Dialogue is good (and hard sometimes, too)

So remember my rant about a federalized Africa? Turns out I need a little temperance with my assumptions and quick judgements. Thankfully my academic community provided some. Here’s an email from a former fellow grad student (she’s working on her Ph.D.) followed by my response. Although it’s hard to hear that I might have offended her, I’m so grateful she took the time to write me her thoughts. It makes me miss being in class with such a bright and thoughtful people. However, I am enjoying lots of TV while I’m not in grad school. But back to the point…


From K, emphasis mine:

…I also thought about something you said in our conversation with Dr. R.  When you discussed the issue of a federated Africa and said that people bring up the issue based on ignorance something about that bothered me.

I thought about it and realized that it is not simply the issue of not knowing how diverse Africa is as a continent that makes people ask that question.  Read Robin D.G. Kelley’s Freedom Dreams.  In the book, Kelley explores the idea that the dreams of Black nationalists are just as important as their goals and whether or not their hopes were acheived. Kelley then goes on to explore some of the “freedom dreams” Black nationalists have now and had in the past.   I see the idea of a federated Africa as a product of “freedom” or “prosperity” dreams as much as it is an product of “ignorance” of cultural, economic, and political diversity on the continent.  In essence, sometimes we talk about and envision the world as we hope it should be and not based on its limitations.  I also think that Paul Gilroy writes something important toward the end of There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack about the ways in which certain people of African descent express ideas about what will happen in the future.  He essentially says that in many instances, the hardships people of African descent have faced seem so insurmountable that the ways we envision counteracting them are just as fantastic.  It seems Wilson Moses says that in Afrotopia and Kelley also says that when he writes about people such as Sun Ra and X-Clan.

So, I agree with those authors.  I believe some African Americans can quote to you that the continent is about 11.5 million square miles, 46 countries, and there are about 800-2000 languages spoken there; however, those same people still often have dreams of a federated and prosperous Africa or millenarian beliefs that “someday we’ll all be free.”

Anyway, I just didn’t want to give a knee-jerk response the other day.

My response:

Thanks so much for writing. After I left I thought about the comment I made, and that I was quite brazen in making it. It should have been a question rather than an a judgement statement. I sincerely appreciate your follow-up, and I hope you will forgive me if I came across as callous.
The points you make are interesting, and I would like to read more–thanks for your suggestions. I do think the idea of African unity is quite lofty, and I’m not sure what purpose it would serve, but maybe I need to do more reading. Maybe it’s more about letting people (black nationalists) voice their dreams and hopes than thinking through the nuts and bolts of what a federalized/unified Africa would mean.
On a related note, I’ve been thinking about what it means for me to be a white person making commentary on black culture, per Vincent Brown’s argument in HerskovitsAt The Heart of Blackness. I want to be delicate and cautious when discussing such emotionally charged matters, especially because it feels easy for me to think objectively about it. Thanks for calling me out!
Beverly Tatum (Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?) came and spoke to our faculty today about what it means to open dialogue around race/diversity. She made a great point about how dialogue helps us understand how people are experiencing something. Sometimes I forget this is real and living, and not just in books. She also talked about the cycles of racial identity. Although I talk and think about race a lot, sometimes I feel really distant from my emotions around race, and I want to explore my own racial identity more deeply.




2 responses to “Dialogue is good (and hard sometimes, too)

  1. VERY cool that Beverly Tatum came to speak at Westminster. I bet she was really interesting. As for exploring your own racial identity, Jay has done a lot of post-grad work in this area and could probably recommend some great books if you’re interested.

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