I’ve got an identity for every finger on my hands. Muslim, Arab, Egyptian, American, Marylander, North African, Middle Eastern, African, Alexandrian, Upper Egyptian, and even Zamalekawy. But there is one in particular that I’d like to focus on with this post, and unless you decided not to read the title of this post, you already know what that is.
Here’s the truth. There was once a time when I didn’t even consider myself African. Growing up in America, Africa and all things that were associated with Africa, were often tied to skin color. I was not black. So in my eyes, that was all I needed to know. I was not African.
And its an odd conclusion to have come to. My family can’t trace their roots anywhere else. Neither of my parents’ families has any history, known ancestors, or cultural connection to another part of the world. As a matter of fact, I was the first person from either family to have been born outside the continent.
But I grew up in America, as an American. And right away, you learn what it means to be African and American. It means you’re black. I never had a problem with that, it however, confuse me when my family identified as African. I just never came to understand that I didn’t have to see Africa through the eyes of the Europeans. I didn’t have to see Africa from their point of view. Africa is a diverse continent with hundreds, if not thousands, of ethnic groups. Twenty-five percent of Africans aren’t black, and here’s some new information: black isn’t a race in Africa. Africans are Zulu and Wolof. Berber and Coptic. Nubian and yes, even white.
As I learned more about Africa, I loved it more and more. This beautiful homeland of my ancestors. This diverse land of natural beauty, and cultural brilliance. But as I began to embrace my African identity, I realized that my African people, had a problem embracing it.
My family is Egyptian. While my family members identify as Africans, a large number of Egyptians, along with many other North African ethnic and pan-ethnic groups, don’t. Culturally, linguistically, and physically, they had more in common with Western Asia. They identified with the Arabs, with the Turks. With India and Pakistan, more than they did with Africa. They embraced Asia, and ignored Africa. They welcome people from West Asia, particularly the Arabs, into their lands as their brothers. And they saw the darker skinned Africans as foreigners.
This way of thinking, this colonialist mentality is a problem that we have in North Africa. A problem that is causing great issues in our societies. We were separated by the Europeans. They taught us we were different, and we saw ourselves as better than others.
There is only one way to describe this.
We turned our back on our people, our brethren and our ancestors. For Europe. Our colonial masters. We wanted so badly to be like the Europeans, that we lost all that made us unique. And while this is a problem in the North, it is also a problem among many sub-Saharan (and I don’t like that term) nations as well. There have been ethnic genocides carried out in the name of European colonialism. When an ethnic group in Rwanda is told by the Europeans that they are better than their compatriots, and for them to believe this, beginning a long story of oppression that ends in genocide, what are we to do? When borders drawn by the French and the British have you all emotional that you begin to hate your brother and sister who just happened to be on the other side, how are we to move forward?
We are not Europe. We should not strive to be Europe. But we can take a good example from Europe, when there is one to be taken.
I dream of an African Union. One, unified Africa. The borders drawn on Africa’s lands are not African borders. They are European, and they are remnant of colonialism. They should not define us. Color should not define us. We are a diverse collection of tribes, speaking thousands of languages. Rich in our history and great in our traditions. I don’t believe in Nationalism, but I do believe in love. In now way will I ever be an African nationalist, but I love Africa more than I can describe. And I want us to realize that together, we are a powerful and beautiful people. That no one is better than anyone else because of some European borders, or a skin tone. That we can one day live for the same goal.
We don’t have to be like this.
We can be so much more than this.