Sunday, October 14, 2007

How Many Invaluable People Lost?

In the course of a very interesting post on the lack of African-American characters in a sci-fi series entitled Race to Mars, Afro-Spear comments in a heartfelt way about the human loss of the wars in African nations like "Algeria, Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Republic of Congo, Cote D’Ivoire, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan and Uganda.”
“How many future African scientific researchers have been killed who would have discovered the cure for HIV, AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and Ebola? How many future African doctors and nurses have been killed who would have brought relief to the sick by providing adequate care for their ailments? How many future African agricultural scientists have been killed who would have found a solution to the increasing desertification of the continent and boost food production to feed the people? How many future African political, social and economic scientists have been killed who would have made substantial contributions to the development of the continent’s resources, both material and human, which would benefit not only the continent but all humankind as a whole? How many future African teachers have been killed who would have inspired and managed the educational development of their students to be leaders in the field of science and other disciplines? How many future African astro-scientists have been killed who would have revolutionized space travel and exploration and make it possible to reach the impossible dream?”

I found this litany of loss painful to even read. The point Afro-Spear made was about the "euro-centric" perspective that people of African descent have nothing to contribute to the progress of mankind and can thus be "left behind" in the striving for new human accomplishments. One could also say that that's why there has been so little regret about the severe loss of African humanity over the last twenty years as well.

But I wonder.

Specifically, I wonder about whether the "euro-centric" or "Anglo-Saxon" imperial perspective that values people of African descent so little is as powerful as Afro-Spear thinks.

Certainly, the imperial perspective has weakened in Europe and even the foremost champions of the Anglo-Saxon imperium on American right aren't very confident that they can continue to bully the American public into supporting a program of (white) American domination.

There's no doubt that the vision of leaving people of African descent behind still has a great deal of cultural power in the United States.

But that's not the only vision.

In fact, there are a variety of cultural perspectives from which African-American perspectives are viewed either as equal to those of whites or as primary in themselves. People tend to underestimate the extent to which the cultural egalitarianism of the multi-cultural ethic has taken hold among American whites. African-American figures like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Sojourner Truth have become standard parts of America's heroic pantheon and African-American figures like Oprah Winfrey are just as much a part of the cultural firmament as their white counterparts.

If not more so.

In the case of Ken Burns' influential films, the experiences and virtues of African-Americans as portrayed as the core of what it means to be American. The valuing of African-Americans in these films is not done in the same terms as the valuing of African-Americans in Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. DuBois, jazz, or Martin Luther King. But Burns and white multi-culturalists more generally are closer to the African-American view than they are to the cultural and political imperialism that is still defined as the American creed by conservatives.

I don't want to get pollyannish here. Certainly, the gradual mutual assimilation of African and European cultures in the United States does not in any way compensate for the monstrous exploitation of African humanity in this country.

But that mutual assimilation is real and continues to gain strength despite the continued power of the imperialism vision of American conservatives.

And as long as that's the case, the impulse to "leave African-Americans behind" will get weaker rather than stronger.

1 comment:

Todd Mayo said...

There's no doubt that the imperial view has substantually decreased in most parts of Europe, at the very least, western Europe and that is undeniable evidence of progress.

I am not so certain about the United States. While it is true that the right-wing in America are losing ground and increasingly viewed as anomalous in a certain sense, I also see, originating within the ranks of that movement, a kind of desperate shrillness and the adoption of increasingly offensive language and increasingly violent acts as evidenced by the state-sanctioned mistreatment of the "Jena Six" in Louisiana recently.

I also recall reading an Associated Press interview with Halle Berry in which she pointed out that in the movie industry race is "always an issue." She said that she has reached a point in her career where, "not having a chance", is something she must still live with when it comes to certain projects, films, etc.

This is an actor who has won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Golden Globe and a Silver (Berlin) Bear, and as she states in the article, she feels (and I agree), that she has earned the right to be sought after rather than being forced to continuously prove to the movie studios that she is right for leading parts.

Berry went on to point out race is always an issue in Hollywood. "Not having a chance is what I can't live with at this point in my career,said Berry. She continued," I think I have earned that," she said.

So it appears that whether one is a high-profile actor or one of six African-American students in a racist Louisiana town, the deck is still stacked against African-Americans. You put it well Ric when you said this;"There's no doubt that the vision of leaving people of African descent behind still has a great deal of cultural power in the United States."

So we have a lot to overcome here, and we are hamstrung by the twin legacies of both institutional racism and the more subtle, subconscious racism that permeates our society like a disease.

So, while their are some examples such as those you gave, for every one sucess story, there are easily 20 or 30 or 40 stories where the racism overcame the dream rather than the other way around.

And even the "mutual assimilation" has both an upside and a downside. The upside is we understand each other more fully. The down-side is too many people don't try. They cling to the idea that if they can get the "urban vernacular" down and dress the right way, they will have REAl cred and will understand what it means to Afican-American. They are sadly mistaken.

How sad for the 21st century.