Viva Black America!
I channel my inner Fela Kuti
My name is not Fela Ransome Kuti, but I am still going to try to say a few things. This is in the spirit of Fela. You know Fela, the creator of Afro Beat, the political propagandist cultural superstar who turned music into a weapon and a demand for human dignity and freedom. That Fela.
The Fela loved his country of Nigeria and Africa, the continent, and who advocated for peace but also demanded accountability. He demanded the Nigerian post-independence leadership serve the people of Nigeria and not the corporate colonial interests from the West. For this, he got jailed and almost killed. Fela once said, “Men are born, Kings are made…” and “Treaties are signed, Wars are fought…” But also, “Every country has its own problems…”
I feel like this about Black America even though it is not a legal or actual separate country. I am an American. I am always ambivalent about my Americanness but I still consider it what I am. This is because I am Black — Black American — and I know from my experience here that being an American and African American are two separate things. My Americanness is not the same as my cultural identity as an African American.
Black America is not a legally separate country, but it often moves like one. It is like a colony. That means I belong to an internal colony within the U.S., “A domestic colony,” as the educator Pansye Atkinson wrote. It is a colony with a history that is entwined with American history but also sits outside by itself, even today but also inside. Even today, when certain things happen that mostly impact African Americans in America, it is presented as a reflection upon all African Americans. It is our problem, and “we,” it is said, should fix it.
But if Fela were here I would tell him that Black America is part of the African diaspora. He knew anyway. He took James Brown’s guitars and incessant funk and put it into his own sound. Black America might be fighting the daily historical and cultural fight to remain real, but it is part of the African world. Black America, as Amiri Baraka would say, is a country (“Black is a country”). That is our ethnicity. Black. If only all of us knew this.