Entries in Africa (5)
The other day I got a tweet from AfriPop magazine with a link to an archived interview I did with them a few years ago. At the time I hadn't been home in a little while but they got me thinking about a number of issues related to African identity & culture. After receiving the link, I re-read the piece and it reminded me again of both the challenge & the value of an immigrant identity. The current backlash against illegal immigration has a lot of Americans taking what strike me as very reactionary positions against immigrants and particularly Latinos. The public rhetoric is that the anti-immigrant sentiment is targeted exclusively against the undocumented, but I look at the current nationwide brouhaha about the building of mosques (as reported in yesterday's NYTimes) and I think the issue is much deeper than most would care to admit.
I believe there is a genuine and understandable indignation about the idea of people "taking advantage of the system" particularly during difficult times. But the kind of heated invective that we hear daily hurled at so-called "illegals" seems to be about a lot more than law & order. In my interview w/ Sheriff Dupnik of Pima County, AZ he flat out stated that he believed bigotry was a factor. When I look at the all-out rhetorical assault on undocumented workers, combined with a concurrent assault on fully documented American muslims, combined with the inane yet persistent allegations of President Obama being foreign-born despite all evidence to the contrary and I think...hmm, might some Americans have a problem w/ foreigners?
I mean in every case you can dress up the drama in a veneer of earnest rationality that sounds something like:
a) An appeal for law & order and securing our borders (ie. why we need to ship all the brownies back across the border)
b) A concern that terrorists will claim victory when a mosque is built in America (ie. why freedom of religion means some religions are freer than others)
c) A need to protect the Presidency & the nation from foreign interlopers (ie. facts & evidence be damned get that Hussein boy out the White House!)
However much lipstick you put on it, there's a whole lot of BS in this bacon. It seems to me like "outsiders" are the scapegoats of the day, in perfect accordance with historical precedent. Fortunately we live in a world where we can make our voices heard more widely & effectively than our forebears could have imagined. So here's my message to the nation:
Hi, I'm an American. I'm also an immigrant. Unlike the president I was actually born in Africa. I am very proud of this. I have two homes, one in Ghana where my grandma lives and one in California where my baby girl will soon be born. She's not an anchor...she's a baby, just like yours.
I like cheeseburgers, Kosher hot dogs, Jollof rice & fried plantains. I am also big on arroz con pollo. I carry Accra and Brooklyn in my heart & in my voice. I love them both. I believe in law & order. I also believe it can live in harmony with human compassion and rational social & economic policies. Estoy aprendiendo Español although I still suck at it. I came here long ago from a place far, far away. I believe America is all the greater for being home to people like me.
Picante Wishes & Apple-Pie Dreams,
We came. We played. We conquered.
Strange words for me to utter in the wake of Ghana's stunning defeat by penalty kick in their World Cup quarter-final match against Uruguay. I would be lying if I said the taste of this loss was not still bitter on my tongue; my senses dulled by the doused hopes and quelled elation of a match lost a heartbeat from history. I came home directly after the game to find my cell, SMS & Twitter exploding. I couldn't answer any of them. I laid down & slept a fitful sleep of disbelief.
And then I awoke. My heart is still heavy but I can't escape another tide of emotion rising within me. My ears still ring with the thunderous shouts, cheers & vuvuzela blasts of the crowd that joined me at a local pub here in LA to watch the match. Of the seething mass of people in the room I could only see one other person who was clearly Ghanaian, and yet the room erupted with explosions of sonic support every time the Black Stars appeared poised to make history.
As I rose this evening post-pout (almost), it occurred to me that in fact they have. I have never been in a room full of Americans of every stripe, shouting so loud and so proud for anything African in my life. The closest I can imagine is at the closing of shows I've played, or at the end of Broadway's brilliant production of "Fela! The Musical." But this was different. It was not only the love of African artistry or culture that permeated that room. It was an altogether new feeling. A hope, a heaving spirit hewing for the success of Africa herself. There was not a hint of charity in that room, nor a modicum of pity. But flowing freely & fiercely was a palpable, pulsating and perhaps unprecedented sense of PRIDE.
If you're from Africa, if you've been to the continent, you know that when we speak of African pride, the measure of what we speak far outweighs the constant dismal portrayals of the continent. A few years ago I created this video in homage to that sense of African Pride - an ode to we who would never give up on our Sweet Mother:
We who know Africa hold her dear to our hearts, in dogged defiance at her constant dismissal as a lost cause by those who would rather judge than acknowledge the ongoing progress that is happening on the continent. Indeed in this day, even the mainstream engines of media & opinion are beginning to declare the new day that is dawning there.
Years ago I decided that I would use my artistry in service of the world and that I would seek to tell the other sides of the African story, so that others could feel the sense of wonder, love and commitment I feel to the people of Africa. Today I felt that love come crashing back over me in waves. I've said for a long time, that there is profound hope for the future of our Sweet Mother Afrika. Today, through the courageous play of the Ghanaian national team - the literal embodiment of the Pride of Africa in World Cup 2010 - I felt that hope in the hearts of my fellow Americans. And for that Black Stars, I thank you.
You came. You played. And indeed...you conquered.
Black Stars Forever
So everybody & their mommy is asking me who I'm rooting for in today's US v Ghana match. There is no right answer to that question! lol My dad called me yesterday w/ the argument that he needs a visa to go to Accra, but he doesn't need one to go to Manhattan. So that wise old man born & bred in Ghana is rooting for...yup you guessed it USA!!
Once my pops made this declaration my Auntie & I spent about 3mins hurling partisan invective at him. It reminded me of the intra-familial divide during the Obama v Clinton primary. My sister & I were early on the Hope train, while our foks were convinced that Hillary was "The One."
Well we know how that turned out.
I'm broadcasting in an hour & will be watching the first half of the match online before racing to get to the local pub where fans of all stripes will be raising pure heck! And I will be there, loud & proud rooting for GHANA!!!
No it's not because I'm not patriotic, and it's not because I don't love the stars n stripes. But when I took my citizenship they said I had to renounce all foreign princes & potentates. They didn't say anything about soccer teams...
I ain't never showed love to another potentate. I'm Obama all the way! lol But it's times like this when you get to meet the REAL Africans. I'm talking about the ones that eat fufu & palmnut soup son. Hawaii is sunny and all, but it ain't the same - don't let the birthers fool you. Everybody knows real Africans live in the Bronx (though I still rep BK all the way)!
The greatest irony is that Ghanaians LOVE the USA! And most Americans who know anything about it LOVE Ghana! The flag above is one that was designed for Obama's first visit to Africa as President, and where did he go? GHANA. And he loved it.
So here we are, brothers & sisters in a house divided. I usually give Team USA full dap in all sports. But until the US gets rid of these laws that prevent people like me from being President, I'm a' keep a special place on the football field for the African skies under which I was born.
Today Ghana represents Africa's last World Cup hope for the next four years. In the first World Cup on African soil, we are the only African team to advance past the opening round. So as always let me say God Bless the USA. But may God make the Black Stars shine BRIGHTER today! :)
It's World Cup time and for all my tweeps you know I've been tweeting like a madman for the love of the world's most popular sport. The video above exemplifies the intersection of both the love of sport & the love of life and raises another issue I've been thinking a lot about lately. For the past few months I've had the honor to join an amazing group of social media envoys who have committed to leveraging their networks to help end the scourge of malaria in Africa and across the globe. Thus far the group has managed to raise worldwide attention and helped to inspire significant support towards it's mission, including the April announcement from the World Bank that it would commit $200 million to purchase 25 million of the remaining 50 million bed nets being sought by UN Special Envoy for Malaria Ray Chambers.
I had a chance to interview Mr. Chambers for my show on Oprah Radio back in May and we discussed the malaria campaign, as well as the roots of his broader commitment to philanthropy. I'm always struck by how the circumstances of peoples lives can have such a profound impact on what we place value on. Many of you who know me, know that I've had significant personal experience with malaria. It's inspiring to see so many people taking a stand to address this issue. By eradicating the socially & economically debilitating effects of malaria, we help people in developing nations to better help themselves. As an African I want to see people on the continent empowered to solve our own problems, to leverage the massive human & material resources of our homelands, and to break the cycles of poverty and misperception that continue to challenge us.
The video above is another example of how each of us can have a positive impact on our world, if only by deciding that something matters enough to speak out about. In the midst of this global celebration of sport, here's to all the people doing their part to make a difference for millions of others irrespective of the flag they fly. The hosting of the World Cup in S. Africa is just the tip of a profound and powerful continental iceberg. Africa's best days are yet ahead of us, and I'm proud to be a part of ushering them in. I have a feeling the world will be stunned at just how much we will be bringing to the table in the coming years.
Click here to help support the cause. Vive l'Afrique!