The African Identity: Am I African enough?
When I settled on doing this article, I did not anticipate the effort that would be required in developing the necessary arguments and content. I had underestimated the amount of time and research I would need to be able to justify the absence or presence of an African Identity. Regardless, I had to do it; I considered it extremely necessary.
Sometimes in February, a prominent Kenyan writer and African icon Binyavanga Wainaina came out; the reactions in the Kenyan media as well as barbershop conversations and roadside gatherings were full of hatred leaning to extremism. Among the arguments against his public disclosure was that homosexuality is un-African?
I have been largely puzzled by this un-African tag. It somehow points to the existence of a creation that defines what it means to be or not to be African. It also legitimizes behavior using a set of rules and guidelines based on nothing more than an “African” code of conduct. I am also similarly puzzled when I hear western-raised individuals declare themselves true Africans; or when young people are criticized of having lost touch with their African roots.
Is anyone able to mentally grasp the African identity? Does being African mean anything beyond the borders that shape our continent? Should African be defined in comparison with others, or should it be based on inherent qualities that make up our “African-ness”?
I consulted a few friends and a couple of secondary sources of information, I have to say to the best of my knowledge, I was not able to find one thing that was cross cutting. Some were very protective of the black skin; some argued that it was in our culture, while others confined the African identity to be purely determined by our borders, someone else said our African identity can only be seen through the eyes of a third party. But the one thing that came very close to convincing me of its existence was; “we have retained our cultural perspective more than other people, this has shown its head in almost all our industries and aspects of life…we are a very united group (kinship ties) we feel obligated to help out and to identify with our kinship no matter how educated we might be”.
Regardless, in these contemporary times my idea of Africa is purely a creation of the media, mostly western. The image of African has been tainted by poverty and misery; malnourished dark skinned children hanging on to their lives (dry lips, gouging eyes, flies jumping around their dry mucus-covered noses covered); or better yet, dark-skinned, mean looking men, carrying high caliber rifles looking like they have never smiled in their entire lives. They all portray an image of something I do not want to be associated with; no one does.
In the end, I guess we are Africans purely because we are, and there is nothing more to it than the continent you were born on. Everything else to me is purely constructed from a rather condescending characterization.