Lies About Africa

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Identification as white is a logical choice for many Latinos/Hispanics. After all, Africa continues to be disparaged as a continent and portrayed as backwards and inferior to other regions of the world. The effects of 200 years of brainwashing are terrible in their profound and pervasive efficacy. When given the choice between identifying with a region considered to be backwards, and disease- and war-ridden, and a region thought to be illustrative of what is civilized and good, it is small wonder that many Latinos (and people of African descent overall) would choose affinity to Europe and almost any other cultural origin) over Africa (“I ain’t black, I’m Indian”).

Not a lot has changed since Kenneth and Mamie Clarks’ doll experiments conducted between 1939 and 1940 on children’s self-perception related to race (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_and_Mamie_Clark#Doll_experiments). The doll experiment involved a child being presented with two dolls. Both of these dolls were completely identical except for the skin and hair color. One doll was white with straight yellow hair, while the other was brown with curly hair. The child was then asked questions about which one is the doll they would play with, which one is the nice doll, which one looks bad, which one has the nicer color, etc. The experiment showed a clear preference for the white doll among all children in the study. These findings exposed internalized racism in African-American children, and self-hatred that was more acute among children attending segregated schools. The study was replicated with Dominican children, with much the same result (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/claudio-e-cabrera/dominican-colorism_b_3900808.html).

Negative attitudes toward Africa and black people have not always been so widely held. Prior to the 19th century, African and European states interacted as equals, with examples of exchanges of diplomatic missions and intricate trade and political relations. There is a long and well-documented history of relationships based on respect and European admiration for Africa. A few examples are Nile Valley Civilizations in the North, the Empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhay in the West, and Swahili city states and Great Zimbabwe in the East. What is important to stress is that the campaign against Africa grew out of economic interests of Europeans and the need to justify the subjugation of Africa and enslavement of its people. How can a Christian nation justify plunder, rape and enslavement? By dehumanizing the people . Thus, the campaign was launched to show that Africa was a “Dark Continent” and it was the responsibility of Europe to bring civilization (and religion). This is ironic since what Europeans actually brought with them was death, destruction, disease, exploitation and a holocaust unparalleled in the annals of human history.

All this matters. A person of African descent, with visible African features, who disparages and denies a cultural connection to Africa in fact denies an integral part of his or her identity. This cannot be psychologically healthy. Telling phrases have leapt into our vernacular, such as “bad hair,” “good hair,’ “suspicious hair,” grandmother in the closet,” etc. Dark skinned people in Latin America (and Africa) spend millions of dollars each year on skin bleaching products. Black people in Latin America and North America often decry any connection to Africa.

Fortunately, there is a counter to the pathology of self-hate. Thousands of Latinos and others of African descent have worked hard to destroy the negative stereotypes that have been inculcated through popular media, and our education system. Arturo Schomburg, Marta Moreno Vega, and Pedro Noguera are among these champions.

The International Youth Leadership Institute (iyli.org) makes it possible for African American and Latino high school students to study and travel in Africa. Through these experiences students begin to overcome the stereotypes they have held about Africa. Before departure, when asked what they think about Africa, many of the students convey what they have learned – animals walking around, lack of roads and permanent buildings, war, disease, hunger. When they travel, meet the people, break bread together and interact on a one-to-one basis, they begin to see the insidious nature of the lies. They begin to recognize what is valuable and vibrant about African cultures – lessons that we can benefit from today. We have to do more to expose our children to the truth. Let’s decide not to make it the public education system’s responsibility!

In the book, “Writing for Your Life: Discovering the Story of Your Life’s Journey”, Deena Metzger writes “self discovery is more than gathering information about oneself. In the process of… discovering our story, we restore those parts of ourselves that have been scattered, hidden, suppressed, denied, distorted, forbidden, and we come to understand that stories heal.” (1992, HarperOne)

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