Posts tagged ‘Paul Robeson’

February 28, 2008

The “Twoness”

W.E.B. Dubois once said that the african american or black man or you can input woman if you so choose had to deal with a concept of “twoness”. His point was that not only does he have to be American but he also had to maintain his blackness or his African side if you will.

Over the years, more intelligent people than me have tackled this, hefted it and come out with different results. Some have called it a blessing to have two sides or be multidimensional while others think it’s a curse because it is very confusing and is hard to come up with an identity.

Here is my take: “Twoness” isn’t something that pertains to African Americans. It is something every immigrant minority has to face. Blacks who migrate from Africa or another country might have to deal with it but African Americans or Blacks who have lived here all their lives do not even have that luxury. To illustrate my point, I’ll tell a story:

I was at work the other day when a black man came in. He started to chat me up and while we were talking he notices the slightest hint of an accent on me so he asked where I was from. When I responded, he asked my name and then asked what it meant and from there we started talking about Africa. I asked his name and he told me. Then he wanted to know if I could tell what part of Africa his slave ancestors had come from when they were brought here just by looking at him. Of course I couldn’t. I saw how disappointed that made him so I told him to figure out his ancestor’s names and we could go from there and trace. He couldn’t do this as his ancestors had been given what he called “slave names”. So he stood there visibly disappointed that he couldn’t even point to what part of Africa he would have been from. In other words, he had no clue of his heritage because it had been totally wiped out. He didn’t even have a real name that was African. As he left he would turn around and ask me more questions about Africa and I’d gently and patiently answer. He was amazed. He told me he was going to buy some African music because he liked and enjoyed it.

Thus is the dilemma of the African American. He or she supposedly comes from Africa but Africa is a continent with thousands of tribes. What part? Which tribe? All of that history is gone and it was removed on purpose by other people. So they are cut off and floating. There isn’t much of a history here for them and there isn’t any history elsewhere. No other ethnicity has to deal with this loss of history and identity. The brief history they do have here is not even focused on properly and celebrated but continue to be distorted by other people’s agendas. For instance, we celebrate Martin Luther King (and he deserves it) and Rosa Parks (so does she) but our kids aren’t taught of Marcus Garvey or Malcolm X. I mean even Hitler gets a history lesson but we won’t even mention Paul Robeson?

I wish I could have told that man the great stories of his tribe. About the brave African Kings, the wonderful sculptures in Igbo Ukwu, how democracy and civilization really started in Africa (and Mesopotamia) but the Greeks get the credit, of the beauty of the land he sprouted from, the love his tribe would have for him even after all these years and so on. But I couldn’t. He couldn’t even give me a name.