The America That Is Not For Me: Part 5
Nicole Amartefio, the Ghanaian-born creator of the international web hit series An African City, said in her Ted Talk “What Can I Do to Combat the Single Narrative of Africa?” that Africans will no longer countenance the single narrative of Africa.
Nicole’s isn’t new as she merely was echoing the substantive sentiments of author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s influential Ted Talk―titled “The Danger of a Single Story.” Chimamanda’s “Single Story” talk was one of the most important videos the nursing department at Anschutz Medical Campus, University of Colorado, made us watch during our orientation although it wasn’t the first time I was seeing it. As a writer interested in literary theory, world literature, critical theory, the sociology of knowledge and literary criticism, I follow and write about the lives and literary careers of writers from around the world. It was during one of these moments that I watched “The Danger of a Single Story.” Also friends and readers from around the world sometimes draw my attention to some of these writers―their lives, their literary works, etc., those little things they think might reflect well on my worldview and that they think I should write about.
I still couldn’t agree more with these two because single stories have the tendency to deprive people of their dignity and worth, to destroy societies and civilizations, to poison relationships.
Single stories make people dangerously ignorant.
Critical balance is all there is to it―unfortunately a rarity in Western media presentation on Africa and its peoples.
Single stories are a form of psychological warfare perpetrated against the humanity and intelligence and evolving civilizations of Africa.
Single stories are tendentious machinations engineered in the calculating laboratory of a Machiavellian mind to give tactical advantage to a person, society, or nation in the paternalistic exercise of power over another―in controlling the material, psychological, and spiritual resources of the defenseless.
Single stories have an economic component as well, that’s to say one that made it possible for the architects of apartheid to devalue the humanity of Black South Africa for instance, thus rendering the economic exploitation of Black South Africa possible, much the same way single stories underwrote the slavocracy of colonial America.
That single stories have provided unjust moral and philosophical alibis for historical and contemporary wrongs, wrongs ranging from slavery, colonialism, apartheid, neocolonialism to imperialism, and that single stories should no longer be condoned or stomached, something we can actualize by killing the malignant tumor of media bias against any party that continuous to justify these outrageous alibis, is a settled argument.
My position is that the ability of single stories to anesthetize the collective conscience of the West against the nagging implications of robbing, intimidating and brutalizing the humanity of Africa does nothing to protect its historical and contemporary guilty conscience from the incriminating stigma of its unspeakable actions. No wonder white supremacists are wont to pounce on the carcasses of single stories on the larger African world as hungry hyenas looking for validation from their arrant ignorance about the unifying oneness of humanity in their supposed superior genome.
Now reader, given what we’ve always known about the evolving provenance of these well-organized or carefully orchestrated conspiracies erected around the malignant tumor of media bias against Africa, its cultures, its civilizations, and its humanity, conspiracies that have been in existence for more than four centuries, it is not too difficult arguing that Africa has suffered the most at the hands of the scheming manufacturers of single stories. This is why the nauseating propaganda, unbalanced stories, and misinformation being consistently spread about the larger African world must be resisted with the full force of balanced narratives and of accuracy and fairness in reporting.
Already several prominent scholars, communication and media experts, journalists, writers, novelists, public intellectuals, activists, historians, filmmakers, and cultural theorists from Africa and the African diaspora are pushing up against the negative forces hiding behind media bias. The profound eclectic writings of Toni Morrison, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Molefi Kete Asante, Wangari Maathai, Nelson Mandela, Maulana Karenga, Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Abdias do Nascimento, Theophile Obenga, Ama Mazama, Wole Soyinka, Milton Allimadi, Neil Henry, Kwame Nkrumah, New York University’s Yaw Nyarko to name but a few, provide powerful alternative, corrective narratives to media distortions on Africa in the West.
This influential body of rich writings humanizes Africa, corrects egregious misrepresentations and distortions of Africa’s enormous contributions to human civilization in the historical record, reinforces Africa’s contributions to the human genome, challenges entrenched misconceptions and negative stereotypes about the African world, reshapes the moral and political and scientific language of race and international relations, and forces the West to acknowledge its hideous past and to do right by the people it has wronged through the centuries.
Even white scholars such as the late Martin Bernal and James W. Loewen and Robert Bauval and Thomas Brophy, and influential Asian scholars and scientists such as Chandra Kant Raju, have added their authoritative voices to this grand project of correcting revisionist history, but, in Raju’s particular case, the focus is more on decolonizing institutions of learning―having himself published important books and papers exposing Asia’s and Africa’s contributions to the store of human knowledge and human civilizations.
I’ve personally communicated with Raju on whether Albert Einstein was a seminal thinker insofar as relativity went―with Molefi Kete Asante acting as an intermediary―and his measured response was a categorical no. The depth of Raju’s mathematical, scientific, historical and philosophical knowledge is simply breathtaking. His short essay “Einstein: From Icon to Conman” is an interesting read (http://ckraju.net/misc/Einstein.html). Raju correctly identifies French polymath Henri Poincaré as the seminal theoretician and thinker behind relativity. My own extensive readings on the subject matter―from the history of science and of modern physics, biographies of Einstein, the historiography of science, the history of philosophy to mathematics―as well as research I’d later undertake for myself beyond the classical mechanics class of my undergraduate studies in mathematics―undeniably confirm this. Regrettably, these are not things we learn in school. Raju has since faulted Einstein by exposing an error the latter had committed upon which a considerable portion of modern physics is built, proposing solutions and developing the requisite mathematics to correct this problem which has eluded Western thinkers for decades, a work for which he’d receive a Telesio-Galilei Award.
Raju further argues that the true provenance of infinitesimal calculus, or simply calculus, is India and not Europe, the home of Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, alleged co-discoverers of calculus, and that the real author of Elements wasn’t a non-existent Greek called Euclid but rather a black African woman called Hypatia, a point he belabors in Euclid and Jesus: How and Why the Church Changed Mathematics and Christianity across Two Religious Wars. Overall, Raju has made remarkable contributions to theoretical physics and statistics and computer science and mathematics and the humanities. Finally, Bauval’s and Brophy’s Imhotep the African: Architect of the Cosmos and Black Genesis: The Prehistoric Origins of Ancient Egypt are instructive in this regard.
It is important that this project should succeed in reversing the implications of American psychologists Kenneth Clark’s and Mamie Clark’s doll experiments which are still with us. Again, it is important that the project should succeed because its failure will set the clock back on the little progress we’ve made thus far in race relations. I’m happy to be part of this grand international project. Keeping the dream of restoring the humanity of Africa alive and exposing the devious conspiracies against Africa in Western media and textbooks and classrooms are the primary intentions behind the publication of Allimadi’s The Hearts of Darkness: How White Writers Created the Racist Image of Africa, a book I reviewed for my international readership and edited for a friend who is also a professor of journalism and African Studies in New York. Prof. Allimadi is the founding editor and CEO of The Black Star News, a New York-based newspaper.
Allimadi’s critical view that those Africans whom Joseph Conrad called cannibals should have eaten him, an activity cannibals are notoriously known for, reportedly, isn’t only disarmingly sarcastic but a thoughtful indictment―if not implicit criticism―of Conrad’s overt racism. Achebe couldn’t agree more with Allimadi. What’s more, Achebe’s caustic criticism and categorical disapproval of Conrad’s racist language in Heart of Darkness is well known and requires no further belaboring in these pages. Here is Achebe in his usual critical succinctness courtesy of his provocative essay “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness”:
"Heart of Darkness projects the image of Africa as 'the other world,' the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilization, a place where man's vaunted intelligence and refinement are finally mocked by triumphant beastiality…"
Achebe exposes the single story narrative of Conrad by contrasting the latter’s racist account of the people he'd met in the Congo with the sophisticated artwork of the Fang people, another group of Africans who also lived in the Congo with Conrad’s “savages,” a people whose mask would revolutionize European and twentieth-century art when it came to the attention of Picasso and Matisse. This sophisticated African mask birthed cubism following the momentous encounter between African art and European art, a little-known fact not found in popular Western textbooks―although American historian and author Adam Rothschild discusses this in his book King Leopold’s Ghost.
Clearly, the absolute absence of narrative complementarity and factual comprehensiveness in the account of the inner workings of the people Conrad interacted with and wrote about is hugely disappointing.
Alas, the multigenerational damage which Conrad’s book has caused the humanity of Africa continues today since Heart of Darkness gained canon status in Western psychology, and since this work continues to be studied in American universities and secondary schools. Therefore those uncritically studying Conrad who don’t directly benefit from, or aren’t equally exposed to, the underlying assumptions of Achebe’s informed critique of Heart of Darkness, of Afrocentric approach to literary criticism and Africology are more likely to perpetuate the racism of Conrad, to poison race relations in the American body politic. This theory constitutes the substance of Nicole’s and Chimamanda’s Ted Talks. This is also why single stories are potentially destructive to the underlying ethos of national and communal cohesion, of race and international relations, of personal relationships.
At this point, what is important for us is acknowledging that what Allimadi’s The Hearts of Darkness does for Africa, Henry’s American Carnival: Journalism Under Siege in an Age of New Media does for Black America. Conrad would disagree with these writers if he were here today. And that is my point. This fact explains why Pan-African solidarity is so important to the project of reclaiming the lost humanity of the African world. Pan-African solidarity means the larger African world must dialogue with Ama Mazama and Wangari Maathai, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr., Maya Angelou and Ama Ata Aidoo, Malcolm X and Kwame Nkrumah, Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois, Toni Morison and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Molefi Kete Asante and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Peter Tosh and Lucky Dube, Amiri Baraka and Kofi Kissi Dompere, Abdias do Nascimento and Amilcar Cabral, Bob Marley and Fela Kuti.
“We mustn’t forget that White America can’t tell African Americans apart let alone tell Africans and African Americans apart,” a White American friend tells me. Blackness’s indescribable and unspoken sameness in the American psychology continues to feed the unending gastric tensions between what I referred to in Chapter 1 as “the hard-boiled egg-white scatterbrains” and the perennially “frightened ebonies” in the contemporary plantocracy of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Sadly, we’re not living very far from the animalized cottage of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
The black man is not there but is still there simultaneously because racial profiling and police brutality and racism put him there and make him disappear at the same. The black man ultimately becomes an illusion in the image of whiteness.
The black man becomes someone else’s theory and praxis, mirage and concrete, mind and body, non-existence and existence, death and life, white and black, no and yes, hell and heaven.
The black man becomes a chameleon―a snake in the grass―in the Western mind.
Of course the black man is everything and anything―but a single story.
But they say whiteness is a multilayered story!
One can therefore make the case that the danger of a single story is a fundamental question of moral color-blindness. Distortions in the armor of this moral color-blindness thus make it possible for some elements in White America to criminalize the blackness of Africa, the education and credentialization of black men and women, as my American story and Mr. Danso’s illustrate. Thus telling our own stories to the world and telling this story effectively and convincingly with critical balance is a must, another way for us to counter the jaundiced narrative we are constantly bombarded with in Western media.
And there is no better moment for Africa to re-educate the Western world about the vast possibilities of Africa and of blackness than this very moment, a reminder of the classical education Africa gave Greece in the days of yore which helped spawn the colorful flower of ancient Greek civilization―taking a leaf from Richard Poe’s Black Spark, White Fire: Did African Explorers Civilize Ancient Europe? The answer is a categorical yes.
Here is a story I want to share with you, the reader. I will recall two troubling conversations I had with a White American, a Yale University master’s degree holder. The other conversation took place with an American-born Filipino, a graduate student majoring in mathematics at New York University. I will call the former Clinton, the latter Martinez. Both dialogues took place when I worked as a security guard in a nursing home in New York. Here we go:
Clinton: “What is your name gentleman?”
Clinton: “Why do you call yourself Francis? Don’t you have an African name?”
Francis: “Oh yes, I do. It’s Yaw. In the Akan culture of West Africa a male born on Thursday is called as such. In fact Thursday is Yawada in my language Asante-Twi or Fante-Twi. I believe the name Yaw arose from a pulverization of Yawada. Anyway, my surname is Kwarteng.”
Clinton: “Wow! This is quite interesting. Anyway, aren’t you happy the president of your country is finally released from prison?”
Francis: “How so? May I ask who this person is, and which country you’re referring to?”
Clinton: “Oh, I’m talking about Africa, and the president I have in mind is Nelson Mandela, the erstwhile communist and terrorist.”
Francis: “Africa, a country? And the honorable Mr. Nelson Mandela, the president of this so-called country, a communist and a terrorist?”
All hell broke loose when I locked eyes with him and suddenly Clinton, the all-knowing talking head, blanched, became jaded and slightly jumpy. But I didn’t think my visual fixation on him was in any way threatening. Perhaps he was in apocalyptic conflict with his bruised conscience. Just then, he started to take leave of me but not before issuing a measured indictment of the American media, to explain away his miseducation and grossly confused, sorry self:
Clinton: “It’s not me Francis, it’s the American media!”
My conversation with Martinez:
Martinez: “Good morning. How’re doing this morning?
Francis: “Not bad.”
Martinez: “Where do you come from?”
Francis: “Ghana. West Africa.”
Francis: “How do you feel this morning?
Martinez: “Not bad, like you.”
Martinez: “You said you were from Africa right?”
Martinez: “Do you know I always wanted to go to Africa?”
Francis: “Happy to hear that Martinez. Any special reasons why you want to go to Africa?”
Martinez: “I want to go to Africa where I hope I can also play with lions and tigers and elephants exactly the way native Africans play with these wild animals on American TV.”
Martinez: “How long does it take to get to New York from your country?”
Francis: “10 to 11 hours. Direct flight. From Accra, the capital city.”
Martinez: “Isn’t this strange? 10 to 11 hours, direct flight?”
Francis: “Strange? What is strange about this?”
Martinez: “How far removed are Africa and your country from America!”
Francis: “How long does it take to get to New York from the Philippines, from Manila exactly?”
Martinez: “Not that long Francis, trust me. Maybe 18 to 24 hours, direct flight.”
Francis: “Not that long, you mean, right?”
Martinez: “Yeah not that long.”
Francis: “Didn’t you just tell me a while ago that you were a graduate student majoring in mathematics at NYU?”
Martinez: “Yes, I did. Why?”
Francis: “What is the numerical divergence of your 18 or 24 hours from my 10 or 11 hours?”
Francis: “That what Martinez?”
Martinez: “Don’t understand.”
Francis: “Which is farther from New York, my Ghana or your Philippines?”
Martinez: “I don’t understand.”
Francis: “What don’t you understand, the language or the algebra?”
Martinez: “You don’t understand.”
Francis: “I don’t understand?”
Martinez: “Please Francis. It’s not me.”
The last question somehow jolted him out of his self-imposed psychic somnolence. Surprisingly, he too would stare at me with the sheepish blandness of an intellectual zombie. Never mind that I never saw a tiger, lion, elephant, seal, crocodile, bear, python or hyena in Ghana or any other animals he may’ve had on his mind until I visited the Bronx Zoo, the home of Ota Benga. I'm yet to see an anaconda, Komodo dragon and kangaroo in real life. And you wonder why he’ll not go to the Bronx Zoo and play with the tigers and lions there. Then, as soon as he had gained what seemed like a semblance of consciousness he quickly rushed to offer the following platitudinous indictment of the American media before hastily departing:
Martinez: “It’s the American media. I plead ignorance!”
I wonder if these men are reading Edward Herman’s and Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media and listening to Stephen Marley’s “Mind Control” and Bob Marley’s “Crazy Baldhead” today!
The American media!
The American media!
The American media!
Always the American media!
It’s as if the American media has completely robbed these two of their faculties of thinking. Some people turn themselves into headless robots when they are before Africa. I really don’t know why this is the case. Why others also choose ignorance over knowledge and critical thinking and self-respect beats my imagination. Is ignorance healthy for some people as unemployment is sometimes healthy for inflation? Why can’t some people look beyond the provinciality of the American media? Are Americans like these two unwitting victims of mind control and social engineering?
And Hollywood is just as guilty. Who’s responsible? Often you’ve Western writers and reporters who sit in the comfort of their air-conditioned and well-furnished offices in the West and pontificate about happenings in Africa without knowing anything about the continent―its history, its culture, its people, its soul, its character. These writers and reporters write about political conflicts in Africa, for instance, but tendentiously cover up Western complicity in these conflicts as was and still is the case with the Rwandan Genocide. These writers and reporters make Western leaders heroes when the topic is about Nelson Mandela’s freedom but then cover up the purported involvement of the CIA in his capture and subsequent 27-year imprisonment, explain away Ronald Reagan’s and Margaret Thatcher’s support for apartheid and Western support and appetite for African dictators and political criminals who represent its interests on the continent, and whitewash the epochal role of Fidel Castro and the Cuban army and of African leaders such as Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and African armies in destroying the invincibility of the apartheid army during the battle of Cuito Cuanavale, Angola. The list is endless.
Do these instances and many others completely absolve Africa of the crime of contributing internally to its myriad problems? No. It's exactly what Nobel Laureate and world-famous dramatist Soyinka characterizes as "the oppressive boot and the irrelevance of the colour of the foot that wears it."
Western media’s ingratiating obsession with single story narratives on Africa is dangerously close to a diagnosis of psychotic romanticism. It’s even more troubling when Americans think exclusively of America as the only reality mankind has ever known along the long evolutionary arc of the human experience, or of America as sitting on the most refined cusp of human civilizations. The idea of America as merely one of many realities in the human experience is one we must all embrace, but, even so, the warped view of the perennially diseased media psychology of the West as one that prides itself on another popular misconception, that of seeing itself as a self-appointed spin doctor and talking head in behalf of the world on issues affecting the human condition and the many contemporary civilizations of humanity, needs resisting, revising or healing. Because some people think America is the only reality in their small worlds, they refuse to see themselves beyond the narrow borders of their minds and therefore close themselves off to other external realities.
We should come together and fight any diseased media psychology cultured in a petri dish of lies, falsehoods, propaganda, and alternative facts. This is why we need to support the activist efforts of scholars and researchers―such as Raju and Asante―to decolonize institutions of learning. I covered the international conference “Decolonizing Our Universities” in which both Raju and Asante attended for my international readers for this very reason. Further, the idea of students being driven out of their doctoral programs because they will not subscribe to or toe the line of traditional Eurocentric paradigms of knowledge in their dissertations is appalling. Finally, the sheer amount of gullibility which the unbending nature of academic institutionalism promotes in the American classroom against inclusive knowledge―of alternative perspectives and insights into how we view, explain and interpret the world, the human condition, cultures, and the history of ideas―is astounding. We know, for instance, that the ancient Greeks didn’t invent philosophy as Asante demonstrates in his book The Egyptian Philosophers. Obenga’s African Philosophy: The Pharaonic Period: 2780-330 BC even goes further. This was also the consensus of the ancient world but more particularly of ancient Greek students who studied in Africa.
This is why the African-centered perspective is so important in the American Academy. Asante’s The Painful Demise of Eurocentrism and The Afrocentric Idea and Karenga’s Maat: The Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt have set the tone for the kind of healthy debate we need in America and the world today.
I can also understand why Asante’s Afrocentric ideas have caused so much stir in the American Academy.
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