Introduction to the last piece—well, for now.
I understand the reservations a person may have about the Diaspora. Any reservation a person may have about this whole ‘Diaspora for nation and continent building’ thing is very well understood. For a people who have spent centuries in bondage and having been liberated; and suffering—as much as they may hate to admit it—some form of Stockholm syndrome, it is understandable for the ‘woke’ segment of such a people to be very careful about ‘help’—in all its forms. Because seeking help, for us, has a whole damning consequence—it reeks of our horrible past. A person from a privileged background may call ‘help’ ‘connections’, ‘networking’ and other fancy terms like that, but to that person from nothing, help is just that, devoid of garnishing—help, begging, and other disparaging words like that.
America may call help received from China, and the resulting debt owed by it to this developing country, one of the many perks, requirements, facts of international relations. When Ghana borrows from China, an entirely different picture is painted. It is ‘begging’, ‘help’—I am running short of words today; these are still the few that come up.
When a continent, setting itself to the task of managing its own affairs is found the next day saying, “Oh! By the way, you see those people with complexions similar to ours in your country—they are actually our people. You stole them away from us sometime back. May we ‘have’ them back now? Can they come over and help build our country and continent?” I mean, one would not be at fault seeing this ridiculous dynamic unfold in this whole clarion call to the African Diaspora—a clarion call which the country and continent has for years embarked on. One which has gained more momentum in recent years. Coronavirus has quenched the fire—yet, with the economic downturn the pandemic has rained on us all, especially so for us, developing Africa, it can only be expected that this clarion call will be resounded in the very near future. The African Diaspora will be remembered and deemed once again useful in revamping our economy. “We know how to bring the economy back to life. What we do not know is how to bring people back to life.” I don’t know for sure if Akufo-Addo in fact ‘borrowed’ this statement as has been alleged, but what I do feel is, as a champion for pan Africanism and a general sense of Black solidarity, maybe—just may be—African/African Diasporan partnerships remains mixed up in his list of strategies, somewhere.
But the African Diaspora notion championed here, I must say, is very different from the ‘borga’ mentality we have had all these years. We, for the first time in our history, in calling on others outside our national borders, if we do this right, will be doing so not from the position of beggars soliciting help, but as equals seeking to build true and effective partnerships for development. The two parts of this same coin: Africa, the African Diaspora, are to win equally, none cheated should we do this clarion call right. I am not sure I even cover the economic, socio-economic, socio-political, cultural, etc. benefits that are to result from this collaboration here. What I offer here in today’s piece is further argument for why such a partnership is intrinsic, organic—and necessary. I do so by attempting an investigation into the true meaning of the term African Diaspora. And of course, this is done through a historical lens.
In one word: the Meaning of Diaspora
The Diaspora is a yearning—a righting of a wrong. It is a reversing of the ills done by slave trade, colonialism. Working together with Pan Africanism, it is the correcting of the ill-suited divisions brought by the Berlin Conference.
Migration is the process, Diaspora, the end product—or by-product, if you will. When looked at critically, we find sociological similarities between the experiences of people of African descent interspersed in the Americas, Europe, Caribbean, and other parts of the world. And these should constitute features of Diaspora (chiefly, involuntary Diaspora and even voluntary Diaspora).
Interspersed worldwide, the African Diaspora has had to form a minority in many countries. In USA, where the largest Black population outside Africa resides, Blacks comprise merely 13% of the population. In Canada, the number is much smaller. In many parts of the world where the Black race has been involuntarily dispersed, they have been made to feel like an ill-fitting piece of a jigsaw puzzle. In South and Central America, we can record varying percentages, with countries like Brazil recording the second highest Black population worldwide. But in many of these countries, the Caribbean inclusive, many have had their Blackness not merely diluted—for that is not a bad thing—but their identities reduced to triviality, so that one’s Blackness is best not worn proud. One is made to feel luckier if they have some European or American in them with which to mask their Blackness. So much so that an assertion of one’s Blackness is a bold statement, a political act. Too much Blackness in one’s blood renders one barely socially acceptable or desirable.
And this feeling of displacement communicated to the Black people is not restricted to those descendants of the slave trade alone, but modern-day voluntary emigrants too.
It has been the lot of the dispersed Black race to be subject to unwelcomeness—sometimes in our very own homes, like in the case of South Africa. Racialism has been one prominent medium for the communication of unacceptance to the African. Worldwide, Blacks have been faced with hostility, a denial of unadulterated assimilation. In many of these nations, Black people constitute a minority—in pure numbers, that is. But numbers is not the real problem here, there are implications—long-standing racial prejudices attached.
USA, for instance, has had a long line of legislative instruments, laws lending institutional form to this rejection: anti-miscegenation laws preventing inter-racial marriages between Blacks and Caucasians; Jim Crow laws—a hodgepodge of racist ideologies; the one-drop rule grouped all persons with the least amount of Blackness—and as the name suggests, even one drop of Blackness—as one mass of the unwanted.
In many of these countries Blacks have been faced with quiet implications of go back home!—home being Africa. Sometimes these chants are loud and clear. Meanwhile just as Europe is an abstract notion of a place of origin for the Caucasian American, so is Africa to most of these Blacks. Go back home?—that is rejection; Africa’s clarion call, come home—acceptance.
It is this lack of acceptance and recognition given these African descendants in these countries which creates the yearning—yearning of which creates the need of a gathering of the scattering—of a returning. A Diaspora is not when yearning is without. A constant fight against racial oppression is not without its psychological and emotional trauma—no matter how silently this trauma is felt.
It must be noted, however, that these features are not suggested to be acquired by a person so as to qualify them as Diaspora; however, they are rather inherent to their nature. The Black person outside of Africa is constantly or easily under racial stress. A deep sense of belonging is, always, or from time to time denied them. Thus, on a subconscious level, at least, they are all imbued with a yearning; and Africa to them, at least, becomes a possibility, no matter how blur the prospects are.
And here again, this yearning is not necessarily exclusive to descendants of involuntary migration. Modern-day voluntary migrants suffer it too.
- Blurred Prospects of Return
To you home is not a mirage—it is not linked with seemingly broken bridges—you are not a Diaspora.
To avoid the situation whereby the entire continent is rendered a Diaspora due to the increasing prospects of travel to the African, perhaps the term must be made to describe a situation where the prospect of return does not exist or exists only in dreams—as an aspiration thawed by reality—that it makes one’s home feel like a mirage, seen but seemingly unattainable. Then in that case it is really a scattering properly so called. Such that should a return finally happen, like the prodigal son (and this term is used loosely) the return is heralded. A calculated scattering paired with a calculated return and the achievement thereof, perhaps should be kept outside the borders of Diaspora.
So then, Diaspora being a scattering—a scattering denoting a displacement—can be involuntary or voluntary. A modern voluntary migrant qualifies as Diaspora if such person shares these traits—and indispensably, a blurred prospect of return. And it is these traits of the African Diaspora that qualify us to share the term with the Jewish people, for their struggle has been similar to ours.
So, in one word: what is the meaning of Diaspora? If we are still asking ourselves this question, then this article has failed in explanation.
Why is definition necessary?
A halo around the term Diaspora is necessary. A real study of the migration trends of Africans and people of African descent may end in an infinite search, a futile one, if not given a starting and ending point. A concise definition of the Diaspora does not propose the closing of the African gate to other persons of African descent, but rather the prevention of absurdities such as will render the entire continent a Diaspora; or— going by the scientific discovery that all humankind migrated from Africa—render the Caucasian, with the ills they have committed upon the African continent, too a Diaspora; and render their pillaging of the African continent merely taking what is due them—and “trans-Diaspora”, heaven forbid, becomes a functioning word.
A total understanding of Diaspora is a necessity, an understanding of its history must be given to every African and persons of African descent—without it the word renders losing its essence, and our people being lovers of everything other, of everything foreign, will troop to have themselves converted into that word; so that very soon this ancient continent itself, believed to be the motherland of all human race, will be rendered nothing more than just a space containing a people who really are all Diaspora—returnees, with two homes: this, Africa, being a philosophical and abstract home of a sort, the other—the developed world especially, being a realistic home. Then the Diaspora with its eventful history is rendered nothing more than a boys’ club. Diaspora is not an aspiration; it is a state of being. That is the good diaspora.
A strong understanding of the Diaspora does not serve to prevent other races from applying the term to themselves—for we have no control over that. However, it will help to avoid absurdities in our conception of an African Diaspora—a term, to us, steeped in sociological and historic implications.
The AU refers to the Diaspora as Africa’s sixth region—which couldn’t be more apt. It defines the term as constituting “…people of native African origin living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union.” A pretty straightforward definition. In this article we have read between the lines of these concise words.
In future articles, we will attempt to decipher what the meaning of this term we have spent a whole article on means for our economic, socioeconomic, cultural, sociopolitical, etc. development as a people—Black people.
Yao Afra Yao
The writer is a writer. And this sentence is circular