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Africa is a continent, not a country

Dear Editor:

Perhaps it is because nobody but famed storyteller, Kathryn Tucker Windham, her attendant and I were in the Woodrow fire station to vote, that I was bored enough to critique an updated voter registration form presented to me as I have moved four blocks down the street since I registered to vote.

I noticed that the form did not have the category, “African American”, in the section to reveal my race. I had to choose between black, white, American Indian, or other, to identify my race. As there was no one in line waiting for my chair and I was not in the usual rush to get to somewhere else, I allowed myself to quietly soliloquize about these categories.

I was reminded of an incident that occurred in 1969, when I was a 22-year-old sailor, stationed on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Because of a shortage of housing on the naval base, I and a number of other sailors opted to receive a housing allowance and moved to apartments close to Honolulu beach areas. I, along with a black sailor (Bruce) and a white sailor (Ronald), rented a three-bedroom apartment where we shared the living room and kitchen.

One day Bruce breached our privacy agreement and entered Ronald’s unlocked bedroom while Ronald and his girlfriend were at a club enjoying the comedy of Zulu (former Hawaii Five –O co-star). When Ronald returned to the apartment, Bruce lashed out at him, using profanity that could make even a sailor ashamed. Bruce read a letter that Ronald had written to his mother. In the letter, he talked about the fact that he was living off base in an apartment that he shared with two “cool colored guys.”

“Who in the the double hockey stick are you calling colored?” Bruce roared. Ronald was totally confused.

“Gosh Bruce”, Ronald began. “When I was growin’ up in Texas, my momma heard me and a friend of mine call a col.., a boy who looked like you and Joe, a n—–, and she got a switch and whipped us real good. She said the n word was bad and that I was supposed to say colored.”

I explained to Ronald that James Brown and other black leaders had declared that we were no longer colored. We are now black and proud. Ronald, one of the nicest people that I’ve met, revised his letter (though private it was) and Bruce apologized for going into his room in the first place.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated just a year prior to this incident. National pride compelled most of us to continue to defend our country. Racial pride prohibited us from doing so as second-class citizens. We had moved from colored, to Negro, to black.

Just when we had made a successful transition to being black Americans, somebody bent on ensuring that blacks could be identified with a country like Italian Americans, or Cuban Americans, etc., decided that we are now African Americans.

But I told myself today, “Self, Italy is a country. Cuba is a country. Africa is a continent. Although some people who can’t tell the difference between a Korean, Chinese, or Japanese just lump them together under the label of Asian American, they, however, identify with a particular country.”

Africa is a continent that has at least 53 countries and well over 1,000 different languages, plus the lingua franca (common languages introduced by slave traders and other foreigners). Most of the northern countries of Africa have been Islamized. On the southern tip of the continent, Protestantism abounds. It was the type of Protestantism that legitimized apartheid, by supporting the notion that black people had no souls and could therefore be treated as less than a man.

Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe were successful in defeating the racist regime of Ian Smith. However, blacks now suffer worse under President Mugabe’s rule. In Sudan, President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir is accused by the International Court in The Hague of committing genocide against his own citizens of Darfur. Former super-model Naomi Campbell has been subpoenaed by that same court to testify in the trial of former black Liberian President Charles Taylor, who is accused of trafficking in “blood diamonds”, an industry where many Africans die harvesting those diamonds to enable black folks to purchase weapons to kill other black folks. A number of tropical African countries have AIDS rates of 20 to 25 per cent with millions of cases going unreported.

Perhaps we are called African Americans because we are a microcosm of the continent as a whole. I have not figured out which African country I want to lay claim. I told myself that until I find that country that is the origin of my race, I’ll just check the “other” box and write in “human race”.

Rev. Joseph Rembert, Sr.

New Beginnings Christian Center

Selma