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Celebrating Uniqueness and Celebrating Unity should not be mutually exclusive

 

Recently I was in a university classroom setting where a professor, with a background in Africana studies, expressed an idea that caused me to fume up in annoyance. While sitting in my seat I heard him utter that all Africans need to realize that before colonizers came and created boundaries in Africa, the divide between countries did not matter. I accepted this thought without much objection until He further went on to say that Africans should accept each other as one African continent and focus less on recognizing countries of origin. Since when did celebrating uniqueness and celebrating unity become mutually exclusive.

I find this thought, limiting and unfortunate that he considers these two agendas as mutually exclusive. Although I couldn't address my objecting viewpoint with him at that moment, I felt the desire to ask him if the reason he feels this way is because he, being African American, is unaware of what specific country he originated from ( It was a thought that crossed my mind). As a 21 year old from a west african country, Nigeria, I have seen the cultural differences of my close Ethiopian and Kenyan friends from other parts of Africa. In West Africa alone Nations like Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, and Ivory coast have differences although we are near neighbors. The fact is we are Africans, yet we are different in many aspects, but unity in embracing Africa is a goal that is possible because of our unique differences. Music is different, languages are different, even cultural greetings and expectations are often not the same. Through my interactions with them I come to appreciate the diversity of Africa as a continent and the vast beauty of its people.

Celebrating Uniqueness and Celebrating Unity should not be mutually exclusive


Furthermore, yes, colonizers invaded african nations and their effects still linger on, in some countries more than others, but that dark history should not be a reason to brush aside cultural history established over time in each respective country. If someone asks me what I am, I do not reply "African" because, quite frankly, I am specifically Nigerian. If I were Japanese, and was asked the same question, the expectation would not be for me to reply "Asian". There is beauty in claiming your country or counties. My first name, Anjolaoluwa, is in the Yoruba language; Nigeria is home to the largest concentration of Yoruba people.

Melting Pot

An analogy I've once heard used to describe the common "American melting pot" is an analogy that can be used to explain this point quite clearly. In middle school, while living in the U.S, the "Melting pot" has been used to describe different cultures coming together in unity and accepting each other’s differences, but a careful consideration of this analogy exposes its flaws. For the sake of ease, let's call people crayons. In a pot of boiling water you throw in red, blue, beige, green, purple crayons. The hot water does its work and melts away all the diversity ie. creates a uniform color/taste. The goal is achieved. In an attempt to have a melting pot of diversity, what was created was a uniform boring pot of one color- a dull black.

Salad Bowl

Over the years the melting pot example morphed into the "Salad bowl".  The analogy of the salad bowl is worth exploring. For the sake of this example, people are vegetables. This seems better. In the salad bowl you throw in different vegetables, lettuce, carrots, peppers, olives. What happens in the end, however changes the outcome. If you're like me, after tossing the leafy goodness and salad adornments, while gazing at your colorful salad creation, you drench it in ranch dressing. Every vegetable (everyone) starts to taste like ranch dressing. To an on looker it would seem like a goal achieved but again, an attempt at celebrating diversity turned into a bowl of uniformity where all items tastes the same. Africans want to be able to be a representative of their unique country while appreciating the mixed dish that is the continent without asked to drench ourselves in one flavor for the comfort of others.

The expectation of uniform African pride that is I have witnessed is exhausting. Acceptance of diversity and unity does not mean everyone has to live in uniformity. I am proud to be African just as I am proud to be Nigerian.

Allow me to be both.