In 1990 Nina Simone stepped out onto the stage at Montreux, Switzerland. She began…
“These next two tunes are dedicated to the blacks of America, the blacks of Switzerland, the blacks of the Middle east, the blacks of Africa…”
She was, of course talking about the African diaspora.
February signifies Black History Month in the US. In the UK we celebrate it in October. This year, the Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join together to pay tribute to the generations of African-Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society. This years theme is the women of the African-American diaspora.
“This year’s theme “Black Women in American Culture and History” honors African-American women and the myriad of roles they played in the shaping of our nation. The theme, chosen by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History urges all Americans to study and reflect on the value of their contribution to the nation.”
It is the African diaspora that we rarely give much credence to. A forgotten African population that wields more power and influence than they think. The diaspora outside Africa is threatened. Threatened by stereotypes, clichés, and the single story of Africa viewed through the western prism.
Race conversations threaten to derail the debate and don’t allow us to work together on the bigger issues that exists – the issues that are systemic and institutionalised. So many deep statistical disparities still exists like employment, education, infant mortality, incarceration, and median household incomes.
A change to the race conversation is needed. Not only that, the current race conversation and single story threatens to misrepresent the individualities of the diaspora – especially for a diaspora that has no identity. Especially those that have little allegiance to neither the country of their blood or the country of their birth.
But what of the Africa not of the diaspora?
Recently we learnt how Africa tweets. On the surface an interesting visual, but deep down it reveals an Africa on the rise. Even as more and more people in Africa get online in the digital world geographic inequalities exist, with user-generated internet content usually weighted towards the global north.
Africa today is at a moment when a number of countries are experiencing their most prosperous economically since the 1960s. In 2010, the continent was only second to Asia in terms of driving economic growth. With both Africa and Asia the only two parts of the globe where gross national product showed an increase in 2009. More than 30 million African live outside their country of origin, and send back home more than 40 billion dollars. The African youth population is growing. In the next decade Africa will be the only continent where the work-age population is increasing.
All too often we frame these discussions from the wrong point of view — commentators feel an “African Spring” is necessary to finally rid Africa of all its woes. Indeed, recent spats of violence in Nigeria point to a people increasingly unwilling to put up with the “business-as-usual” status quo.
It is important to remember the past. But perhaps with Black History Month we should find a little time and optimism to acknowledge where we are going… forward towards prosperity.