Posts Tagged ‘Malcolm X’

A Black Problem, Indeed

January 13, 2017

Defining people by the color of their skin, and, even worse, by the color that their skin does not have, is racism. Period. Take that one, and swallow it, it’s good medicine. “Niger” is Latin for “black”. For racist reasons, the word has been controversial. Yet, the situation is complex.

Consider Greek tragedy, during the greatest age of Athens, from space. What is tragedy about? Primarily, reason. Secondarily, the fate reason, or lack thereof, irresistibly brings forth. In turn, fate imprisons human beings in its icy grip. The solution is to educate the Furies, those “Ancient Children”.

Reason can, and should, be applied, not just to instruct children, but to words and the concepts attached to them.

I was brought, raised and educated, as a child, mostly in Africa, among Africans. Let me tell you something I knew, so extremely well, when I was six years old, that I never deviated from, be it only once, for decades thereafter. This ancient piece of wisdom was taught to me by my mom. She uttered it just once, as a warning, she did not have to do it twice:

Calling someone “black” in Africa, is perceived, rightly, as a RACIST insult: never do it. Call Africans, “Africans”. 

A Touareg Couple. The Blue People of the Desert. Don’t Call Them Black: They Would Think You Are A Lunatic, Ignorant, Offensive, Vicious Aggressor. And they are not Arabs, either... Touareg alphabet is more than twice older than Arabic alphabet...

A Touareg Couple. The Blue People of the Desert. Don’t Call Them Black: They Would Think You Are A Lunatic, Ignorant, Offensive, Vicious Aggressor. And they are not Arabs, either… Touareg alphabet is more than twice older than Arabic alphabet…

[The French called Touaregs “Les Hommes Bleus”, the blue men, as they protected themselves from the harsh desert heat, light, wind and sand with layers of blue cloth. They live in the middle of the world’s largest desert, the Sahara. They have been denied a country, so far. The desert was crisscrossed by traders, war parties and raiders, for millennia. And many came for slaves in Black Africa. However empires, such as the Almoravids, were also born there, ruling over 3,000 kilometers, all the way from Mali to Europe’s Al Andalus.]

Most Africans, indeed, are NOT “black”, but of various shades. Thus, if I were, say, beige, why would you call me “black”? I am so little to you that you don’t even look at me? Is calling me according to a color I don’t even have part of the general distortion of me you enjoy inflicting on me, and having me answer to?

Am I so insignificant to you, that you do not bother to find a proper qualifier for me, deeper than skin-deep? Or, worse of all, as many “blacks” are from the deepest forest, or are well-known to be viewed as such, are you trying to insinuate that, I too, are not from a culture worth mentioning?  

In a reply, Facebook DuJuan Ross observed that: “Malcolm X himself popularized the descriptive as a deliberate militating against White Supremacists resorting to it as a pejorative.”

Malcolm X had an interesting trajectory (including among various variants of Islam, one of which got him assassinated). His reddish hair inherited from his Scottish maternal grandfather brought him the nickname “Red”. Malcolm said: “I have more respect for a man who lets me know where he stands, even if he’s wrong. Than the one who comes up like an angel and is nothing but a devil.”

Malcolm X made his little reasoning that calling people of part African ancestry “black” and “negroes” . He was himself following Aimé Césaire and Leopold Sedar Senghor, world-famous writers and activists who made the same reasoning a generation prior. (My father was a friend of Senghor, a great writer, French MP and co-author of the French constitution and first president of Senegal.) The martiniquais poet and politician Aimé Césaire forged the word « négritude » Cesaire and Senghor used outright “negre”. “negritude” (negre being the French deformation of “niger”, namely black in Latin). Fine, I am all for it.

There is something correct about this, when addressing the culture and art of populations which are as black as black can be (say in parts of West Africa not long penetrated by Peuls). Indeed the art, there is delightfully obsessed by ultimate blackness. A painting where the dominant “color” is black can be eerily beautiful, and street artists in… Black Africa are experts at it. I am very attached to this art, tied to my childhood, and which have seen nowhere else. So one can use “black” where it is appropriate. What I am decrying is systematic, deliberate distortions of reality.

Aimé Césaire was from the Caribbean, not Africa. So it is only natural that he did not know that, in Africa, qualifying people by the color of their skin is frowned upon, and viewed, rightly, as racism. North Africans, Peuls, many East Africans, Ethiopians, Christian or not, and most enemies of the Zulus and other Bantus in South Africa, turn livid when one calls them black.

I find much of the work of Malcolm X deep and judicious. However, calling someone such as Obama, who is not any more “black” than 50 members of my own American family (I have seen them together) is not just ridiculous, it’s dishonest. Obama himself knows this very well, so why the double language? What are we selling, which require lies to be bought?

Let me repeat slowly: calling people by the color of their skin, and even more so when said color is imagined (as when someone beige is called “black”) is giving maximum importance to maximum superficiality. It’s not just racism, but an attack against reason.

But of course, it’s no accident. There is a meta-reason for it. When one celebrates attacks against reason in one area, one is then in the mood to make more attacks against in other areas. Thus one ends, deprived of reasons, nude and without defense when exploiters come to issue their orders. Hence the sorry state of affairs.

Ironically, the Obama presidency was a victim of the black problem. Having called Obama “the black president”, and viewing this superficial absurdity as a great success, most of Obama “supporters” did not support him at all, when and where he needed support and encouragement.

The failure of the Obama presidency is greatly entangled with the black problem of brandishing the black label as the end-all, be-all. Let’s stay away from all this obsession with skin color.

Reason is about finding out why people do what they do. There are always reasons. The Universe does not play with dice. Yes, I know Quantum Physics, in its present most accepted formulation, says the opposite. But that was in the last few decades, and evolution has been all about reason, in the last 600 million years, ever since there are brains, and they think.

So please learn to call black what’s black, and leave it at that. Obama was first an Hawaiian (who spent 4 years in Indonesia), brought and educated by white people, at Hawai’i most exclusive private school. Nothing black about any of that, and as any real African would tell you. 
Patrice Ayme’


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