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I am not a minority — that is, in my thoughts, spirit, and mind. In the way my brain processes the world at most times I am part of a majority. Not because I am living in some chilling alternate universe where I think I am white. Or because I deny the clear reality that there are fewer black people in America than other racial group members. Rather because I literally grew up as part of a majority in South Africa.
Despite all the persisting problems with race since apartheid, black people in most spaces in the country feel the social privileges of being part of the majority in South Africa. I never got stares while shopping in stores. I never had the honest thought that my government had it out for black people. I never applied Western beauty standards to myself. I never feared the police. Any black South African regardless of their economic, educational, or other status can walk through the wealthiest neighborhood in Sandton, Johannesburg like it is their own, because it is their own, and they will proudly proclaim it as their own.
What this different experience of blackness leads to is a disconcerting disconnect forming between myself and black Americans. Fundamentally, there is something in the different ways that black Americans and Africans connect with each other that feels incompatible. The causes of that seem intangible. Something just feels ... off.
This is not a position I imagined I would be in. I was born to a black American mother. I carry in me the same brutal scars of a stolen heritage and slavery all the way through to the continuing burdens of the American oppression of black people. I was not raised in the absence of my American family, their influence, or our culture. Hence, I never thought black Americans would be the group with whom I would struggle to connect with the most in America. But now that I am living here, even as I am experiencing America as the rest of black America does, that is the situation in which I find myself.
I have found, though, that this feeling is not a unique experience. Among the black South African people I’ve spoken to studying in the United States, it is a near-universal reality. Black Africans are used to being the majority. As a result, we do not identify with each other as tightly as minority groups here because we’ve never had to for our safety or sanity. We engage differently with government because black people control most institutions and set them up for our benefit, not our demise. We interact differently with authorities because in reality, we have grown up in, they are not out to get us. And this rift is not even touching on the larger tensions between black Americans and Africans.
I find this disconnect bedeviling. We as the global black youth, regardless of origin, inherit a collective responsibility to continue the work that has been done by our people. The vestiges of oppression, be it colonization and apartheid or slavery and Jim Crow, manifest themselves currently in a way that affects every single black person on this planet.
We can not allow ourselves to be comforted by the progressive sounding policies or the growing comforts that come with middle-class-dom. Not until we attend to the wounds that can never be truly healed in the black psyche no matter how much political freedom or economic access we gain.
We need to decolonize the ideas around blackness and black people. By ourselves and for ourselves. We need to rewrite the histories of the world without the black parts being whited out. Never let anyone tell you that civilization started in Greece. Never let anyone say formal education as we know it was started in Europe. Never let anyone preach that the morals and values of the world stem from any Abrahamic religion.
These pieces of history are but small fractions of the larger truths about the stories of human development. The fact that I cannot regard them as common knowledge among black people is devastating. It is racism still taking its toll on all of us as a people.
Black greatness that is still suppressed or shackled away affects us all the same — regardless of what flag was loosely stapled to your melanin by some dead white man. Fighting this deeply entrenched form of racism will take a unified front on a global scale never before required of black people. This racism is much more metaphysical than any law or constitution. But it is, importantly, more universally fundamental to the meaning of being black.
This cannot be a time that we divide ourselves as black people. Not on continental borders, not on national borders, and not on class lines. Not by whether we grew up as a minority or majority. We must all be stronger than succumbing to these easy forms of division if we wish to truly experience contentment in the world we live in and will pass on.
Marcus B. Montague-Mfuni ’23, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Pennypacker Hall. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.
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