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September 08, 2006

The Things We Say

David and I have some of our most interesting conversations while suffering from insomnia in the wee morning hours. One such conversation was a debate over whether or not the Spanish Inquisition was a religious war (it was). David disagreed with my interpretation of this event, telling me that I don't know anything about history. I had forgotten that I didn't know anything about history after getting a master's degree in it.

Our conversation last night began with us comiserating over how hard it was to get across the diag to the gym yesterday because it was the day when all the student organizations set up tables to recruit new members. I always end up signing up for some kind of random organization. Last year it was the bridge club (I do play bridge, but it has been well over a decade, and I can't even remember how to bid anymore); yesterday it was KnitWits and the African Students Association. Readers who know me know that I am not an African student, but I am a student of Africa and I have been a student in Africa. And I really liked their t-shirts! David asked if they noticed that I am white, and I pointed out to him that there are white Africans. He replied that it is wrong to be a white African, and that they should be ashamed of themselves. So then we were debating again. If you were born in, say, South Africa, Zimbabwe, or Kenya, where your family has probably lived for over a hundred years, you are just as African as I am American, regardless of whether you are white, brown, or yellow. That is your nationality; you don't have any other citizenship. What are you if not South African, Zimbabwean, or Kenyan? This statement isn't meant to condone colonialism (after all, my whole academic career is dedicated to criticizing imperialism in all its forms), but only to point out a fact of history. People who are not black have been living in Africa for hundreds of years and, regardless of whether your great-great grandparents came from Europe, South Asia, or China, if you and your parents and grandparents were born in Africa, that is your continent. That is where you are from; you are African.

Posted by eklanche at September 8, 2006 04:37 PM


While I don't recall the exact position I took regarding the Inquisition, I have little doubt that I was right :-)

And I didn't necessarily mean that white Africans SHOULD be ashamed of themselves, just that it would be hard not to be ashamed if you were a white dude walking around talking about your African ness. How about this? A white South African can be a South African and a white Zimbabwean can be a Zimbabwean, but they don't get to be “African.” I mean, were the British who were living in Hong Kong Asian? No, of course not, because Asian identity isn’t about what continent you were born on, but a combination of your race and the culture you were brought up in. A white person calling himself "African" isn't just playing games with your expectations of what color he is, but also appropriating a culture, which is kind of shameful.

But none of that means that you can't have a role in the African Students Association. I would hope that in a group like that that affinity would count as much as identity. In fact, if I were back in school I'd join the Korean student groups, just for access to the potlucks.

Posted by: dmerch at September 11, 2006 04:04 PM

Would you bring kimchi stew or kalbi?

Posted by: eklanche at September 11, 2006 05:36 PM

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