Ever stepped into a restaurant and suddenly felt conscious of your skin color? Or have you ever boarded a bus and you felt like you’re the wrong color?
Between 1525 and 1860, 12.5 million people were kidnapped from Africa and sent to America through the transatlantic slave trade. Only 10.7 million survived the harrowing two months journey. Up until the slave trade was abolished and the ‘Blacks’ were able to enjoy some rights, the prevailing narrative about African Americans was one of the model minority.
The model minority concept, developed during and after World War II, posits that African Americans were the ideal immigrants of color to the United States. In the United States, African Americans have long been considered as a threat to a nation that promoted a Whites-only immigration policy. They were called a “yellow-peril” unclean and unfit for citizenship in Africa. Even after almost 14 years after Barack Obama’s election as the nation’s first ‘black’ President, Africans, far more than whites, say Africans are treated unfairly across different realms of life, from dealing with the police to applying for a loan or mortgage. And for many Africans, racial equality remains an elusive goal.
In recent years, this centuries old divide has garnered renewed attention following the deaths of unarmed African Americans during encounters with the police, as well as a racially motivated shooting that killed nine black parishioners at a church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015.
Movements clamoring for the preservation of African lives have emerged, one of such is Black Lives Matter. BLM is an activist movement that first came to national prominence following the 2014 shooting death of an unarmed black 18-year-old by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. “I Can’t Breathe” is a slogan associated with the movement in the United States. The phrase originates from the last words of Eric Garner, an unarmed ‘black’ man who was killed in 2014 after being put in a chokehold by a New York City Police Officer.
George Perry Floyd JR. (October 14, 1973- May 25, 2020) was an African-American man who was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest after a store clerk suspected Floyd may have used a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill, on May 25, 2020. Derek Chauvin, one of four police officers who arrived on the scene, knelt on Floyd’s neck and back for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. After his murder, protests against police brutality, especially towards Africans, quickly spread across the United States and globally. His dying words “I Can’t Breathe” became a rallying cry.
It’s ironically amusing how racism has spread from Whites-Blacks to Blacks-Blacks. In September 2020, thousands of South Africans marched along the streets with banners and placards demanding that Nigerians, Zimbabweans, and other foreigners leave their country. It is a bitter form of discrimination in a country that is proud of being a so-called rainbow nation itself, one that takes some of the old bigotries of apartheid and repurposed them against other Africans. The general feelings on the streets of South Africa towards foreigners is a mixture of antagonism and stereotypes. Now, an African not only from Whites, but also from his fellow African. Will it ever end?
Many Africans in their distress have written poems about the daily troubles they face just because they are Africans. One of them was Maya Angelou who wrote “The Caged Bird.” It is clear that this title had great significance to Angelou, as it was the title of her entire life story. In her autobiography, she talked about the struggle of being an African author and poet. She often felt that her words were not heard because of the color of her skin. She felt that in some ways, she was still experiencing slavery. Although African Americans were free people in Angelou’s time, there were still many restrictions on them in society, making it so that many African Americans did not feel free at all.
“The Caged Bird” is an extended metaphor for the African community in America and around the world. Angelou is alluding to the lived experience of millions of men, women, and children since the beginning of time and the variety of oppressive tactics, whether physical, mental or economic employed by those in power. ‘Black’ men, women, and children see “through…bars” while the free bird sores the sky. The caged bird sings from a place of sadness rather than joy, in order to convey a broader history of sorrow. While the free bird gets to enjoy the full sky, the caged bird rarely even gets a glimpse of the sky. She claims that “his wings are clipped and his feet are tied.” Text from her autobiography reveals that Angelou often felt this way in life. She felt restricted from enjoying the freedom that should have been her right as a human being. The speaker then reveals that these are the very reasons that the caged bird “opens his throat to sing.”
Another African who took up the pen to relay his dilemma and the dilemma of Africa was Agostinho Neto, who wrote “The Grieved Lands.” The poem presents the uniqueness of Africans’ race and their resistance to slavery and colonial rule. A part of the poem talks about the degradation of Africa by slavery, imperialism, colonialism and westernization. “The modern slave” refers to the present psychological and mental slavery in Africa and among Africans, where Africans depend on the west for aids and solutions. In the 3rd stanza, the poet bemoans the destruction of African dreams. All those ‘Blacks’ sold into slavery had their dreams in life but were stifled out by slavery while the Africans under the colonialist administration were exiled to prevent them from attaining their dreams in their father’s land, hence, the land grieves for her children.
The Poet was sent to Cape Verde for exile amidst his struggle for the liberation of Angola. This was the fate of most other African nationalists fighting for the liberation and independence of their countries from other parts of the continent. The poet concludes by presenting Africa as an imperishable race and African land as a land that can withstand anything – “Because we are living/ And are imperishable particles.”
We have a reputation. We’ve heard it all; arrogant, too loud, scammers, they made us so small. They refer to us as apes. We’re treated as second-class citizens, even in our own land. But they forget one thing. We are the generations of giants. No matter what it is we are labelled, we are Africans. It’s not about the color of our skin. In fact, Black is not a color, Black is every color all together. And we Blacks are imperishable.