|Discovering the Global Presence of African Civilization|
|Unity of black people will end white world supremacy|
|Educating African-Americans about Africa|
|Africa must embrace black people everywhere|
At the age of 18, African-American Runoko Rashidi discovered the African within him and became an advocate of Pan-Afrikanism, travelling the world documenting the ancient African diaspora in a quest now known as ‘The Global African Presence’. Rashidi is an authority on the African presence in Asia, especially in the Phillipines and in India. He also teaches African-Americans to take pride in their African heritage. Visiting Nigeria recently, FeelNubia sat down with the eminent historian to learn why he has devoted his life to a voyage in search of Africa.
RR: Someone gave me that name when I was a student – 18 or 19 years old – I wanted to connect with Africa in a more comprehensive manner and so I decided to take on an African name. In America, we call the names on our passports, and our driver’s licenses our 'Slave Name' and many of us have tried to address that. Some people take on Muslim names. They become Muslims, so they have a name like Rasheed – not Rashidi - Mohammed or Abdul. Other people for example in the Nation of Islam take on the name X. So you have people like Malcolm X but some of the rest of us have taken African names. And my name is diverse: 'Runoko' is from Zimbabwe, 'Rashidi' is from Tanzania and I have a third name 'Okello', which is from Uganda. So that is another way of trying to connect with Africa. I mentioned yesterday, something I call part to my ‘Stump speech’, that I see myself as an African living in America.
Impressions of Nigeria
RR: This is my second visit to Nigeria. I have very positive impressions. This is the third conference I’ve attended [in Nigeria] in about three weeks. I’m very impressed. I’m impressed by the quality of scholarship, by the organization. Obviously people have spent a lot of money to put these together. People have been very kind to me. I’ve been treated like a VIP most of the time. I think that Nigeria has an undeserved bad reputation in the United States. People associate Nigeria with the epitome of corruption, but I’ve found it to be wonderful place. Nobody has tried to get me to engage in an internet scam, nobody’s kidnapped me, and nobody’s asked me for anything. I’ve enjoyed the food. I have been very impressed by the infrastructure. I think I’ve been to 27 or 28 countries in Africa now and I would place Nigeria at the top. So I’m very pleased. I’m glad to be here and I look forward to coming back again and again. I’d like to see more of the country. Well, it’s difficult too, to get to know a country if you just sit in a conference all the time. So, I’d like to see a lot more of the real Nigeria but I’m glad I’m here.
“Reality very different from Perception"
RR: I guess… the thing that most struck me is the reality as opposed to the perception. Nigeria does not have a good reputation; I notice too that in the United States Nigeria doesn’t promote tourism like Ghana, or Gambia or Senegal. So it surpassed all expectations. It has a rich history obviously. It is a very, very diverse country. Of course, it’s important for me to like Nigeria because it’s the biggest country in Africa – population-wise as you know, and it’s the powerhouse of Africa or potentially the powerhouse of Africa – one of the powerhouses of the world. So coming here and having very good experiences has been very, very important. I think of myself as an ambassador of Africa, a researcher and an investigator and I want to be able to go back and tell the rest of the world, the United States, on Facebook, just what a wonderful country this has been for me and what a wonderful experience I’ve had. And I can see myself just promoting Nigeria and the Nigerian culture right now.
Searching the World for Africa
RR: The most common thread [found among Black people around the world] is in many ways, the worst. And that is, that wherever Black people are, wherever Africans are, they are always at the bottom of the social ladder – whether it’s in South-East Asia, South-west Asia (the so-called Muslim world), throughout the Americas and I’m sad to say, in Africa too. When you go to North Africa: Egypt, Nubia, Morocco or Tunisia, Black people are at the bottom of the social ladder. And I also find it to be the case in so-called sub-Saharan Africa. For example, if I were to go to Zimbabwe, Uganda or Namibia, I find the same thing: that although colonialism is formally over, White people - non Africans – control the economy and in many cases, cheat Africans as though they were still colonial subjects, like they are slaves. And that’s very disheartening to me. So the common denominator – more than anything else, beyond phenotype - is the social categorization that finds Black people wherever they are in the world, at the bottom of the social ladder. I could find no exceptions. Politically and economically, we really suffer and that is where we find ourselves. And it’s remarkable to me that it’s not just the case in the west, but it’s the case in Asia too. It’s the case in the Pacific islands, where Black people really… it’s not like we are powerless, but we don’t have the power we should have.
Solutions to Africa’s Problems
RR: We are a long way from coming to grips with [the problems]. And the question would be: How do we change our position in the world without taking on the attributes of those who oppress us? In other words I don’t want to be a black white man, I don’t want to take on the same characteristics as the people who have dominated us and at the same time I don’t want the domination, so how can we get out of that whole reign without changing who we are? That to me will be replacing one tragedy with another. Again, in the United States, among so-called conscious Africans, we talk about white supremacy, we talk about Black people and white people but I find the same thing when it comes to interacting with the Asians. Most of my focus has been the presence in Asia. How do we explain what happened to Black people in ancient China? Why is it that in Philippines, Black people are at the bottom of the social ladder? And there are no white people over there, these are Asians. How do we account for that? What is it about our culture, our personality that allows us to be dominated on such a global scale after such a long period of time? Same thing in the Arab world, I don’t think we’ve really come to grips with it - we are trying to. We are not having these types of conferences among Black people in Asia, we have them in Africa – conferences by CBAAC (Centre for Black Arts and Civilization), the work of Panafstrag (Pan-African Strategy) and I guess even FeelNubia on different levels, but when it comes to African people in many other parts of the world that I have been to, what I find so intriguing is that we don’t have black organizations per say, we don’t have Pan-Africanist movements to address these issues and its interesting because I have not given it much thought until right now.
Last Updated on Saturday, 12 November 2011 12:11
Written by Lola Balola