A fragile citizenship?

As I have stated elsewhere, “the political and socio-cultural challenges that are perennial to the African American community of the United States require us to seek new ways to explain the current isolation (social and political) of poor African American communities, and the seeming fragile nature of citizenship that continues to endure for African Americans generally… not the legal nature of citizenship, although that too is brought into question by recent actions regarding voting rights, but rather the lived cultural experience of citizenship as it is idealized in a northern, post-industrial democracy.”[i]  In looking at current discourse of African immigrants and black Americans about each other, and public and private conversations about black Americans in West Africa, I see as an ongoing discussion that has been in play for more than a century. I wonder how questions of honor, dignity, shame, and aspiration are engaged or not engaged, and I think these issues have not outlived their usefulness as themes to which we must pay attention. These questions are of primordial importance to the survival of the African American community today.             If one lives long enough one sees social and political changes never anticipated earlier in life. The events of January 6, 2021 are a case in point. This is personal maturity and also a national experience: the realization that things do “pass away” and what you assumed as a permanent part of the social landscape can be lost, swept away with time, and disappear. My purpose is to provoke conversation and dialogue, and to share ideas about the cost of just one imaginary of the black experience. We should disrupt complacency regarding how blacks are viewed by outsiders and even how we view ourselves.  Of course, it is important that people of African descent negotiate and manage their relationship to whites, but it seems to me we can anticipate the ebbs and flows of relationships among ourselves (various communities of African descent) as well. We could, for example, look at the relationships between (core) black  Americans and black immigrant families (African, AFro-Caribbean, Afro-Latino) and then use this discussion as a window through which to look at alternative futures. By looking at points of tension and grace between black Americans and other communities we may uncover something about the historic relationship of the black community to other American ethnic groups.  Such an exercise may help us explore aspects of black history and ethos that contribute to black isolation in contemporary America, and how resilience has been re-created each generation, even while the ‘core’ community continues to be a ‘melting pot’ of diverse peoples of color.

[i] Wilson-Fall, “African Americans, Identity and Cultural Meaning: the Poetics of Being Black?” in Interrogating Gaze: Resistance, Transformation, and Decolonizing Praxis, ed. Jemadari Camara, forthcoming, Dakar: Amalion Press, 2021.

Published by wendywilsonfall

Wendy Wilson Fall is Associate Professor and Program Chair of the Africana Studies Program at Lafayette College. Her research engages questions of socio-cultural change, ethnic identity, and multi-sited historical narratives. She has published numerous journal articles and book chapters addressing these themes in the context of nomads in West Africa and the African diaspora of the U.S. Wilson-Fall is from Washington, D.C. and has traveled extensively in Africa, particularly in West Africa where she lived for more than ten years. She's also traveled to Madagascar, Egypt and Morocco as well as in Europe.

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