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Saturday, May 1, 2010

My Afrocentrism, Panafricanism, Afropolitanism, Blackness and Identity

Identity is often shaped by culture, language, socio-economic, ethnicity, religion, and race. We pretend that it does not matter but it does. Obama’s election is a beginning of a new era. As much as everybody avoided focusing on the issue of race. It was all about it.  Obama got a big job. We got a big change. As child,I did struggle with my identity. It was like having different hats for every mundane occasion. Hutu, Tutsi, Comorian, Burundian, Rwandan, Belgian, French, African, Refugees, Resident, and Not Citizen were temporary labels. I did not know for sure who I wanted to be. However our parents were implementing the notion of “citizen of the world”. Most of the time, I was just black and refugee but our parents kept reminding us that our black is not their black. The bottom line I had two worlds: our and their. The worst was that in our, I was not black enough because I had too many accents when I did talk my native language. And I had a blended culture nothing authentic. Most of the time, I was labeled as an islander which was true too! Besides some Africans were  “afro” frenzy that I was happy being an “Islander”.

Identity crisis is present in all generations of migrant regardless race and ethnicity. There is gap that parents and children have to jump over to connect. And if you add adolescence, it is a recipe for complex silent dialogues full of fears and sadness. For our parents, Afrocentrism was a therapy to boost our pride. And Panafricanism was the fire that kept them going beyond the struggles of expatriates by relying on solidarity and hope. Afropolitanism is our mixing of European and African heritages.

 In Malcom X, Spike Lee illustrated Afrocentrism, Panafricanism , Blackness and the struggle for identity to world. When Nelson Mandela did talk at the end, I had chills. I knew that it was a movie where fictions and facts were intertwined. However seeing children saying “I am Malcom X” was deep. I felt the strength to be my own activist to say “I am me”.  Spike Lee did put words on the struggle of blackness. The movie engaged dialogues between generations. Thank You Mr. Spike Lee!

In 2005, riots occurred in the French Ghettos. I was sad but I felt that the hypocrisy was unveiled. Do not give me wrong France is my home. It is a part of my identity. I was in elementary school for the bicentenary of the French Revolution. In my mind, I was French but at sixteen, I was reminded of my foreigner status with a French residency. I happily took my citizenship at eighteen. As ex-refugee I knew the value of a European passport. The current French identity crisis is the refusal to address the issue of race. A secular system that preaches “liberty, equality, fraternity” cannot openly accept racism and xenophobia. That is why it relies on elitism, classism and separatism of immigrants and their descendants. I am hoping for a French civil rights movement and  for reforms.

I am a mix of the cultures and languages. They all shaped my identity in many ways I cannot define but they did. Kirundi is a valley where I belong, French is a plain where I grew up, English is woodland where I am growing. I am an Afropolitan and a Negress. I am a daughter, a sister, a friend, a woman and a mother. Beyond my skin and words, I am here.

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