Chiira Maina recently wrote a post on Mohamed Amin, a renowned photographer who put his life in danger to show the world images of what was really happening in parts of East Africa. I have to say, showcasing an African with Asian roots sparked a few questions in my head and took me back to an experience I once had at work.
I was among a group of graduate employees during my time in Australia, and our mentor was introducing us to a few colleagues. He mentioned how we were such a diverse group, a little United Nations in fact. “Why, we have got Australians, Finnish, Egyptian and African amongst us”. I immediately retorted that I was in fact “Botswanan”, (sorry fellow Batswana, it was too difficult to explain “Motswana” at the time, I was facing being African!) This response was greeted with confusion and a little bit of disdain. My Egyptian colleague immediately began to correct me, “Well, you are African, I am Egyptian, Middle Eastern,” to which I responded, “Egypt is in Africa, if I am referred to as African, then so should you! If you are referring to yourself as Middle Eastern, then that is a different issue.” That summed it up and nobody dared to refer to me as African again, except for the time I was asked if we really dance around fires naked, and this question came out of a highly educated well travelled (South America) energy professional. But that is beside the point.
Who are Africans? Are they black? What about white Africans? There are plenty of white Africans who could not imagine calling anywhere else home, think South Africa or Zimbabwe. Are black Africans accepting of this diversity or do we still view other ethnic groups as “visitors”. Non-blacks are actually a minority in Africa. Have black Africans put them through any form of marginalisation because of the colour of their skin? We complain about always being seen as originating from elsewhere in western countries, but to be honest, are we not guilty of having the same attitude? Are Egyptians and Libyans African? How about Indian or even, as it is now emerging, Chinese African?
What does it truly mean to be African?