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From Colonialism To The Diaspora Wars: We Are All Finding Our Way Back

Our enemy is not each other; our enemy is always white supremacy, capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism.

One of the most common quarrels among Black people online is one in which we engage in spewing what almost always seems like mistruths and projections about others from across the African Diaspora, masked as analyses. These arguments are more commonly referred to as “Diaspora Wars” and have been ongoing for some time. Most recently, an argument ensued from a Twitter thread in which a Black american* stated that continental African folks and folks from the Caribbean don’t know what it meant to be separated from their “African roots” or the pain of only being able to date your genealogy as far back as sharecroppers. This is not only untrue—as continental African folks and folks in the Caribbean have in varying ways been separated from their roots, too—it is also a statement that disparages the work of our ancestors and, perhaps unintentionally, erases their African identity. 

The overall point about folks on the Continent and in the Caribbean being “gatekeepers” is one that I believe is worth acknowledging. It is true that chattel slavery looked different here in america, and that our history with slavery and being separated from Africa is different. This truth going ignored or dismissed by continental African folks and folks in the Caribbean is what often leads to Black americans being viewed negatively by them and in turn, making attempts to keep us from accessing any parts of our roots and culture(s). The point I want to combat, however, is one which says that we are the only ones removed from and ignorant about our roots and our culture(s).

For centuries on end, tens of thousands of ‘voyages’ were taken where millions of African people were held captive and forced onto ships that would take them to various parts of the world—most notably Europe, North America, South America, and the Caribbean—where they would be forced into slavery. During this period, the Caribbean and South America received 95 percent of the slaves brought to the Americas of the 10.7 million who survived the Middle Passage. According to scholars such as David Eltis and David Richardson, only about 388,000 African people were brought directly to the united states as slaves. This is to say that while many of our ancestors picked cotton, most picked sugar cane. And that is not a bad revelation. In fact, what it should make clear to all of us is that hypervisibility is only ever capable of inaccurately telling the history of the hypervisible, causing avoidable and inessential division, and that being in the imperial core oftentimes means that your narrative—which is not always synonymous with your voice—is heard over others.

What we must always remember is that the enslavement of African people didn’t start and stop at america and that knowing what country in Africa your ancestry originated in doesn’t necessarily mean you are connected to those roots. Africa is colonized, too. And because of this truth, irrespective of what any of us may think—whether we are on the Continent or in some other part of the Diaspora—we are all trying to find our way back. Because of colonialism and western Christian dominance, which were a direct result of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, many people from Nigeria, Togo, and Benin don’t have a real connection to Yoruba spirituality. In fact, many cultural traditions were affected by colonialism. And worst yet, through the enslavement of African people, a socioeconomic system otherwise referred to as capitalism was born and left Africa and all of its people across the world exceptionally disadvantaged. 

I know many in america see the customs of our siblings in the Caribbean like Carnival, or conversations about staple foods in countries like Nigeria or Ghana, and think we have somehow missed out on a connection to Africa. This is just not true, though. Our ancestors created Gospel, Jazz, Blues, and so much more music, which would eventually lead to the creation of Hip-Hop, R&B, Country and more. We created Soul Food and other southern cuisines. Barbeques and cookouts, events like Essence Music Fest and AfroPunk Festival are our Carnival. Our Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Divine 9 organizations, while flawed, were only possible because of the determination, will, strength and weakness of our ancestors; and these institutions are no less African than anything else because we are African, too.

I hope Black americans start taking pride in the fact that we may never know the origins of our ancestry beyond enslavement. And that that’s okay. We are the children, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren of freedmen and those who died enslaved. We come from witches and healers in the backwoods of Louisiana, sharecroppers, and farmers from the fields of Alabama and Mississippi, and teachers and spiritual leaders from the pockets of Georgia and the Carolinas. Creole, Gullah-Geechee, and more. That is who we are and what we come from. The Black South, especially, has a special history. We can be proud of that; that is part of our origin story, too.

What I hope we take away from this conversation, if nothing else, is that our enemy is not each other; our enemy is always white supremacy, capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism. And it is all of our customs—from Brazil, to Haiti, to the Black american South, to Senegal—that beautifully make up the whole of the Diaspora. Black americans should always remember this, but so should our siblings across the Diaspora when making comments about our displacement and ignorance regarding our origins.

*lowercase ‘a’ has been used intentionally when referring to america and americans as a way to, in a literary sense, subvert/destabilize/delegitimize u.s. power.

Da'Shaun Harrison is a nonbinary abolitionist and organizer in Atlanta, GA. They write and speak publicly on race, sexuality, gender, class, religion, disabilities, fatness, and the intersection at which they all meet. Their portfolio and other work can be found on their site: dashaunharrison.com.

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