Monday, December 24, 2012

Six Types of Afro-Pessimists


Gloria Emeagwali

There are about six types of afro-pessimists. First there are the nihilists. Nothing from the African environment is positive. Everything is devalued  - from ecology to environment to people, both past and present. Their negative and nihilistic views still permeate a lot of texts on history, geography, sociology etc. Just pay a visit to the textbooks and read between and above the lines. Covert and overt racist sentiments sometimes predominate. Let us call this group, Category A.

Then there are the haters and abominable racists. Their vocabulary is limited to words like barbarism, savage, tribesmen, uncivilized and so on. Let us say that you can spot them from a mile away. They are less sophisticated than Group A. The Dutch Reformed Church of the apartheid era; Mormonism of yesteryear and so, too, the KKK, share some of these views and work within the same paradigm. They marshal the views of persons like Wilson, D’Souza and all the haters masquerading as scholars – through works like the Bell Curve, and what have you. The cult of whiteness permeates their thought process, theological icons and symbols. This is Category B.
There are some scholars who are genuinely disappointed with the pace of change in post-colonial Africa. They are not psychologically or mentally challenged. They are not haters, and they are not necessarily wrong in some of their analyses. The missing ingredient in their discourse is HOPE and SELF- CONFIDENCE. They seek to inspire policy changes but their discourse is largely counter- inspirational, when unmatched with real political activity and engagement on the ground. If you don't have confidence in your self, who would? Let us classify them as Category C.

Category D is comprised of self-loathing folks who really hate the skin they are in. To some extent they are victims of white supremacist propaganda, assimilated from the neo-colonial mass media, textbooks, religious texts, Hollywood movies and literature etc. A toxic environment perpetuated self hate, robbed them of pride in themselves and turned them into self destructive parodies of themselves.

Category E are opportunistic career seekers in search of fame and fortune, playing to the gallery. They are manipulators rather than victims, seeking sympathy, a green card perhaps, and much more. The more they pathologize Africa, the more likely their promotion to the next level in the context of institutionalized racism. They thrive on pity and are beneficiaries of the 'mercy-industrial complex' in one way or the other. They don't believe what they say but they are inveterate perpetuators of self-pity.

Seeing people eating out of dustbins in a foreign region, in this case Africa, is a consolation to the people in Category F. They delight in 'poverty porn' and tell their constituencies how fortunate they are to be born in Country A or Country B, while ignoring the basic needs of their local poor, many of whom are shoved into prisons. Celebrities in search of attention, and politicians with little to offer their constituency, at home, may fall into this category. Some are humanitarian opportunists - although there are a few well meaning exceptions, with less questionable motives.

And then there are the flip floppers...occasionally trapped between the old paradigm and a newly emerging one.

Professor Gloria Emeagwali
Prof. of History & African Studies
History Department
Central Connecticut State University
New Britain
CT 06050
Documentaries on Africa and the African Diaspora


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