Endnotes: Africans With(out) Crutches

An American Negro, however deep his sympathies, or however bright his rage, ceases to be simply a black man when he faces a black man from Africa. When I say simply a black man, I do not mean that being a black man is simple, anywhere. . . . [W]hen he faces an African, he is facing the unspeakably dark, guilty, erotic past which the Protestant fathers made him bury—for their peace of mind, and for their power—but which lives in his personality and haunts the universe yet. What an African, facing an American Negro sees, I really do not yet know; and it is too early to tell with what scars and complexes the African has come up from the fire. (James Baldwin, “Alas, Poor Richard”)

Nothing is more desirable than to be released from an affliction, but nothing is more frightening than to be divested of a crutch. (James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name)

An overdue promissory note—to write something on “the” African’s “scars and complexes.” Points of entanglement between diaspora and exile, diaspora and diaspora; the differential “making” of “blackness” in and across space. The “labor” of kinship and other forms of “taking up” affiliation. The different opportunities offered by Washingtonian and Du Boisian models, and the imagined and real pre-histories these models skirt.

10 thoughts on “Endnotes: Africans With(out) Crutches

  1. Love the new profile! It’s interesting that you mention this. I have yet to have confronted that. The generation I have interracted with are young enough that there is no connection whatsoever. It comes down to the fact that I am Kenyan and they are American. It would be an interesting discussion to have with an older generation though.

  2. Thanks. WordPress themes are so impressive.

    Baldwin writes this in the late 1950s/early 1960s (published in 1961), and part of the longer post–when I have time–is to embed it historically. I don’t think it makes sense after a certain period, though I’m not sure when, as Doctor Who might say, “everything changes.”

    The generational changes are interesting to track–social scientists have been doing a much better job. I come late to the party, mostly uninvited, but that never stopped a Nairobian.

  3. Oh My God I LOVE DR WHO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Alright. I’ve been hearing alot about this Baldwin character lately. Time to get some book recommendations. Takers? For a moment I thought that was Alec’s brother getting deep.

    And yes, you are right. There are concepts that have a shelf life. I noticed that differences never came up unless there was just me, and a group of African americans. Then it would be clear to me that they had a different language and set of norms, although the reverse was not true. They had no clue I was blocked out socially at that point in the conversation.

    Go on. Write the full thing out! I love your blog! I’ve shared it with a bunch of people, but most of them are cyber shy. This includes myself, but this is something I am interested in discussing with other peoples of same color and wildly different cultures!

  4. It depends on the readership of particular writers that especially established some powerful ideas about identity. The Caribbean is not entirely the same as Africa, in a conversation about the diaspora. What makes an African-American African, is not the same as that which makes a Ugandan African. My hair has never been exceptional, and certainly not my “sense of rhythm” … for me, the closest I have bonded with this word ‘Africa’ was in East African history books, and on the International News Desk, else all references to ancestry were Tribal, Lingual and perhaps Geographical.

  5. words like: Negro, Pickanninies

    A Row of Pickanninies

    this image is perhaps isolating, for anyone that’s part of the African diaspora, because of it’s implications of a slavery which today is ceased, but whose roots have invented the word ‘Nigger’ & ‘African’ & ‘Blacks’. In this photograph, this where all these words came from. It’s where it all began.

  6. Amil, I am terrified to hear that your rhythm is not exceptional.

    Part of my ongoing obsession is tracking how “blackness” change throughout and because of Afro-diasporic encounters. So, for instance, “black” is not stable in Afro-Caribbean histories, where a distinction between “Creole Negro” and “African” might be much more significant. The opening pages of Mayotte Capecia’s I am a Martiniquan Woman claim there are at least sixty different kinds of Negroes, an elaboration of class and color. These complexities intrigue me.

  7. I remember my first lesson in being black one year ago. It was ‘Smile bigger, act nicer’ because our mere presence creates some sort of discomfort that needs to be glossed over. It made me angry that anyone would be used to having to apologise about existing. It still riles me up.

    That’s one difference.

  8. Hahaha. How exceptional is ‘your’ rhythm , Keguro?

    There’s the case of that Phyllis Wheatley. was she Negro, Abyssinian, Ethiopian, Ivorian, Beninese, perhaps Yoruba, no? Judging from her social class, she traveled to Europe on merit of her poems and not as a slave, it’s mystifying to try to identify this so called First-Black-Poet’s blackness.

    and then it’s worth noting the number of African Americans that sold-house and moved to Ghana in the late 60s. and that jazz club that was established on their own accord.

    and then I think of the imitations of Hip Hop by African youth. and how it seems to defy the constrictions of social class, gender & ‘blackness’ only yet to define another form of the same black.

    Brilliant!

  9. I have an exceptional sense of rhythm. Or, what is better, I believe I do.

    Wheatley’s travels are complex–she traveled as a slave, but then there’s a whole other discussion about what that means and we get into different ideas of slaves based on where they were owned and the kind of labor they performed and so on. But we can never forget that to be a slave was to be owned.

    My own interests are about what happens to ideas of “blackness” as different “blacks” encounter each other–questions of what it means to “own” or “disown” blackness, on how it functions across space and time. Now I repeat myself.

    Labor and culture are key, of course–so what “is” African hip-hop, for instance, and how does it live alongside “folk music,” whatever that is, and how, as Amil points out, can we think about its hybrid forms? Or, in a more Kenyan vein, what happens when you mix Ugali and Githeri on the same plate? (Apart from producing bad boarding school memories.)

  10. This is will be an interesting one for certain. Reference to “An overdue promissory note—to write something on “the” African’s “scars and complexes”” will be vital information, which we anticipate. Many thanks for the post.

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