Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Written by Franklin Johnston
Black history month revealed hunger for history of Africa and Jamaica, but it has a downside in the repeat racist hate mail I get from people who breach the ICANN and ISP codes. These cowards vomit personal abuse but have no facts to share. In the Old World, black is the icon for Sub-Saharans but the New World used a palette from black to octoroon (1/8th white) to designate and divide us. In Africa, Europe and Asia, the discriminators are language, tribe, nation, place and culture. There is no white history in the UK and no black history in Kenya. The descriptors are British, Welsh, etc; Kenyan, Kikuyu, Luo etc, and color have no place.
We are no angels. Sir Willard White our global bass-baritone sings Faust as no one else can, yet we call him the pejorative name, "coconut". Our capacity for self-harm and self-hate is strong. We say we don't know our history but no one is hiding it. Books on Songhai, Kanem, Mali exist. If you are under 55 and can't read, it's your fault; literacy classes are all over. By some intellectual recidivism, our scholars do not decant African texts. Learn to read and they may write some for you.
Last year, a lynch mob attacked me in cyberspace. They didn't know Ethiopian history; that Rameses and Persian Emperors were "King of Kings" before Bible days, or birth of Christ or Selassie, and this angered them. We should make African history top of the syllabus in school and focus the Jamaica Library Service's book buying for 2010 on Africa. We must write more Jamaican and Diaspora history as lies are all about.
Neither the African, nor the Jamaican Diaspora is uniform. Fewer than seven per cent of all transatlantic slaves went to America, a fraction of ours. Yet they innovate most (black Americans hold most patents and IP, and the African Diaspora more than Africa itself) and define global black success. The African Diaspora is over 100 million; they run nations and were uplifted from Africa in three waves: The first African aliyah was overland slavery. Some 20 million Africans were uplifted to the Old World, and over millennia merged into native populations, a total whitewash. The footprint of the old Roman Empire is replete with their genetic material and only DNA tests, not appearance, confirm the bloodlines of this first Diaspora. The ethno-biology histories need to be done, but modern Africa and our Diaspora show no interest.
The second African aliyah was by oceanic slavery. This uplift of 18 million peopled the New World from Alaska to Antartica. Unlike the first Diaspora, their scions are a majority in some nations. The "browning", started by white men on black women 400 years ago, continues - the future is brown. No Diaspora went back to Africa. Why? The scion of the second Diaspora is creative, but insecure and conflicted. Do we seek revenge or forgive, cause or ease suffering, go back to Africa or stay, be great or be idle? The third Diaspora has none of these conflicts, their goal is prosperity.
The third African aliyah was voluntary, started 60 years ago and gained momentum after African independence. Africans studied in the UK, France, USSR, USA, etc, and stayed. Later, refugees, men of business, politics and ex-dictators with Swiss bank accounts came. Most are educated, they don't "do" labor and regard few - of any race, as their equals. In 2008, Ghanaians alone had 50 mainstream UK top jobs in TV, radio, film, business, academia, etc. This third African Diaspora is slick suits and brain-led, into global scams, not yardie street crime. Your computer, credit card and internet gateway are never safe. Last week the UK justice secretary's email was hacked by Nigerians and his contacts asked to send money to him, supposedly stranded in Africa - twisted genius! The African Diaspora Alliance is focused on this group and on Africa. One million of their kin die of malaria alone each year; slavery and the egos of black Americans or West Indians aren’t on their agenda. African friends tell me "the past is past, you Jamaicans, get over it and live". The first and third Diaspora lived in sync with their life-roles; the second lives conflicted. Jamaicans are scion of the second African Diaspora. Those in USA, Canada and the UK do well and we who run nations struggle. We expect more of them but they continue to disappoint.
The Jamaican Diaspora needs to find a niche. They can't be a social club, or a servant of Cabinet, they have a unique, higher calling. They must hold our state to account to embed justice, liberty and rights in all areas; to change the nepotism, victimization and the life-and-death contest we call elections. They have a sacred trust to ensure that the freedoms they enjoy abroad come here too. Support for basic schools, etc, is the least, as we waste more money than they give. The IMF gave us less FX than the Diaspora. It said jump and Cabinet jumped. The Diaspora has leverage too but is afraid to use it. We here are too vulnerable to reform our politics alone; the Diaspora is untouchable and must lead.
I was in the USA to give a speech one August 6 and political placards were on my host's and many houses. The banquet was black tie, the same old Diaspora "rundown and rum talk", far from the reality I left in Kingston. In my speech, I said that freedom at home was flawed, as no one would dare put a "politics poster" on his home or business. Di peeple dem almos' nyam me. They said I "show them up" before the mayor and TV in Dallas. They agreed with me, but said, "Yuh nuh know how dem stey a yaad, dem wi mash up peeple house ef a nuh fi dem colour pon de placard." They are happy to live the lie and after a few shots of single malt, I too went "curry goat" and lived the lie. The Diaspora likes to be liked. Sending money is no help if they do nothing to secure our freedoms.
Years ago I voted for Harold Wilson in the UK. Labour and Tory, we went to the pub to argue our case; never here. The English do not understand why we fight for those we elect to serve us. They fight for a soccer team as they live with the local team, win, lose or draw. The Diaspora sends money, not to us but to their families and we welcome it, but there is a higher calling and they are not listening. The Diaspora is a force without a vision; a house cat that needs stroking, but we need a tiger. Returning residents' privileges must be no more than our taxpayers get; we go to their countries and get no favors and we must not buy their loyalty. They made their life choices and we made ours: A plague on their fancy balls and banquets. I pray they see the light. Selah!
Dr Franklin Johnston is an international project manager with Teape-Johnston
Consultants, currently on assignment in the UK.