With the ADOS movement it is sometimes difficult to tell how much of what the founders of ADOS say is based on their on ignorance or if these people are deliberately lying in an attempt to mislead people who don’t know any better. Antonio Moore’s recent statement that no one in Africa identities as being an African seems to be more of a lie than based on ignorance because I don’t understand how anyone can allow themselves to be so ignorant on this issue.
First of all, the idea that people in Africa do not identify as African is ridiculous. I’ve mentioned Africans Rising numerous times. It is a Pan-African organization that is made up of Africans from around the continent, who obviously identify as Africans. Africans Rising also includes members of the diaspora as well. In fact, I invited Moore and others in the ADOS movement to participate in African Risings’ African Liberation Day mobilization activities just to show them that there are Pan-African organizations on the continent. Even if we take the minimalistic view that Africans Rising is the only Pan-African organization in Africa (it is not), then to make such generalizations as Moore does is still wrong.
I also don’t understand this ADOS preoccupation with tribe. I have mentioned before that Yvette Carnell tried to argue that ADOS are a tribe. Tribe as we know it is a colonial creation which was used to both divide Africans, as well as dehumanize African people. Prior to colonialism, Africans did not classify themselves based on narrow tribal definitions. I will give just a few examples. The Mali Empire was a multiethnic empire. The historian J. C. de Graft-Johnson credited Mansa Musa with nearly creating a united West Africa, a feat which would have been impossible if Africans were so narrowly attached to tribal identities. The Egba people were able to establish an independent nation for themselves after gaining independence from the Oyo Empire. Again, if tribe was the most important factor in how Africans identify, then the Egba people would have opted to remain within the Oyo Empire for the sake of tribal unity among the Yoruba people, rather than forming a separate society of their own. I would also give the example of Dingiswayo in South Africa who sought to put an end to the fighting among various ethnic groups by bringing them under a single authority. When Dingiswayo was killed Shaka continued this mission, which resulted in the creation of the Zulu Empire. Once again, if Africans identified solely by tribe then something like a Zulu Empire could not have existed.
I won’t address precisely how and why Europeans tribalized Africans during the period of colonial rule, but the point is that European colonialism created the concept of narrow tribal identities in Africa. This not only served the purpose of divide and rule in the African colonies, but it also created the narrative of Africans being tribal as a means of dehumanizing Africans. By suggesting that Africans identity by their tribe, while excluding other identity markers in Africa (such as nationality and race), Moore is perpetuating the colonial stereotype of Africans being tribal. This is not to say that tribal or ethnic identities in Africa are not important and tribalism still remains a real issue in many parts of Africa, but ethnic identities in Africa were always complex and changing prior to colonialism. It was not a fixed concept.
African nations exist today as the result of the colonial division of Africa. It does not seem to occur to Moore that Africans may also identify by these national definitions as well. For example, the African Union (notice the word African) is comprised of African nations, not African tribes. Moore’s mind immediately associates Africans with tribes because he views Africa through the lens of a European colonizer rather than through an African centered lens.
It is also important to note that Moore refers to “these people” in his Tweet. Moore isn’t even referring to specific Africans. Rather, he speaks in very vague and general terms, which is another trait that he adopted from European colonizers, who treated Africans as if we were a monolithic group. Behavior like this is why so many have labeled ADOS as being divisive and anti-African. ADOS’s founders are always making false generalizations about immigrant groups, especially Africans. It is amazing how the ADOS co-founders claim that their movement is based on data, but when it comes to topics like this Moore presents misinformed generalizations which are supported by zero data or research.
Based on how Moore speaks about Africans, I even question whether or not Moore has ever spoken to people who are from Africa. Some of the most dedicated Pan-Africanists that I have worked with and known were people who are from the African continent, so Moore needs to be more specific when he is talking about Africans. One of the first lessons that I learned in law school was the importance of being as specific as possible in your claims. Given that Moore is an attorney, I would expect better from him than such unspecific and misinformed comments about how “these people” identify.
Perhaps worse of all is that Moore accuses Africans of trying to erase Black American culture by daring to suggest that Black Americans were Africans before anything else. The irony of this is that Moore himself is actually the one engaging in erasure by ignoring the fact that Black Americans have always remained connected to Africa. We can look at the example of Paul Cuffee, one of the early proponents of the back to Africa movement — Cuffee is an anglicized version of the Akan name Kofi. What about Black American churches such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which traces its roots back to the Free African Society? The Free African Society was founded in 1787 (again, notice the use of the word African). Black Americans remained so connected to their African roots that some felt compelled to go to Ethiopia to help repel the Italian invasion. When Joe Louis defeated Primo Carnera (an Italian fighter) in 1935, many Black Americans celebrated this as a symbolic triumph of the African race over Italy. Would Moore accuse Mary McLeod Bethune of trying to erase Black American culture when she said that “the drums of Africa still beat in my heart.”
The connection to Africa also remained in less apparent ways as well. For example, many blues fans are surprised to find that the devil at the crossroads who is so predominant in blues lore is none other than Legba, a West African deity who is the guardian of the crossroads. Cultural survivals can also be found in the fact that the Gullah language includes Africans words and phrases, such as “nyam”, “unu” and “dayclean.” Voodoo is another example of African cultural survivals among Black Americans.
I am not sure why Moore is so offended to hear that Black Americans are Africans when that connection to Africa has always remained. Ironically, many Africans from the continent learned to be proud of their African roots from Black Americans and others in the diaspora. For example, Fela Kuti, the famed Nigerian musician and Pan-Africanist, explained that many Nigerians were ashamed to wear their traditional clothing until they saw images of Black Americans wearing dashikis. It was a Black American woman named Sandra Smith who inspired Fela to become proud of his African roots. A more recent example of the diaspora influencing people from the continent is the fact that Children of Blood and Bone was written by Tomi Adeyemi, who was born in Nigeria. She was inspired by her experiences in Brazil.
If Moore is ashamed to be an African then he should speak for himself, and not try to project his self-hatred and racial insecurity onto people from the African continent (or “these people” as Moore calls them). Moreover, he should not project his self-hatred on Black Americans as a group. Black Americans lost more of their original culture than any other group that was enslaved in the diaspora, yet the connection to Africa and African culture still remained very strong among Black Americans, so much so that Black Americans were able to influence some of those from the African continent to take more pride in their own African identity.
Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook and Twitter.