Language and Literature in the African American Imagination

By Carol Aisha Blackshire-Belay | Go to book overview

6
African Languages in the
African American Experience

Alamin Mazrui

African societies, including those of Arab origin in the northern part of the continent, are known to have concepts of ethnic identity that are quite liberal and assimilative.1 "Purity of the bloodline," for instance, is a notion that is relatively alien to the relational universe of African peoples. To be a member of any European ethnic group, both parents would normally have to be European. But maternal or paternal parentage alone in the case of most African peoples would normally be sufficient to qualify the offspring for membership in a particular African ethnic group. Mazrui dramatizes this difference between Afro-Arab and European conceptions of identity in the following hypothetical terms:

If the white citizens of the United States had, in fact, been Arab, most of the coloured citizens would have become Arab too. It has been estimated that over seventy percent of the Negro population in the United States has some "white" blood. And the "white" blood was much more often than not derived from a white father. Now given the principle that if the father is Arab the child is Arab, most of the Negroes of the United States would have been Arab had the white people of the United States been Arab too. But the white Americans are Caucasian and the dominant culture is Germanic. And so if either of the parents is

____________________
1
I am indebted to Professor Jaffer Kassamali of Hunter College, New York, for providing stimulation and views and ideas about certain issues discussed in this essay.

-75-

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