We must not ridicule nor confuse genuine emotional responses with ignorance when African Americans first land here. The ignorant ones are those amongst us who so readily dismiss this response without a moment’s pause to consider or understand the reason for the reaction. (For a while, I was in this number. I too used to laugh. I am no better than the ones who still do.) Simply calling African Americans who do that when they get here is proof of our own ignorance. We who laugh are the ignorant ones. I don’t think we understand the overwhelming emotions that African Americans go through when they come to Africa. I was at the stadium last night when American songstress Keri Hilson said, “it’s good to be in the motherland”. There was much giggling, some even said they knew she’d pull the motherland line. That is said from a place of ignorance and a failure to empathise.
Instead of ridiculing people when they express this, we ought to feel nothing but humility, that we were blessed. It is a blessing that our ancestors were not removed by force to be sold as slaves. A form of slavery where men and women did not give birth to families, but instead bred slaves, much like one would breed cattle, where one’s children were nothing but a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder. Families and people from the same villages were separated so they could not pass on stories about their native land to one another. Clearly we don’t understand. We may never have been slaves, but our lack of empathy and lack of understanding might as well be slavery — of our own making and choosing.
In the 80s, when the late great American comedian Richard Pryor decided to leave it all behind for a while and live in Africa, he went to Zimbabwe. I remember watching (it was DVD obviously) him do stand-up about his experience. He said, I may not be quoting him word for word but he said something like, “I went to Zimbabwe. I know how white people feel in America now,” he paused, “relaxed”. We have no idea what it’s like to be black in America.
Yes the kissing of the ground and saying I’m in the motherland may be old. It may be so for us. But it’s not old for the person who steps out of a plane and lands here for the first time. For them, that feeling, that overwhelming emotion is new and needs to be vocalised. Let us criticise ourselves before we criticise.
I have had several conversations with African Americans and when they find out how developed Africa is they say: “American television never shows positive images of Africa. All we see are children with flies, wars, nothing positive.” Granted, some have admitted to me and beat themselves over the fact that they didn’t find out more for themselves about the state of the continent and not just rely on the media.
As much as some of us blame them for having this image of Africa, some of us have one of two images of the African American: the ghetto-living, hoochie mama with her projects, gangster boyfriend. Then there is the image of the high-living rapper, basketball player or football player. We don’t stop to think that there may be those who live in suburbs. This too for us has been the image of the African American. Let’s look at ourselves before we judge them.
In other words, they make assumptions about us, we make assumptions about them too. So neither side has the right to feel superior. We are all wrong for not trying to find out more.
We can either chose to live in our ignorance or try to understand why they feel the way they do when they get here. In fact I would suggest that not just African Americans should feel that way about the motherland. Everyone should. After all, this is where humanity started, if you believe in evolution that is. Some of the world’s oldest human fossils are found right here in Jozi in fact. They are right, this is the motherland. Now leave them alone.