What It Means To Be African

So often, Africanness is defined by the arbitrary nature of skin tone, which diminishes the concept into a colonial tool of divisiveness.

What has always struck me as a traveller in foreign lands is how people respond to me when I say that I am African. First, there is a wash of confusion, then a quizzical look, often followed by that raised eyebrow of disbelief. “No,” they say without fail, “you cannot be. You are the wrong colour.” “Yes, I am. I was born in South Africa,” I respond. I can see them grasping for a solution that makes sense, and then they land on it. “Ah, but then your parents or your grandparents, they must be from elsewhere,” they say. And arms are summarily folded across their chest as the matter is considered to be resolved.

Why is it that conversations around identity politics are so tied to colour when it comes to Africa?

A Dominican Rastafarian friend found a far more eloquent way to describe it one day, as we were sitting beneath the palm trees splitting a coconut. Looking down at the coconut in his palm, he turned to me and said, “I know what you are, you are the opposite of this coconut which is brown on the outside and white inside. You are like a cocoa pod; underneath all the bright colours of your personality, you are white on the outside, but wash that off, and you are black inside.”

We are not and will never be one uniform thing. That is not where the power of Africa lies.

Yet so often, Africanness is defined by the arbitrary nature of skin tone, which diminishes the concept into a colonial tool of divisiveness. We talk so much about rewriting the African narrative. Isn’t it about time we rewrote what it means to be African? This way, we can embrace the power of Africanness in all its diverse complexity.

  • Do I feel, deep within me, a strong bond to Africa?
  • Do I feel like the heartbeat of the land beats within my soul?
  • Do I feel passion boil up within me to move this continent forward step by step in my own unique way?

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