Up until now, I have never participated in the celebration of Black History Month. I had never really felt it necessary because I am not American. Even my childhood memories of my years in the United States do not include involvement in Black history discussions other than highlighting that a focus on Black history in America is allocated the shortest month of the year. This is not to say that I have never understood the value of American Black history to Americans, particularly those of African descent, however, this is not me.
This February my stance on Black History Month has changed as I notice an expansion of the merriments. The expansion looks at commemorating Black history beyond the American Civil Rights Movement. Beyond focusing on prolific civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X… What I have been seeing is an appreciation of Black history everywhere— not just in America.
A Stolen Legacy
The whitewashing of Black history is not just an American issue. Africa’s history has also been erased. African sexuality is an example of the whitewashing of African history that often confuses African people. Colonialization brought with it the importation of western values that did not exist in pre-colonial Africa. In the article #Goals: Re-Imagining an Africa Where Gender and Sexuality Is Fluid written for OkayAfrica, my friend and I co-authored a paper where we hoped to bring anthropological findings on empowered pre-colonial African femininity and sexual fluidity to a Black audience outside academia. This piece, that aimed to underscore that “Before foreign invasion. Before cultural imperialism. Before the internalization of Western values and ideals- there was a time of a tolerant and nuanced Africa,” did not go down well with the publication’s readership. The colonialization of African history was evident when commenters were unconvinced with what we were asserting. Instead of understanding homophobia and sexism as a western imposition, our argument was seen as pushing “the white man’s agenda.” It was disheartening -to say the least- to see an African refusal in wanting to absorb decolonized education. While the notion of homosexuality and feminism is anchored as “unAfrican” it is, in fact, the opposite. When presented with nuanced research on African sexuality and feminity, unfortunately, it is the Western import of homophobia and patriarchy as well as its accompanying laws and policies that Africans chose to hold on to.
Reclaiming Our History
The issue of the colonialization of African history is profound, affecting not only those of us on the Continent but also the Diaspora. This problem came up in a conversation I had with The Ghetto Activist. In his pro-Black undertakings, The Ghetto Activist also pays attention to Black history that does not involve shackles and chains; pre-colonial African history. As crucial as this education is to esteemed Black identity internationally, The Ghetto Activist made a valid point by stressing to me that a re-education and reclaiming of African history is vital. He continued by stating that although work is being done to reclaim African history, there is only so much that the Diaspora can do to “reclaim Africa’s true history.” This is not to say that Africans are lazy. We have undeniably “suffered years of colonialism, euro-imperialism, and Arabic terrorism and oppression. All of which have passed down legacies of disinformation” however “that needs to be debunked at all cost.”
What The Ghetto Activist said resonated with me causing an embarrassment in knowing that we Africans are failing the Diaspora. More importantly, we are failing ourselves.
In first-year history at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, Afrikaner nationalism was taught throughout the entire term. Only three lessons were (superficially) dedicated to Black Nationalism at the end of that term. End of year exam papers questioned students on the role of African leaders in the slave trade, rather than talk about Africa’s rich history prior to white involvement. Outside the classroom, findings of a powerful pre-colonial Africa are often dismissed as conspiracy theory. This needs to change. Africa, let us also remember and celebrate our true history.
About The Author
Thandiwe Ntshinga is a South African freelance writer. Her work employs intersectional analysis on social issues with a particular focus on race and racism. More on Thandiwe can be found on her website: www.thandiwentshinga.com or follow her on Instagram @blackwomxnrants.