The New African Dilemma

William Mamful

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.

Tomorrow,

I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”

Then.

Besides,

They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

 

When Denzel Washington recited these words with the gusto and the bravura of a master thespian in the movie Great Debaters one felt the conviction and triumphant spirit inherent in Mr. Langston Hughes’s rhapsody which is nothing more than a definition of oneself to the world at a time when the author and his kind were viewed as an inferior sub population not deserving of that coveted American dream.

 

The import of Mr. Hughes’ brazen and defiant projection of the self is an exaltation of the black identity in the midst of social oppression and social injustice. By assigning positive values to the lowly lot of the black man in America, the poet lived out a nietzschean  mantra as he drew strength from the white man’s abuse and condemnation of him and his fellow kind.

 

Langston Hughes in this poem not only embraced his identity in spite of the white man’s discrimination but also established himself as the proverbial field nigger fighting his oppressor by refusing to surrender to his impositions.

 

The timeless value of art accentuates its pre-eminence for the relevance of Mr. Hughes recital was felt when birthers in America wanted the sitting black President to produce his birth certificate to prove to all and sundry that he truly belonged.

 

The sorrow though lies in the dissipation or rather evaporation of the combative spirit inherent to Hughes’ immortal words. Does the black man still see himself as beautiful? When Desmond Tutu decried any religion that rejected homosexuality, was he being true to himself and the mores or values that have been identified with his kind or was it just a narcissistic attempt to fit into a liberal credo  appropriate for post modern sensibilities. A jocular lobby for another Nobel prize perhaps??The subjugation of the black man can travel beyond the shackles of the slave master and seek refuge in mental dominion. A whole hearted embrace and acceptance of western values can therefore restore the black man’s place on the racial pantheon only this time he will be too subdued to fight for a better position.

 

The global campaign for love, tolerance and acceptance is a clarion call that the civilized world must adhere to, no doubt about that so must we preserve that which is true to us guaranteeing a variety in race, ideology and values. The kaleidoscope that is mankind and his endless variations does not end with racial breed but extends to a moral creed as well.

The world indeed does not and should not encourage discrimination of any sort but the western refusal to accept the African attitude towards a lifestyle that may be alien to our culture, traditions and customs may signify some form of discrimination too. The archbishop’s comments could draw applause from the world beyond his continent but it makes one wonder whether the external acclamation inspired his declarations at the UN in the first place.

  • William Mamful