nevertheless, I am just as skeptical of mainstream media as the next critical-thinking liberal. So admittedly, yes - it is easy to point fingers at the evil powers that be, such as dystopian News Corporation (proud owners of everything from Fox News, to Myspace to GQ to Vogue, to National Geographic Channel to Hulu.com) on the misrepresented stereotypes of Africans and African-Americans.

However, we cannot put the sole blame on Rupert Murdoch for the Diasporic rifts and assumptions about African and African-Americans that has migrained our collective conscious. Long before Mr. Murdoch, the chasm between Africans and African-Americans has been with us for generations, passed down like the gold heirlooms.

The West Side Story-like tensions between Africans and African-Americans typically center around issues of xenophobia, and hint at the underlying cause and effects of economic instability. Notorious BIG's song "Mo' Money Mo' Problems" is an apt coinage of the result of the West being seen as the greenback promiseland. However, Diasporic migration has not exclusively been prompted by economic pursuits alone. The cargo of cultural transport between Africans and African-Americans is an equally delicate history of transactions.

Although the widespread "Black is Beautiful" Afrocentrism of the 1960s and 1970s may have died down, being replaced rather by the ideologies of weaves, "bling", and assimilation, (brought to you by the makers of Viacom) there still thrives a romanticization of African culture within African-American sub- and counter-cultures. Retro-style dashikis, cowry shells, Yoruba practice, Gye Nyame symbols, and the Uhuru Movement are just a few examples, which are ever-present throughout the United States. Such Black counter-culture, coupled with Pan-Africanist aesthetics of natural hair, headwraps, batik prints, the colors red-black-and-green; as well as the popular Diasporic practices and belief systems of capoeira, Islam, Rastafarianism, and even the American Moors, reveal a cultural revival or perhaps even cultural maintenance, of what would otherwise be a blackened western world of eurocentric glorification.

Inadvertently however, the romanticism of African culture can easily support a fixed and linear concept, as if "African culture" were somehow a homogeneous, static entity that has remained unchanged and unaffected since the dawn of time. In today's reality misogyny, light-skin pedalstooling, flashy cars, money chasing, urban violence, and intra-racial class biases do not fall under the exclusive rights of African-American cultural stereotypes. These tragedies are equally rife on The Continent, and anywhere else Africans "co"-exist. In other words, like the fictitious borders invented by European colonizers during the infamous Berlin Conference of 1884, the line between what is authentically African-American and African may be more blurred than divisive pundits would have us believe.

No, most Africans probably do not celebrate Kwanzaa, and today's African youth might have a better chance quoting Tupac Shakur over Amil Cabral.  And yes, too many African-Americans still believe Africans live in trees and walk around barefoot with their neighboring lions, tigers and bears. But the distinction between what is authentically African and what is authentically American, is precisely what makes this article difficult to write, be it easy to package and sell elsewhere. Sure - regarding economic globalization, assimilation is the name of the game, no matter what side of the Atlantic you are on. 50 Cent's "Get Rich" (and die at some point) maxim is uniformly embraced by street hustlers from Brownsville to Legos. Hustle is hustle, and the mainstream attempts to hook everyone on this planet with the cultural ideology of the free-market. If we could, however for a moment, divorce economics from cultural identity, the binary between today’s Africa and America would more malleable be.

Take hip-hop as the perfect example. No question, the artform and subculture were born and bred in the Bronx, U.S.A. As we well know though, any aspect of African-American culture has its traces to African culture. We already know that hop-hop MC's are none other than modern-day Griots. Clearly the global spread of hip-hop over the last 30 years, has in its own unique way boomeranged back to Africa, back to the land it all started from. And so, how much can we truly argue that hip hop today is a distinctly American cultural feature? So to does the cultural fluidity of Africa and America inform facets of the Diaspora from East Coast (Washington, DC, aka Chocolate City) to West Coast (Senegal), from the “Dirty South” to South Africa?

I pose this: What if the historic founding of Liberia were not a physical, geographical destination, but rather a state of mind? What would it look like today, tomorrow, in 2012, in 50 years, 500 years? Where would New Liberia, our Black Mecca be, in our consciousness, for starts?