Monday, April 28, 2014
I've encountered the concept of Négritude in one of my lessons this year, and I've been amazed by it ever since. This concept made me realize many things about stereotypes, racism, discrimination in general, ideas whose core lies on things like superiority and inferiority, or even how black and white are represented, and how they should simply be seen. Négritude is a concept invented by Senghor, a writer, who when called "nigger" in the street once, instead of feeling ashamed, like he usually did, turned around and agreed with his interlocutor, thus accepting his different skin tone as just a difference, and not a flaw. He made of what people believed to be an insult, a virtue. And from his experiences and that of his two friends Césaire and Damas, as black people in a world of racism and colonial remains, they created the movement Négritude, based on the African American movement of the Harlem Renaissance, which would base itself on the origin of the insult "sale nègre" (nasty nigger), i.e. from the latin word "niger" for the colour black.
By chance, that same semester, in another lesson, I was to focus on the author Aimé Césaire and read two of his books, among which "Discours sur le colonialisme", which shook me to my core. I wanted people around me to read it, but some of my (white) family thought that it was too violent for them to be readable. Huh? I never saw them flinch when reading violent things said about some ethnicity to which they didn't belong, quite the contrary, their capability to be critical seemed to be highly overwhelmed by the annoying but oh so true deeds of those "foreign" people (their words, not mine, obviously). So, imagine my surprise and anger at those reactions when, even though Césaire's sayings truly are virulent, they are also very true. It made me all the more angry. And then I realized that if some of my family thought like that, they who I love and call family, and who as they like to say, are "educated" and have a supposedly critical mind AND live in the 21st century, then imagine what other people might think of other ethnicities than theirs. Or imagine how it was in the 1950s in France, or in the US! Or during slavery? Or now in any country feeling threatened by immigrants: Mexicans in the US, Turks in Germany, Pakistanis in the UK, Moroccans in Belgium, Albanians in Greece, Muslims in Israel, etc. And those are the only ones I know... How sad, isn't it? But all the more sad that all those ethnicities that I know to be discriminated are people who we do not call white, as if the problem always on this old absurdity of the whiter the purer, the purer the better... Am I exaggerating? I don't think so... Of course, we live in a more equal world than before, but to what extent really? Are we not influenced by the remains of whites' supremacy? I truly believe that we are. We are afraid of strangers, we, who are fundamentally all strangers. Strangers because there is no such thing as a pure race. Strangers because we are strangers to the rest of the world. Strangers as people to other people, to, grossly, the whole planet. So can it be that one race is better than another? That's basically what Discours sur le Colonialisme points out, that the western-northern world always showed Africa and Africans as full of flaws and failures, and never with its good aspects, beyond Africa's beautiful landscapes. And, on the other side, Europe or the US, are always seen as those giants who can achieve anything with their oh so many virtues, but their flaws and failures are rarely mentioned.
So, I guess that basically what I am saying is that yes, Césaire and Senghor were virulent, but not as much as the world at the time was to them. Yes, it is an attack of the western world, but not even 1/10 of the harm made to Africa. Yes, there are things in their movement that are annoying for the "white" world, but there were as many annoying aspects for the "black" world. Césaire famously said in a conference that this term Négritude was a hard one to endorse and that it annoyed him at times, that it was a hard one to bear. It meant to both accept and reject things said about black people. It meant denying the fact that being black or white doesn't mean anything except for how people see each other. Black could mean someone from Martinique, Senegal, Madagascar, Barbados, Kenya, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, Congo, South Africa... These countries are Africa or America, not just black, and are all separate entities, just as Italy, France, Spain, or Ireland, are distinct countries, being in Europe, not just white. We need to stop thinking of people, countries, continents as single stories, as Chimamanda Adichie says. We need to give everyone the same opportunity to be seen with the many stories that make them unique. We need to give people, countries, continents, a chance before making grand statements that will destroy them, in the way they see themselves, and in the way WE see THEM. Because after all, WE and THEY are the exact same words people call you, me, us, and themselves. WE is as much me, as it is us, as it is them, and THEY is as much them, as it is me, as it is us. So exactly who is whose foreigner?
If you're interested by a little more information on the Négritude movement, concept, and its founders, here's a link to a very simple but detailed document divided into distinct categories, so that you can directly click on those that are of some interest to you:
And here is a TedTalk video of a speech by Chimamanda Adichie called "The Single Story" and which I highly recommend you to see!
Have a great day, and keep your mind sharp!