Aime Cesaire est mort aujourd'hui. Aime Cesaire has died today. We awoke to this news, 17 April 2008. He made it to age 94. The Martiniquan poet, novelist, playwright and former mayor of Fort de France and member of French parliament was the last living member of the Cesaire-Damas-Senghor trio credited for inspiring the international Negritude movement. I certainly respect it though up to now in key ways, Negritude, rather than being truly universal, seems to me shaped by clearly masculinist claims. This reminds me of 2003 in Paris and a very curious and ultimately aborted attempt at an intellectual public encounter with a very self-absorbed young chap named Harlem Desir. Where, in the francophone (and other) Caribbean-African-European picture, is Black North America (women and men) permitted to fit?Negritude may have spread long before Hurricane Katrina but it came long after la Louisiane and New Orleans and Congo Square. Then last week my friend Marilyn Sephocle, la martiniquaise, and I saw each other for the first time in years. Me, francophone American; a francophone Black American and Black American woman. She, Caribbean and antillaise, citoyenne of France - a citizen of Europe through Europe's hold on its final outposts in the Americas. More than three decades ago, living in France, they called me guadeloupienne though my first time in Guadeloupe did not come till 1994. Our working group, "exiled" from Haiti, arrived by night at Pointe-a-Pitre airport where "outsiders" like me stood, waiting, in the "Non-EU" immigration line. I regret that I never met Monsieur Cesaire. Now for me along with others the task becomes to re-examine what came before and what we have inherited, while finding our way home from here.
Since his accession to the French presidency, I seem to have lost track of the times when to hear Nicolas Sarkozy speak is to re-affirm that truth indeed is stranger than fiction. It's likely that for most of his listeners who were present on 26 July 2007, in an auditorium of Senegal's Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, this was another one of those days.
Nicolas Sarkozy's original discours in Dakar was in French, but as this event is so important, it was also important to share it as well in English. I'm sure there must be other language translations out there. We will look for them in order to post them. Now, a group of mostly African intellectuals has recently published a French-language response to Mr. Sarkozy. The edited volume is L'Afrique Repond a Sarkozy: Contre le discours de Dakar (Editions Philippe Rey, Paris, 2008) - "Africa Responds to [Nicolas] Sarkozy: Against the Dakar Discourse." Luckily for we Afrodescendants of the Americas (or "Negroes of the diaspora," as book editor Makhily Gassama quite oddly refers to us), the book includes a contribution by our Haitian writer-sister Kettly Mars. The following is an unofficial translation of Sarkozy's speech which is posted at the blog Dionysius Stoned. A thank you to DS, and certainly to the party or parties who made this original translation.
ADDRESS BY MR NICOLAS SARKOZY, PRESIDENT OF THE FRENCH REPUBLIC, AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CHEIKH ANTA DIOP, DAKAR, SENEGAL, ON 26 JULY 2007
Ladies and gentlemen
Allow me first of all, to thank the Senegalese Government and people for their warm welcome. Allow me to thank the University of Dakar that allows me for the first time to address myself to the elite of the youth of Africa in the capacity of President of the French Republic.
I have come to talk to you with the frankness and sincerity that one owes to friends that one appreciates and respects. I appreciate and respect Africa and the Africans.
Between Senegal and France history has woven ties of a friendship that no one can undo. This friendship is strong and sincere. It is for this reason that I wanted to address, from Dakar, the fraternal greeting of France to all of Africa...
Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga and putatively re-elected second-term president Mwai Kibaki finally reached an accomodation for the country's political divide and the death and violence it wrought. I was excited to see BBC live coverage of the opening of Kenya's parliament for the first time since the December election and its aftermath. Everyone who loves Kenya, Africa - and the diasporic African world - wants this political accomodation to hold.
And yet at the height of the violence in Kenya in January I remembered how Asian Indians and Europeans continue to dominate Kenya's economy. I recalled a conversation I had with an African leader a few years back. This elected leader reminded me of the landmine issue of land distribution vs. need for land reform in six countries that were colonised by Great Britain in east and southern Africa. I do remember on the list were South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe -and Kenya. I'm wondering if Tanzania and Uganda were the other two on the list...
Meanwhile, The Economist has a cover story on "The New Colonialism" in Africa, referring to China and India. Reuters has a Feb 2008 interview about this with Hungarian-born billionaire financier George Soros:
"...European nations' scramble for resources, from slaves to diamonds and gold, led them to subjugate Africa's peoples under colonialism. After independence swept the continent in the 1950s and 1960s, they often supported corrupt and dictatorial regimes.
Over the last decade, amid concern over minerals funding wars from Angola to Democratic Republic of Congo, Western governments and multinationals have largely accepted the need for accountability and transparency in extractive industries.
But India and China, which are pumping billions of dollars of loans and investment into Africa, have not, Soros said. ..."
I am sooo excited about this! Thanks and appreciation to France-based Comite Marche du 23 Mai 1998(and S. Flainville) on their workshop on Sunday, 24 February. It's in French, of course: "Comment j’ai retrouve mes parents qui ont vecu au temps de l’esclavage." "How I found my relatives who lived during slavery." The geo-historical focus is on Martinique (and perhaps also Guadeloupe?) I will post more details on Marian's Blog en francais but here are a few: It all takes place 2:30-5:30pm in the Salle Saint-Denys at 8, rue de la Boulangerie, 93200 Saint-Denis, near Paris. Workshop leader is Dr. Emmanuel GORDIEN, director of CM98's own genealogy center. There's a nominal €2 (that's euro) charge, and the closest Metro is Saint-Denis Basilique. Dr. Gordien recommends a couple of French-language resources: Claire Sibille's"Guide des sources de la traite négrière de l’esclavage et de leurs abolitions" and "Les noms de famille d’origine africaine de la population martiniquaise d’ascendance servile," by Guillaume Durand and Kinvi Logossah from Editions Harmattan. I look forward to hearing how it went. Big props to Suzy and CM98!
Came across an interesting article from nearly a year ago: author Yvonne Bynoe's Black America After Jim Crow: Still Feels Like Segregation, published on AlterNet. (They have good stuff and deserve your consideration of $upport.)
For decades I've been having "frank and candid" conversations, personal and public, with Black folks from around the world outside the USA, as well as with my folks here at home. I agree with much but not all of what Bynoe writes. I remember a surreal moment in the Kenyan government representative's speech at the U.S. 4th of July diplomatic event in Nairobi a few years ago. Johnnie Carson, a Black American, was ambassador. But I'll save this for another time.
"What has not occurred are frank and candid conversations between native Black Americans and immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean that aim to update the public face of "Black America." These dialogues would first need to acknowledge the unique cultures and histories of the various groups, while forging relationships based on our shared interests and challenges in this country as people of African descent." - writer Yvonne Bynoe
It's Black History Month, folks. Today, renegade though it may be to some, my focus is on the peculiarities I'm observing in this 2008 U.S. presidential election season. I'll begin with a fact that may not be obvious to some observers, and the farther one is from the U.S. and our history the less obvious this fact will be. Let's call it Fact 1:
Come November, U.S. voters, after well over two centuries, still will not elect to the presidency a Black person who is the descendant of "we the people" who were enslaved not long ago in the U.S.A. These descendants are the Black American people, the group of Blacks whom Kenyan historian Ali Mazrui somehow has come to deem "undefinable" or "unmentionable", or who somehow should not be singled out n view of our long historical existence, lest in some way we might be seen as an "elite." That is his term, not mine. The other side of this issue is the current possibilitiy of electing someone to become the first Black president of a country - in this case the United States - but a person who in fact does not come from the indigenous Black population of said country. We'll call this Fact 2. Or as Mr. Mazrui informed all of us during the January symposium which was supposed to be about Blacks and abolition of the U.S. slave trade, the United States may beat Kenya by electing the first "Luo" president. Apparently Luois the name of the Kenyan ethnic group Barack Obama's late father belonged to. Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga is a Luo also, hence the inside joke, though not to Americans in general or to Black Americans in particular. ...
I'm gonna try to keep this short. Once again it's about the current infernal election cycle. As far back as fall 2004 at a local Democratic Party event in Rome, Italy, a white American - an Italian American called Peter Alegi - made it perfectly clear to me, and in the rudest possible way, that my honest, considered opinion about the candidates in this race would be neither valued or respected. So what else is new for Black women in the USA?
The same nasty attitude has been driven home to me again and again over the past months and days. The sole exception has been two truly refreshing conversations in just the past couple of days. On two separate occasions persons who asked my opinion about the U.S. presidential race happened to be three Italian Italians: two were together in Rome airport, and one was aboard my flight. Signori, Vi ringrazio per vostri domande. Meanwhile, speaking of Black American women, I've noticed how neither the MSM - "mainstream" media - nor the Democratic Party has said much about former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney leaving the Party and moving to theU.S. Greens. She now has her own campaign for the U.S. presidency, and I wish the sister well. It was just under two years ago, the last time I saw Cynthia - still in office - on Capitol Hill. I remember vividly the early '90s when she arrived in Washington to take her new office. And I recall our chats while on a congressional trip to Haiti. This was when New York Rep. Charles Rangel tried to reach a deal with then-dictator General Raoul Cedras. It was to no avail. But that, too, is for a future blog post. McKinney was a feisty senior Democratic congresswoman from Georgia. Would the current silence and apparent indifference be the same were she a white woman or a Black man? Interestingly this brings us back to the demographics of the current Democratic presidential race. We may never know for sure whetherrace+gender (rather than one or the other separately) has made the difference. Or perhaps we do know. Legendary Los Angeles, California congresswoman Maxine Waters is another U.S. policymaker I admire who also "happens" to be a Black American woman. Yet again I notice little coverage of recent news that she, too, has decided to back Senator Clinton. So I feel in being dissed I'm in pretty good company! A couple of other senior Black American politicos whom I've met and who also are backing HILLARY include New York's first Black mayor, David Dinkins and Harlem congressman Charles Rangel. I met Mrs.Clinton herself at the 1997 international conference on Women and Democracy in Central and Eastern Europe. That was in Vienna, Austria. I'd just completed four intense months work in Srebrenica and elsewhere in eastern Bosnia. I helped with the conference as a volunteer, assisting a woman called Susan Hovanec with press. In her presidency I hope that Hillary will act on some of the lessons she has taught on the need for greater women's participation in politics and society. For myself as a Black American woman there is something else I am not ashamed to state and about which I will not remain silent. It's a fact which should neither be denied or in any way obscured. The ancestors of the Black Americans of North America were enslaved by the British, some by the French and others by the Spanish; and later we were enslaved under the newly declared United States. Here we are today, pretty much 400 years later. One of the bottom lines for me about this election is that no matter who wins on Tuesday, 4 Nov. 2008, on the day after, the United States still will never have elected a president who comes from the U.S. Black population who are the descendants of our enslaved ancestors. For the record, I am not the person to whom to say that this is insignificant. For me as a descendant of my enslaved ancestors - my grandfather's uncle was born into slavery in Missouri before, as soon as slavery ended, that part of our family fled Missouri to Leavenworth, Kansas. And so it is vitally important that alongside other political issues which will be critical in Hillary Clinton's presidency, at the very least, with her as president there will be no illusions, delusions or confusion about this fact.
My thank-you to John Edwards and family, and everyone who worked so long and hard on this campaign. It will have been one for the history books.
As the Edwards campaign notified the press today, one news commentator noted that the U.S. "has never elected a populist."
As Americans that's nothing to brag about; in fact, it is our collective loss. How many Americans still would prefer that people tell us what some of us would like to hear? Things like we - the 'collective we' - can go right on self-centered and selfish, while simultaneously claiming to be king of the global hill. But our more and more frankenstein-like creation has little if any remaining sense of being one society. And that's just here in the US, let alone how we relate to the "outside world" which many of us can't find on a map let alone know.
It was late last year when a Southern scholar-friend of mine tried to school me about the USA. He said our country would not have any truck with a populist. I really didn't want to believe it.
Someone famous once said something like: There is no hell like the one we create for ourselves.
When I think of the Arab League usually I think of Somalia. I recall the League's presence and involvement in the 2002-2004 Somali peace talks in Eldoret and Mbagathi, Kenya. If you have real access to BBC TV, and not what I can only regard as the mostly pandering, mind-numbing soap opera, real estate and auction fare still being passed off as BBC America, make sure you catch the Doha Debates' segment on Sudan's genocide in Darfur. This originally aired on BBC 26-27 January 2008. The segment focuses on the Arab world's relationship to the Government of Sudan and its genocide in Darfur. I'd never before seen this series. It was taped in Qatar with a studio audience of maybe sixty, several of whom also asked a few questions of the panel aloud. The motion debated was "This House believes Arab governments couldn't care less about Darfur."
At this stage in the Democratic primaries why would CNN or any media outlet exclude supporters of any major candidate? Today, Friday, CNN "domestic" service interviewed two Black South Carolina religioius leaders, Revs. Timothy Browne (Cleveland Chapel Baptist Church) and Joseph Darby (Morris Brown AME Church; AME = African Methodist Episcopal, a Black American Christian denomination). It's also worth noting that no women were interviewed.
Rev. Browne said he supports Clinton. CNN introduced Rev. Darby, claiming declaring him among Barack Obama's supporters. Darby quickly corrected CNN's interviewer, pointing out he isn't supporting anyone yet. Looks like somebody at CNN must have "mis-underestimated" their homework... With apologies and a hat tip to GW Bush (sic). So why didn't CNN include an Edwards supporter?