Wednesday, October 12, 2016

African Identity (with Ponts'o)

Ponts'o Moletsane:
slavery (read systematic brainwash?) the average A. American knows not their heritage the way a migrant E. American would.

Trev:
and Africa wasn't carved up with arbitrary borders till well after. Europe was carved up ethnically.

Ponts'o:
yes, Africans too were ethnically distinguished. E.g. Sotho comprises the Taung, Kgatla, Kholokoe, E. Africa has Luo, Nubian

Trev:
Some yes, but some countries were just cut up based on rivers & rulers on maps. Point taken though, slavery stripped memory

The conversation then moved to DM:



Ponts'o:
This is an interesting discussion: So ya, arbitrary borders I get, but the issue of recalling a part of origin then suffixing it with "American" is limited for most African Americans because the drive to enslave far outweighed the intrinsic need of the slave to identify with e.g. Mandingo, etc roots. The brutality of 'seasoning' of slaves incorporated that they get whipped to a point where they accepted whatever identity the master gave them and that means all identity including origin had to be forfeited for most in order to live essentially making the process as psychologically brutal as it was physical. In contrast with most Europeans who entered America seeking opportunities the burden of forfeiting the identity and heritage part was not so great and was let go of possibly willingly. For example, In a book by Hugh Masekela, a S. African jazz musician and activist, he mentions that interaction with African Americans often resulted in a culture shock because the idea that an African from Africa exists was so abstract to the African-American. That can be attributable to the ripple effects of slavery.


To extend, this relates to, say native South Africans, where knowledge of their indigenous origins such as a tribe one could come from e.g. Taung, Koena, Phoka, were systematically eradicated by Apartheid such that these distinct language groups were classified by law as dialects hence denying the ethnic entities rights to exist in their sovereignty. This was also coupled with the land grabs that occurred during the Voortrekker movements as well as the passing of laws such that imposed taxes on numerous indigenous groups later on, thereby forcing the men to be migrant workers in mining towns and separating them from their homesteads. This separated a people from their cultural practices which carry a lot of symbolism and identity in them, and in a similar way draws parallels to the issue of difficulty in people of African descent failing to make reference to specific origin markers. In contrast with Afrikaans speakers who many of them can trace their origins to France, Germany and the Netherlands.




Trev:
The biggest American ethnic group is German, but Germany only became a united state after many migrants had headed to the new world. The Irish were subjected to some hectic racism (similar to Net Blankes signs in South Africa) with Protestant v Catholic tensions. So English & German Americans just call themselves Americans. Irish, Irish Americans.

Africa got 'summarised' despite being part of the old world with a very mixed, very large continent.

The Economist


Ponts'o:
What do you mean by summarised?

Trev:
When people don't understand, acknowledged, listen or care, they don't see the nuance. They can't tell the flavours. Africa gets summarised as a poverty poster because people don't spend a lot of time thinking about Africa. They don't know of the areas doing well. They don't know the music, the culture, the passion. They don't know the history.

Ponts'o:
I guess the Germanic influence from Britain and Germany also informs the industrialisation of American. That part that the majority of European Americans is of German and British descent I have not been privy to. I was thinking the same thing that many of us try not to understand Africa yet we want to somehow be involved in aiding it. I guess what you're saying is similar to that which some journalists tend to do of using people's photos without informing them their ultimate purpose.

In terms of the continent's inhabitants bringing about some kind of radical change there is a great deal of psycho spiritual healing and reconnaissance that needs to occur because if you take the fact that most indigenous groups embarked on a coming-of-age rite of passage that sort of practice permitted a thread to link person to body, mind, soul and community. That being said, many of these, because colonialism, were removed from societies. Post independence governments have failed to reconcile indigenous people with that and this can be because governments are trying to compete in a global world. In a strange sense, the purpose of community, which has a basic unit of a family, which in turn has a basic unit of individual, is running on individuals who know not who and what they are because there is not a mechanism to define that for many people. That being said, the fabric that makes society is lacking. There is a deep individual error in many of the continent's inhabitants and we can see it because it is now ok for a handful of people to have a lot of resources when millions more live below the poverty line yet Africans have for some time prides themselves in ubuntu and its ideals. I think if the continent were a person she would be diagnosed with schizoid, bipolar or some kind of decoherence. But I think this is a challenge faced the world.

Trev:
America is a country of minorities unless groups like Hispanics or African Americans get bundled into one. I will admit to having been guilty of the same crime of thinking of America as a much simpler place (the one from TV) than it is in reality. Different states, even different cities, have very different histories. I only went for the first time recently and saw how ignorant I was. I didn't understand how you can have 'poverty' in America since being at the US poverty line puts you in the top 14% richest in the world. Poverty is real though, and part of it is not financial. It is a structural, Apartheid like separation.

I can see how identity politics can be used for healing. It worries me a little because it can end up creating divisions if done aggressively, and can use the barriers created by the oppressors which should be tossed away. A deeper knowledge of history and the wider world helps offset that.

Most people have multiple lines of heritage, with lots to be proud of and lots of lessons to be learnt from how we got things wrong. The world is nuanced, complicated, and full of flavour. Our big challenge post-Industrialisation is building communities. I think we have over-specialised and over-individualised, and we our identities are the social connections we build.

Ponts'o:
What's interesting though is that the fact that there isn't much purity along the lines of tribe or race is that it allows each individual to have shared experiences in some way. Medieval monarchs for instance used marriage between kingdom's as a means to unify different entities. The same was done in African cultures. We get reference to such in popular television series like Game of Thrones. The point that I am making is not to revert to that but to highlight the idea that perhaps if a lot of us became a little naïve and allowed a starry eyed perception of what multiple lines of heritage means then each one can have a shot at seeing the world a lot differently. I think an organisation called Momondo* does that. They do DNA testing on a person then determine their make up. The incentive is that they get to visit all the places that have the people from which they descend. Being part of a global community is actually a form of human-ness, pity it isn't accessible to a lot of people.

[*Note: Momondo is a travel company which ran a 'Let's Open The World' Competition]

Trev:
Most of our biggest historic conflicts were within our later tribes. Scott Alexander writes a great piece on how we end up hating outgroups within our tribes. We know America is increasingly partisan, red v blue. We know the animosity between Conservatives and Labour in the 'United' Kingdom. The Zulu Nation was forged by Shaka at around the time the English 1820 settlers arrived. The conquered tribes would have taken a long time to 'feel Zulu'. It took the Bambatha Rebellion almost 100 years (and a few generations) to have the common enemy that makes people forget previous troubles.

by Scott Alexander



I like the idea of Pan-African unity, as part of Pan-Global unity, but 'Africa' as a separate concept was pushed by Europeans. Afro-Eurasia is one land mass, and for the biggest chunk of human history, the building of civilisation was most active in the area where the three continents meet. We are actually ignorant of the source of most of our beliefs and identity drivers because we are just scratching the surface of looking into the past without prejudice and superiority complexes.

The lack of access to the 'Global Community' is a problem. I think there is a valid point underlying Theresa May's horrible 'Citizen of Nowhere' comment recently. We should be making an effort to get to know the people who are different from down the street, as well as people who are like-minded from around the world. I wonder about the analogy of Pioneers of the past who built towns from scratch. It was far less specialist and a group of 150 had to all work together. A mobile world does mean we look out for ourselves and ignore those around us. There is a balance, and we need to build lots of different types of bridges.

'Citizens of Nowhere' Theresa May



Ponts'o:
Here's the thing, while there is so much to note regarding the similarities different groups had and still have, the platforms to have these kinds of dialogues end up being redundant, because so many youth globally wouldn't dare engage, let alone open up to the idea of contributing towards greater change. Is there really going to be some difference because I think there isn't. Nobody seems to care. Too much value is placed on status anxiety rather than on the essence of humanity.

Trev:
It is easy to feel punch drunk. Unravelling issues around prejudice and privilege is hard, emotional work, and most of us are busy. It is easier to be busy than to make time for these conversations, especially if you are under attack. Most people would rather crack on with life than looking to unravel structural disadvantages facing other people. If we manage to twist the conversation to the fun, positive, interesting side of community building and engaging beyond our bubble, I think there is hope.

Ponts'o:
I think that could lie in the reality that globally, education is limited to abstract concepts that tailor the recipient to being a drone such that there isn't incentive to dwell on such issues. In a sense, that there is leeway to get comfortable is perpetuated by the kind of education we get and seldom challenge. In some cases research output seldom gives insight into tackling real-time issues. This blindsides us to having a mentality that nothing can be done to solve address some challenges. Being a global citizen is one way to permit innovation so that there can be a change but then there is also a selfish element in each of us. Like you say, it is easier to get comfortable and that disallows many to look at the opportunities that crises present.

Trev:
Industrialisation has ripped/is ripping the world out of material poverty but, through individualisation and specialisation, has contributed to more social poverty. Financial Empowerment does open up the ability to focus on issues that don't need to be monetised. The two issues that I am most passionate about go hand in hand. Global Citizenship and a Universal Basic Income. Once people don't have to panic about putting food on the table, a roof over their head, and educating and keeping their children safe, then they can spend more time on Community Building. In South Africa, education is very vocational... it is about earning an income. Once you have that covered, you can consider wider studies and the university of life.
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