A few weeks ago my Instagram was rife with infographics about what’s currently happening on the African continent. It felt like too many to count: SARS protests in Nigeria, violence in Ethiopia, anti-femicide protests in Namibia and police brutality protests in Kenya, among others. Each time I saw a link to a fundraiser, a shocking video, I shared.
In the middle of this tsunami of civil unrest, I received a direct message from a Black American acquaintance in response to one of the infographics I had posted. I did not know him personally—we have mutual friends—nor had I ever interacted with him through social media. The message said: “Africans should learn to deal with their own problems. There are nations and governments for a reason.”
The message bothered me. Notwithstanding the fact that Africa was divided into countries that are shaped by European imperialism, I couldn’t understand how such a message could be written in the context of all the racial and civil justice work being done in the world today. Why have Africans been left behind in the struggle for equality? Why is our struggle perceived to be less than what is going on elsewhere?
In March, my friends and I protested the death of George Floyd outside the United States embassy in Nairobi. Hundreds of us stood across the road from the consulate, chanting and singing not only his name, but the names of fallen Kenyan youth, who were killed at the hands of the Kenyan police. To us there was no difference between the struggles.
That evening, I had a similar discussion with one of my closer Black American friends: why is it that nobody cares about what’s going on in Africa? “We’ve got no connections to the continent,” he had said. “It feels like meeting a cousin at a family gathering that you had no idea about. What do you say?”
The gap between Africans and Black Americans has been highlighted within recent months. Discussions about race and race relations all over the world have brought out of the woodwork something Black people do not want to talk about: We’re not the same people that we were 300 years ago. As a dark-skinned Kenyan woman who grew up in Nairobi, I cannot pretend to identify with what it means to have grown up in Accra, or Memphis, or Kingston. The only thing, it seems, that joins us Black people together, is the color of our skin.
Yet surely, the color of our skin means something. It’s what has put us through the most and liberated us the most. Black skin finds you a friend in a crowd of thousands, a home, even if you are in a foreign land. Our ancestors knew that. Ralph Bunche, the first African American to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, was instrumental in the creation of policies in the territories that would become Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Africa and Namibia. (There’s a street named after him in Nairobi, which, before researching for this essay, I pronounced Ralph Bunché.)
Thurgood Marshall helped to write Kenya’s constitution. W.E.B Du Bois was a main organizer of the Pan-African Congress. Fannie Lou Hamer, founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, traveled with Harry Belafonte and John Lewis, among others, to Guinea to discuss Black liberation struggles.
Where did the disconnect occur? When did the struggle separate? It’s unclear to me, but what I’m sure about is that it’s high time that they joined back together again. The Black struggle is not isolationist. It’s the same call to action that Black people all over the world heard in March. You’ve got to fight for your cousins, because they are your cousins. Every win, every loss, we share together.
Why should Black students care about what’s going on in Africa? Because it’s the same story. The African story is not removed from the diasporic one — they are adjacent branches on the same tree. The same evil that forced Black Americans across the Atlantic is the same evil that colonized Africans for centuries. It’s the same evil that we’re all fighting against today. We are each other’s reflections, working every day to get closer to the freedom we have always imagined for all of us.
The struggle is at our doorstep. In many ways, the fights that Africans are fighting right now are the glowing embers left over from our colonized past, the same past that unites all Black people across the globe. Not only did we inherit freedom from the Europeans — but we also inherited greed, corruption and inhumanity. Black youth of today know that it’s time to change that. All over the world, we refuse the systems that failed those that came before us to continue to fail us today. Don’t be left behind.
AWUOR ONGURU is a first year in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.