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X-Posted from H-NET List for African History and Culture <H-AFRICA@H-NET.MSU.EDU> From: Joyce Youmans <youmans@MAIL.H-NET.MSU.EDU> ________ From: email@example.com Colleagues, Discussions of culture, biology, taxonomy, power, and the optimal ways in which individuals and collectives should interact with each other in terms of determining identity are all very complex matters when viewed from a world perspective in which all people have a stake. However, I shall limit my further comments on these matters in the present discussion to certain of the replies received from Asaar Imhotep, for I believe that he raises some serious issues, not all of which I am in disagreement with. I agree that there exists certain fundamental differences between individual and social identities, although the two types of identities are not completely unrelated, for our thinking about self are molded as we interact with others. I do not agree that the world has a universally recognized number of specific peoples or cultures, that the they a people and a culture always have boundaries in common, nor that what we call a people or culture is necessarily a practical way to crystallize the aspirations of a people. In large measure, I agree that the relative powerlessness of African-Americans vis-a-vis most other Americans (in the USA) has some implications that are cultural. In this latter case, however, this is not to assert that that relative powerlessness is merely what they call themselves. More importantly, in my view at least, it has to do with ongoing racism in society that greatly limits their aspirations, educational achievement, access to good jobs, access to good housing, being told over and over that only people of African descent have ever been slaves in the world (which is a myth), that knowledge of a single black African ancestor makes one an African American (another myth applied to no other ethnic group than so-called blacks), that they should culturally recognize only their ancestors of African descent while ignoring all the others, and so forth. That the American public media, for example, first spent so much time convincing us that President Obama is an African American per se (rather than a European-African American or just an American) and then used that racist perspective as a tool by which to distort his true heritage and discriminate against him enabled many Americans to hold fast to their misconceptions based on a racist "one drop rule" that is uniquely applied in American society to people having some descent from Africans of dark complexion. This racist tactic also played into the hands of the so-called "birthers ," who apparently refuse to believe that people of European and African ancestry exist in American society, many of whom are products of legitimate marriages. That many young African American males do not realize that refusing to wear belts thereby allowing their trousers to fall below their buttocks will likely not enhance their job prospects for obtaining employment in a "front office" in the short term is also cultural. Racism and identity, both individual and social, are (to be sure) cultural and related to the relative powerless of African Americans in the United States but much more profound than who is an African American or by what name what African Americans call themselves or should call themselves. To be sure, people of European backgrounds have disproportionately determined how most people of the world of today think about continents. People of European background brought into being such Eurocentric terms as "Middle East," "Far East," and overemphasized some distinctions between Africa south of Sahara (which they sometimes glossed as "true Africa") and North of the Sahara so as to impose taxonomic distinctions by which they could pretend that they were distinct from blacks and that Egypt of in Europe rather than in Africa. Quite in addition to these types of ethnocentric and racist myths about continents, however, there exists numerous other types. Some parts of Africa are closer to Asia and Europe than to other parts of Africa. By the same logic, some countries in Europe are much closer to Africa than to other countries in Europe. That most islands of the Mediterranean Sea are classified as European when, in fact, the continent of African has a much longer Mediterranean coast than either Europe or Asia is also interesting. That Greenland is typically considered a part of Europe rather than North America is also arbitrary. That the country of Israel, which is located in southwestern Asia, is often treated as though it were located in Europe is also of interest. That the United States largely severed Panama from Columbia and now we think of the former as Central America and the latter as a part of South America is noteworthy. That the majority of the inhabitants of Martinique, who are largely of African descent, are citizens of France, a country in Europe, presents us with another case study of contradictions of the continental paradigm when applied to people. The same could be said of the indigenous Polynesians living in Hawaii who became Americans after Hawaii was incorporated in the United States of America. Reunion, though located off the coast of southeastern Africa, is a part of France and Mauritius is an African country in the Indian Oceans most of whose people are of Indian heritage. Concepts such as Africa, Europe, Asia and North America are static concepts that in many cases say very little about who people are, who they have historically interacted most intensely with, or how they should most logically refer to themselves either as individuals or as groups. Most Arabs from Northern Africa nor most whites from South African have never followed the custom of referring to themselves as African Americans. Given such realities as these, as well as many global migrational patterns (e.g., those that brought many Persians and Arabs to the Swahili Coast of Africa, Arabs from Asia to Africa, and Europeans to South Africa) and the fact that all maps involve distortions of some type, I must re-emphasize that all continents as we conceive then with their so-called boundaries are largely overlapping myths of an age that has largely passed when we use them as ways of classifying people. Hence, on this issue I strongly disagree with Asar Imhotep. Nowhere have I ever stated that American slavery was not unique in the history of human enslavement. In fact, it was nothing less than a holocaust. Almost everything in human history is to some extent unique and slavery, especially when closely associated with racism (as was typically the case across the Atlantic), was especially horrific. This acknowledged, however, let us get to some additional facts. Slavery can be traced back as far as the Neolithic Age and continues until the present!!! What I am on record as asserting is that slavery (i.e., world slavery) has not uniquely victimized people of African descent. Over the course of the history of the world, slavery of many different varieties has been very widely practiced. Many Eurocentric scholars would even have us believe that while Ancient Greece was a society with a large number of slaves that it was at the same time the birthplace of democracy. I have always found this thinking somewhat convoluted, and likely very contradictory. Moreover, there can be little doubt that the discrimination practiced against Egyptians in Egypt by Greeks during the Hellenistic Age that followed that country's conquest by Alexander the Great when indigenous Egyptians were even denied the rights of citizenship was motivated by a large measure of ethnic prejudice and racism. As I repeatedly pointed out in my two volumes titled Africa in Europe , despite the presence of some African slaves in some parts of Europe (e.g., Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Malta, and Greece) during some periods especially following on the heels of the so-called European Age of Discovery, the majority of slaves in Europe overall throughout the history of that continent were always indigenous Europeans. Numerous peoples have been enslaved in history. Slavery per se should not be conflated with racism, and most especially not with the trans-Atlantic slave trade between Africa and the Americas. Slavery has been a much larger and much more inclusive development. Any attempt to make African Americans believe that only people of African descent have been slaves is patently untrue and does them a grave disservice. It is similar to the myth that only Jews have ever been victimized by a holocaust. Whether a slave even nowadays is a light-complexioned female sex worker captured from Slavic lands or a dark brown or black child from India who is daily chained to a loom to generate money for their cruel economic pimps, violence of the worst kind is not infrequently used against them. This, dear colleagues, is still slavery!!! In some cases, moreover, it has a component that can be considered racist or at least related to the phenotypes of the victims. Put briefly, human slavery neither began nor ended with African Americans, although a contrary view of this institution continues unfortunately to circulate widely among people with little knowledge of human history and the social sciences as they relate to the world at large. This state of affairs deserves more challenge by serious scholars. Finally, I find especially disturbing the notion that African Americans should as a group have a social identity that is associated with a supreme being, regardless of whether the reference be to Jehovah, God, Allah, or as suggested by Asaar Imhotep, to KALA, KAKA, or KAKA YETU. One needs look no further than the murderous violence that sometimes boils up between Muslims who are Shi'ites and Muslims who are Sunnis, as well as other historic confrontations among peoples based on religion (including during the various Catholic Inquisitions) to realize that this would not be a progressive model for African Americans to follow. Moreover, it would likely introduce yet a new way of discriminating and alienating those African Americans who are atheists, agnostics, or just free-thinkers based on the beliefs, prejudices, and parochialisms that others hold dear. With best regards, Stefan Goodwin, Ph.D. Anthropologist