Pop Culture, Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

Yeah, I Was Just In Africa On Tuesday!

Apparently this is where Nas and T-Boz went in Belly. To some trees. Africa.

Black history month is almost over so let’s talk about Africa.

Something’s been on my mind for quite some time. And it’s bigger than me and you, your mama and your cousin too. It’s a phenomenon that was brought to my attention while reading the book Authenically Black by John McWhorter about this whole notion of Mother Africa and the ability of us black folks to claim any and everything as being inherently African.

And you know what, I agree with him…that’s pure and utter bullsh*t.

Now I’m not a fan of Mr. McWhorter at all. In fact, I believe that he’s exactly what’s wrong with some black folks in America. And it isn’t that he doesn’t have good ideas because truthfully he does. It’s more in his execution. For instance, as opposed to saying that Amadou Diallo was unjustly murdered for pulling out a wallet, McWhorter took the side of police officers in pointing out that they are working under stressful conditions and that they feared for their lives. Now I don’t find anything wrong with that statement except for the fact that THEY SHOT THIS DUDE 41 TIMES AND HIS BACK WAS TURNED TO THEM. Forty one mother fuckin’ times???

Look, I know this is old, so I skip that since most of us have forgotten about it, but sometimes you do have to say f*ck the police.

And like usual, I’ve digressed.

Aha…Africa. Have you seen Belly?? Of course you have. I’ve seen it a good million times. Even bought the special edition. I love that movie. You’re probably wondering how I could love that movie. See, I don’t view it as a movie, more as an extra long form music video. If you watch it like that, it makes complete sense and flows smoothly. And yes, T-Boz and Taral Hicks both need Oscars for their interpretations of hood chicks that can’t act. Shout outs to Octavia Spencer.

[***Sidenote: Speaking of T-Boz, wasn’t her performance the absolute worst you’ve ever seen on screen? Go ahead, you can admit it. I wonder how many times Hype Williams wanted to shoot her, and I don’t mean that in the directorial way either. It’s hard to believe that her scenes were the best takes they got on her. If they were, then she is living proof that you cannot do anything you set your mind too. See that kiddes, failure is real. Sometimes there are things you just CAN’T do. Sheesh!***]

At the end of Belly, Nas’ character Sincere and wifey Tionne, decide to move to Africa. Where at in Africa??? You’re guess is as good as mine. They showed some damn trees and the sky and the assumption was that you were somewhere in the motherland, as opposed to say, I don’t know, ANYWHERE ELSE THAT HAS SOME DAMN TREES AND THE SKY!!! The voiceover was very clear as Nas says, “Africa…it was so beautiful.”


Ladies and gentlemen, we have a problem. Now I know that we cannot trace our ancestors back very far. We just know that they came over on some party boats and were promised some bubbly and some new digs, and well, we were lied too. But what we do know is that a majority of our ancestors came over from the Western Coast of Africa. Not exactly South Africa or Madagascar. Not Zimbabwe or the Congo. Not Kenya nor Ethiopia.

So why in the sh*t is it that every time we do something we trace it back to Africa??? As a whole?? Now I understand the whole cultural identity thing and the fact that we, as a people, were removed from the original homeland and over time lost our ties to whichever country we originated from and its customs and heritage. Due to this, our history is lacking. We don’t have much of one outside of being Americans, nowadays, and even that’s shady at best.

But that whole notion gets lost on me when we start referring to everything we do as being of African descent. Every dance cannot be traced back to some tribal dance. And I swear, if another dude tells me he got his aim from his ancestors, which is why he’s so accurate with a .45, I just might scream.

Further, I wonder if most people even know any actual Africans. I wonder this because every person I know from Africa refers to their country as their home. They don’t just say Africa when asked where they are from. They say Nigeria or Ghana (or wherever they’re from). When we go overseas and somebody asks where we’re from, we often say America (or some country in the Caribbean if we’re in hostile territory), or the U.S. Kicko, that’s a country…not a continent.

So where do we get off appropriating everything to a damn continent?? Dashikis!! Africa. Kwanzaa!!! Africa. Honestly, none of my friends from Africa celebrate Kwanzaa. Nor have I seen any of them in that overly colorful sh*t you can buy from the African stores in AnyMajorCity, USA. If you ask me, it seems like somebody is pimping Africa. Making money off of the perception of Africa.

Now that I think about it, I also get slightly miffed when folks send out those emails where you list everything about yourself and send it to 30 of your friends or you’ll die a horrible death by papercut, lemon, and telephone cord. One of the questions is always: Have you been to Africa? I can only assume this is the African-American version. I wonder if the white version says, “ever been to Russia?” People always respond to that question with, no, but I’m planning too. So my question is…WHERE in Africa?? Hell does it matter? Does stepping one foot on the continent equate to soul cleansing because of the journey, trials, and tribulation of our ancestors. And if that’s so, does it matter if our ancestors didn’t actually COME from the part of Africa you step foot on??

You see, people, my people, especially black Americans, are quick to point out that Africa is a continent full of beautiful black people all over. Continents have countries and everybody in Africa isn’t the same. Until we come up with something like Kwanzaa or some other random sh*t that cannot be factually tied to any particular country, and just say it’s from…AFRICA!!! I have no real beef with Kwanzaa until people start espousing that cultural tie to Africa thing because then my question becomes…WHERE IN AFRICA??? It’s good in theory but dammit, Africa isn’t a big a** country. Everybody in Africa doesn’t speak the same language or follow the same traditions.

Hell, everybody in America doesn’t speak the same language or follow the same traditions. So how can we be so close-minded as to just determine that anything we do black comes from Africa. Like that makes sense?? Can we determine a country of origin dammit?? Does it make any difference that people in Egypt and people in Sierra Leone do completely different sh*t?? Or is that just inconsequential when we are trying to establish that black people were responsible for civilization??

I’m all for determining our origins. But I really hate that black folks just so quickly make some false tie to Africa for any and everything that we do. Newsflash muchacha: Everything ain’t African. Ebonics??? Questionable tie AT BEST. Kwanzaa…umm…right! Kinte clothe??? Named after Kunte?? I don’t know the answer to that but until I see REAL people from Africa wearing it, I’ll pass.

And until somebody can prove to me that Nas was really in Africa, I’m assuming his a** was in South Carolina somewhere looking at some trees.

Unless somebody can prove he was in Kenya or some sh*t.

To be clear, I do understand the ultimate longing for connection and connectivity, and maybe that supersedes everything I’ve just stated. However, I do think that there is a supreme leeway being taken when it comes to what we state comes from Africa.

But what do you think? Am I reading too much into it or am I selling Blackness short? Talk to me.


DC Folks: This Saturday, March 3, 2012, is another edition of REMINISCE, the party dedicated to all 90s everything. Folks can tell you by now how dope a party it is. And this edition is all about Brooklyn! FREE before 11pm W/RSVP (reminiscedc.eventbrite.com) ($10 after), OPEN BAR from 930-1030pm and NO DRESS CODE. Come party with VSB!!! Peep the Facebook event reminder: http://www.facebook.com/events/109004725890162/

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Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is pretty fly (and gorgeous) for a light guy. He used to ship his frito to Tito in the District, but shipping prices increased so he moved there to save money. He refuses to eat cocaine chicken. When he's not saving humanity with his words or making music with his mouth, you can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking her fine liquors. Most importantly, he believes the children are our future. You can hit him on his hitter at panamadjackson@gmail.com.

  • The other Sunday at my church was black history Sunday. I was laughing at all those ninjas wearing kente cloth and not having no idea what it meant. lol….which leads me to my other point

    I’m still loling at the fact of TP’s character in Good Deeds was leaving his company to go to Africa to dig wells while riding his motorcycle w/ the homeless chick and her kid

  • Rogman

    I dont give the police any breaks for working under stressful conditions.

    They royally fucked up in that situation and should be raked over the coals. In fact they should be doused in gasoline and rat piss and lit with a butane torch

    They are given extraordinary powers which they regularly abuse and then take the blue wall of silence. Fuck them.

    There was a case recently when a cop was found guilty of planting drugs on suspects in multiple situations. When he went to court he begged for leniency. And you know what, the judge let him off with probation.

    Trusting cops is for fools

  • This ish right here is the truth, Before I came to America I always thought of myself as Nigerian not African. I m still Nigerian but I don’t get offended when someone says African. One is a subset of the other. I get amazed when I meet afrocentric people and hear their thoughts. Its interesting but understandable. I think people just need something to cling on to even if it is an idea that is not entirely real. Africa is very diverse. Its a shame that if I tell someone I m from Nigeria, they tell me about their friend who is from Kenya. Sorry boo, It will take me 6 months swinging on vines to get to Kenya from Nigeria.

  • superwoman

    Hi guys! Hola Panamaaa!!

    Loooong time! (I descended into lurker-dom)

    Good points. Kente cloth (note spelling) is Ghanaian in origin, but comes in a much larger variety of colours beyond that yellow….

    Let’s all hold hands and say it togeda….AFRICA IS A CONTINENT!! 56 hugely different and diverse countries – Africans can look like Gwyneth Paltrow AND Ocho Cinco….and everything in between.

  • Yes it is true, they have been pimping the idea of Africa since they realized we weren’t going to leave. I have been to Ghana (study abroad in ’08) and it was beautiful -I felt comfortable and at peace, but if you asked any Ghanaian they would call me a tourist and try to scam me for $50 on a $15 necklace. I say this to point out that we, as Black Americans, are far removed from the “motherland.” It is important to recognize and not be ashamed of African ancestry, but we have to just pick up where regular ol’ Black folks left off and realize that “red” Kool-Aid does not tie back to any rituals.

    Oh but we can’t forget the iconic 80’s Africa medallion :)

  • E-v-e

    Thank you!!! Growing up, usually being the only Ghanaian, let alone African, in elementary school, I got all those ridiculous questions and assumptions. My point always was, “African is not a country; it’s a continent”. So thank you for this post lOl. To answer your and @tgtaggie questions, kente cloth is originally from Ghana, handmade in a specific region (I forget the name). It’s usually worn on special occasions; in the old days, only certain people (e.g. royalty) could wear certain colors or combination of colors. Lastly, different colors mean different things – representative of our culture, history, etc. Sorry for this mini-lesson lOl…hope this helps :)

  • I agree with Amiri Baraka as far as Africans and Negroes are concerned. I personally don’t have any longing to go there. And let’s be perfectly honest, there aren’t any groups in any part of Africa pining for us to come back. My interest in certain African countries is the same as my interest in a lot of countries, there are some cultures I find more interesting than others. The fact that there isn’t a lot written in categories that I’m interested just furthers my intrigue.

  • Mena

    “For instance, as opposed to saying that Amadou Diallo was unjustly murdered for pulling out a wallet, McWhorter took the side of police officers in pointing out that they are working under stressful conditions and that they feared for their lives.”
    Bc I really like McWhorter and feel that he backs up his points with evidence (especially with education), I had to go to my bookshelf, skim the index, and find where he talks about the Diallo case. He actually states that Diallo was an innocent man who was gunned down to the floor. He then stresses the point of what happened when Diallo was shot by untrained impulsive cops. His next few pages discuss racial profiling, how it is needed if it is shown that statistically one racial group commits certain crimes (with the DC sniper case, no one suspected a black man bc white people go on rampages and are usually serial killers) and how through this profiling, a group that says they are treated unfairly are actually correct. It’s a double edged sword.

    I agree that his delivery can sometimes be off but the clear content is always there.

    As for the rest of your post, I agree. I prefer to be called black American and cringe when I hear the term African American. I have friends that are African, have family in Africa, and who are African American. As much as it hurts me to say it, I am connected to the south. It kills me how backwards it is but let someone talk about SC too much and there may be a problem.

  • laralilly

    Hiya, long time reader first time commenting. I am Nigerian and this stuff urks me. Its a head scratch-er most westerners lump all the countries together into one called “Africa”. The worst offenders are the pseudo-intellectuals trying to impress you with their travel adventures. The ones that get the side-eye are the ones quick to tell you about their trip to Africa vs. the person that tells you about their experience in Senegal.

  • laralilly

    Never heard of Kwanzaa until I entered elementary school.

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