On December 27, 2005 the New York Times printed an
entitled "Ghanaians' Uneasy Embrace of Slavery's Diaspora."
The New York Times rarely delivers on its claim to give its readers
"all the news that is fit to print." Even white politicians
like John Kerry get biased coverage when they dare to challenge
the established order. If a white presidential nominee can't catch
a fair break from the Times, then black people are definitely out
According to the Times, black Americans should just
forget about visiting Africa or forging any links with Africans.
Like people in poor nations all over the world, many Ghanaians seek
to emigrate to the United States. The Times tells us that Ghanaians
envy their American cousins for being taken into slavery.
Suppose, for arguments sake, that the statement is
an accurate assessment of some Ghanaian opinion. A real newspaper
would then ask how much Ghanaians know about the United States,
and what if anything they have been taught about African American
history or their own history for that matter.
Ghanaians aren't alone in seeking refuge in nations
that exploited them. Most of the southwest United States was stolen
from Mexico. Mexicans know this but still cross the border in hopes
of improving their lives. The United States military killed hundreds
of thousands in the Philippines at the turn of the last century.
That unforgotten history doesn't prevent Filipinos from waiting
years to get green cards that ensure their passage to the country
that caused their people so much anguish.
The reality is that Europe and the United States created
terrible poverty and instability around the world. So much so, that
the people they oppress yearn to live in the oppressor nations in
hopes of improving their lives.
The real point of the New York Times article is to
tell black Americans that they should just get over the past, realize
they are in the best nation on earth, and stop trying to learn anything
about their ancestral home. After all, Africa is poor and its people
envy three hundred years of slavery, lynching and Jim Crow.
No other group is dissuaded from learning about its
ancestry as much as black people are dissuaded. Even groups whose
ancestors immigrated voluntarily came from poor countries. Their
homelands weren't just poor, they were often oppressive. There would
have been no immigration if that were not the case. Yet the New
York Times doesn't tell anyone else to forget about identifying
with their place of origin. Only black Americans are told to wise
up and be grateful for what the system has meted out to them.
Not content to make light of African Americans attempts
to connect to Africa, the times had to add the piece de resistance.
They had to call Henry Louis Gates.
Gates' area of expertise is African American literature.
He is not a historian. He is not a mental health professional. He
is not an expert on public affairs. He is not an economist. He knows
literature and that is all. Despite his limited base of knowledge,
he is continually called upon to opine on subjects he knows little
if anything about.
Gates is definitely shrewd. He has gamed a system
that confers top dog status on only a few black faces. Journalism
schools teach courses like Gates 101 and grade students on their
ability to get in touch with Gates when in need of a handy quote
about black people.
Several years ago Gates proudly showed the world how
he knew in the PBS documentary series "Wonders of the African
World." In the slave trade segment, Gates'only moment of anger
was directed at an Ashanti
prince. If Gates wants to wax righteously indignant, he should
interrogate a member of the Brown family of Brown University. The
Brown fortune was made through slavery, as were many others. Gates
ought to give a Brown descendant the third degree on camera.
In the Times article Gates gives us this nugget of
wisdom. "The myth was our African ancestors were out on a walk
one day and some bad white dude threw a net over them. But that
wasn't the way it happened. It wouldn't have been possible without
the help of Africans." A real historian might have added that
there would have been no slave trade without a demand from Europe
From Canada, where slavery was once legal, to the
Caribbean, and all the way to the tip of South America, white Americans
developed and sustained a voracious need for African free labor.
Maybe the Times will tackle that subject some day.
If the Times and their journalistic brethren stopped
thinking of the head Negro in charge of all things involving colored
people, they might find a useful perspective and write better articles.
The New York Times can make local phone calls and find experts on
any subject known to humankind. New York City is home to Columbia
University, New York University and a 19 campus City University
of New York, to name just a few.
Is it possible that some of these institutions have
experts on African history? Of course they do, but they will never
be heard from as long as a publicity savvy English professor is
the only acceptable source of information.
So, if on your next visit to Ghana, you are referred
to as "obruni," a word usually reserved for white people,
don't worry about it. Take it as an opportunity to learn from another
culture and to teach people who may need to learn from you. In any
case, obruni has probably come to mean "foreigner who has more
cash than I do."
Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears
weekly in BC. Ms. Kimberley is
a freelance writer living in New York City. She can be reached via
e-Mail at [email protected].
You can read more of Ms. Kimberley's writings at freedomrider.blogspot.com.