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Coming From America: The Mis-Education Of A White Washed Negro   2 comments

This is a conversation long overdue. The truth is; there are times I feel like I was white washed. Perhaps it is being here, in Barranquilla, which gives me clarity. Or the fact that my employment no longer demands a certain demeanor! Or maybe it is the death of my poet hero, Gil Scott-Heron, which gives me the courage! Or a bit of all three! Whatever the reason, I am now able to say that my cultural mis-education has undermined my relationship with myself and the rest of the world.

I recently went to a concert by H’sao. From Chad, their blend of African rhythms, hip hop beats; gospel like acapellas; and reggaeton riffs made strong my connection to the African diaspora. One of the women that introduced them, seemingly blanco (white), middle class and let’s say not in her twenties made soul moving references to the legacy of Africa’s impact on this region’s cultural development. I am embarrassed to admit that I had no frame of reference for a white person talking about the cultural legacy of the so-called “dark” continent, the image of Africa I was taught, with such reverent tones. And given Colombia’s history of trying to white wash its own black population, I was really thrown.

But this is Barranquilla. I am learning the flow on race and culture is different here. No wonder FIFA had Shakira (a Barranquillera) do its title song, Waka Waka (This Time for Africa). There are many people here who not only know, but believe, as the song says, Africa “you paved the way.” Coming from a skin color obsessed culture it is like emerging from under the veil, a term used by Dr. W.E. B. DuBois, Souls of Black Folks, to describe the psychosocial effects of oppression based on skin color.

This is a region where people describe themselves as negro, trigena, moreno, blanco or mexcla. The thing is though; these descriptions sometimes have more to do with their lineage than their skin color. The foundation is culture not color. Negro is a color, not a culture; a liberating lesson too long in the making for me! We tried, in the 60’s, to replace the pain caused by the skin color “veil” with slogans like “Black Is Beautiful”, which fell on its face like Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” antidrug campaign. The slogan was a valiant effort, made by well-meaning people. But it had no chance of raising the self-esteem of many generations oppressed. We could not, and still have not, eradicated the seriously flawed North American perspectives on skin color as a categorization for almost everything from target marketing to Sunday morning church services.

On another of my trips to the Museo de Caribe, that place is like therapy to me, I heard stories of the Wayuu, Wiwa, Ette Enaka, Tule, Palenquero and more; tribal decedent’s of African cultures, who seek to maintain their connections to the ways and values of their ancestors. Their stories make my spirit hungry. They talk about breaking away from the values of the conquistadors, slave traders and “the whites.” But there is no looking back with regret. No deficit thinking!  Instead, they exude a sense of character, pride and strength. Their values for natural remedies, traditional songs and language; and their reverence for the earth, our connections to each other and our ancestors make this region rich in a kind of cultural poetry.

It was great to hear my Spanish tutor, a 20 year old university student, talk about the tribes. Her knowledge of their names and their values, I could see, was a source of pride. When I was 20, I could not name even one of the tribes that spawned American culture and progress. What I missed was not the facts, the feeble memorization of who did what and when. What I missed was the value of each part’s contribution to the whole. Color obsession undermines the depth one feels when they are connected to the legacy that one’s ancestors have contributed to the world today.  At the concert, I quietly grieved my mis-education. I also danced, once again, to the music and poetry, celebrating my own journey away from deconstructivism and towards a greater sense of my connection to the world.

Posted May 30, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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