Black Americans, Africa and History: A Reassessment of the Pan-African and Identity Paradigms

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Abstract

The paper critically examines two paradigms that are central to the Africa-Black America nexus: Pan-Africanism and Identity. It contends that the present surge of Pan-African consciousness and moves toward regenerating the Pan-African tradition have to be considered in the context of the historical trajectories and experiences of Africans and blacks in diaspora. It further contends that there are serious problems of identity among both black Americans and Africans. It critiques the African identity construct (forcefully defended in Afrocentrism) which characterized black Americans as Africans, and suggests that black American identity is much too complex, and has to be situated within the broader context of new worm acculturation.

The Pan-African Paradigm

A recurrent and familiar subject among a cross section of the Black American community, especially those of radical nationalist persuasion is the suggestion that the most viable solution to the current crisis of Black America is a revival and strengthening of Pan-Africanism. In July of 1992, at a symposium organized by the African Students Union of Tulane University, a Black American male asked the panelists, all of them Africans, to suggest how best black Americans and Africans could develop and sustain a viable Pan-African relationship as a strategy against threats posed by the political and cultural dominance of white Americans and Europeans.

In April of 1993, the Pan-African Movement U.S.A. (PAMUSA) held its annual convention in Atlanta Georgia. The conference focused attention on the necessity and strategies for revamping Pan-Africanism. In December of 1993, the epochal Seventh Pan-African Congress took place in Kampala, Uganda. Delegates from the United States, Latin American and the Caribbean met with Africans to exchange views on the importance of developing and maintaining a strong Pan-African connection.

In the last ten years, delegations of black Americans have met on several occasions with African leaders to discuss modalities for mutual cooperation and struggle. Radical cultural nationalists bemoan what they perceive as the lack of unity among Black Americans and Africans, due in large part, they suggest, to the lack of sufficient awareness and appreciation of shared historical experiences, cultural values and interests. Most critically, they lament failure of black Americans and Africans to acknowledge the commonality of their problems and challenges. Not only do Africans and Black Americans share historical ties, common interests and identity, but also, according to the cultural-nationalists, they confront common problems emanating largely from a common foe--Euro-Americans. This is referred to generally as the Eurocentric threat, a threat of cultural alienation, annihilation and perpetual domination. This threat supposedly embraces every facet of Black American and African lives---cultural, social, economic and political. Eurocentrism is depicted as an ideology designed to create a world order of white supremacy, sustained by the pains, miseries and subordination of blacks, and Pan-Africanism is proposed as the tool for dealing with this threat.

Pan-Africanism emphasizes the unity of Africans and black diasporans in a joint struggle, a struggle ordained by the pains of the deep historical wounds inflicted by slavery, racism, colonialism and neo-colonialism. This faith in Pan-Africanism is reinforced by memories and knowledge of the success of an earlier cooperation between Africans and black diasporans, a cooperation that was instrumental to the dismantling of colonialism. Consequently, Black Americans today hinge progress on a reactivation of the old Pan-African cooperation. In combination, many contend, Africans and Black Americans would more effectively withstand the hegemonic threat of Euro-Americans in the United States and neo-imperialism in Africa.

The cultural nationalist perspective combines both cultural and politico-nationalist values. …