It has preoccupied me, of late, the many correlations between the plight of Africans and African Americans of my generation. One might argue that a prevailing hindrance on the clarity and unity needed to address our common predicaments as Blacks is the lack of reflection we pay to the things we identify with and how we identify with them. One might also add that it would be foolhardy, if not blinded to the truth and reason, to think that every wrong was righted or rectified upon the independence of our countries or with the continuous effort from Civil Rights campaigns. It is akin to saying humans stopped sinning when Christ died on the Cross. Here, I make the case that as we go through the year, one clear way of reconnecting with the fundamentals of our Black identities is for us to become more embracive of those celebrations and reverences of our shared and collective history.
For many, the end of the year brings periods of joy, festivities, moments to look back on the past year – appreciate the good, bury the negatives, and make resolutions for the coming year. Christmas, the most commercial of seasonal celebrations, is observed by millions all over and celebrated by religious and non-religious patrons alike. In the western part of the world, stores and businesses are most appreciative of the season. Promptly, they start titivating their spaces with decorations and sale ads to enliven you, and many other retail outlets crown it by advertising a ‘before’ and ‘after’ Christmas Sale.
As an African migrant with multiple ties to America and the African American community, I could not let the holiday season completely go by and not touch on it – the way it moved me to feel; the way it stirred me to think. Lately, it has not been easy for me to switch off from these trying times for blacks across the world, particularly here in America where I reside and in Africa, my land of birth. It is not that I was drowned in depression or cut away from sharing the joy of the season. However, I am fully aware that once the celebrations all come to an end – we would soon be recapped on the “fierce urgency of now” as Dr. Martin Luther King described the experiences of his time. Here in America, I brace for another controversial death or the brutality on a black person confronted by police or in their custody. Regardless of who gets brutalized though, its baffling to think that the odds of winning the lottery seem higher than the odds that a state attorney’s charge will lead to a cop’s conviction and imprisonment.
But as if prepped by routine, we go through the shock, the angst, the fear of its proximity, the protests, the in-circle debates, the debate with white America – all being expressed on the world’s most popular debate rooms across the social media landscape. Then a trend or a season comes along to make us feel all jolly for a moment, and it begs me to wonder how soon we forget. Or do we not? And like the face that smiles (and on which tears roll), it is still on the same social media platforms – Facebook, twitter – that we also express our sentiments, flooding our timelines with celebratory posts and pictures.
Do we take a break from the mourning and grief and deep sorrow? Do we have any reprieve from loss? The collective struggle, whether as a people or as nations, does not always constitute a direct battle with ‘white America’ of which this idea, for some reason, seems overly threatening to some. Committing in practical ways to uplift the spirit of the black community is not always radical or requires you wear dashikis daily.
How wondrous it would be if the Black world carried over the same fervor to black or African celebrations or remembrances as we do Christmas or ‘Eid. I long to witness the day that the celebratory spirit, gift exchanges and merry Kwanzaa pictures flood social media, festooned by black and African businesses and homes – and encapsulating the resilience and spirit of a people per its founder, Maulana Karenga – even without the candles. If many of us unfailingly extend “Cinco de Mayo” greetings to our Mexican friends and co-workers, how vexing is it that we do not extend even the courtesy of expressing acknowledgement for the Juneteenth Celebration, the ‘Independence Day’ for the abolition of slavery. Or is it too demeaning? We say that value and pride has been lost in our communities and in our collective identity and needs to be regained. Well, for those of us not “lost”, how do we express this to each other and to those that are lost?
The principles packaged within the culture and history of Jewish Americans has generated and continues to sustain their financial power and activism in politics, despite their lower number. The Hispanic community strives to preserve core values that unifies their communities. It is because they are reflective in this, and ingest completely the principles reinforced with celebrations and remembrances, that identifies them as a people. Those two happenings will be unfathomable if merely 20% of them took it to heart. Kwanzaa, Black History Month and Juneteenth are perhaps the most popular, as well as the most important for black people, especially in America. If those days were embraced by at least 60% of our generation, I am confident it can generate a template that allows for a more unified approach to address many problems.
Our elders cannot be weighted with playing the general and the soldier. Neither should we disregard the intentions of their noble initiatives because of mistakes in their personal lives. While we are far from exempt, we need be reflective, regardless of where we are geographically, of our collective plight and make it pronounced by deeply reconnecting with the principles of our identities – detangling and compartmentalizing any conflict present.
The fact is that commemorations or remembrances must mean something to us, more than just a day off from work or school. It may seem little, but the potential of its impact is huge.
My dream is for an emergence of a kind of Pan-Africanism that we build – an African inspired “Cannibalistic Manifesto”, borrowing from the lyrically captivating Brazilian, Andre de Oswald. The idea that those of African descent are capable of eating up the good and ingenuity of other cultures – civilizations – while embracing the core of their own culture: Identity. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that!
Honestly, you don’t even have to be black or African to appreciate the history, struggles, legacy and celebrations of blacks or Africans. All are relative in symbolism and virtue.
We are deep into January… I pray you accept my belated greetings of a Happy New Year,2016! And for those of the Igbo tribe from Nigeria – wherever you are – we shall wait until the onset of the North American spring to usher in a happy 1016 – 1017 New Year. I identify with that as well!
Kwanzaa: Dec 26th – Jan 1st
Black History Month: February
Juneteenth: June 19th
Jude Ehikwe is on Twitter: @jehiks08