So there I was at the Irish pub that I frequent all too often, downing a pint of Guinness, watching the World Cup opening ceremony and like every South African, filled with pride that we had actually pulled it off and a sense of joyful disbelief at the fact that we were actually witnessing a World Cup in Africa, something which most Africans will admit we never thought we would see in our lifetime, though we secretly hoped that it would happen. It then dawned on me that I am part of a generation of black people who have seen many walls come down, which had previously seemed insurmountable. It was Frantz Fanon who famously stated,” however painful it may be for me to accept this conclusion, I am obliged to state it: for the black man there is only one destiny, and it is white.” Given the context of the times in which he lived, Fanon’s words could be said to represent the outlook of so many black people, whose only option in life seemed to be to try and succeed in a world that was primarily defined by the white man. Not so for this generation of black people. It is significant that the first African World Cup is taking place at the end of the first decade of the twenty first century, a century which has begun with the hope that it could be Africa’s century, that the time has finally come for the black man to take his place at the centre of world civilization. The first decade of the twenty first century has seen a few significant walls coming down which give us great hope that this generation of black Africans will indeed usher in an African Renaissance. We have seen Africa host its first football World Cup, we have seen a black man totally dominating what is traditionally a white, elitist sport (Tiger Woods in golf), we have seen two black girls dominating another sport that is traditionally white (the Williams sisters in tennis), we have witnessed Formula One’s first black champion (Lewis Hamilton) and we have witnessed the historic euphoria that accompanied America’s election of its first black president (Barack Obama.) All of these historic and dare I suggest epoch-defining events and accomplishments, preceding that historic moment of Africa’s first football World Cup give us hope that the twenty first century can indeed be a century that is defined and led pre-eminently by the black man as opposed to what we have seen in centuries past. Now I am aware that some will accuse me of unnecessarily racialising a beautiful moment when the entire continent stood together and when the entire world stood united behind Africa, however I would argue that we cannot allow World Cup euphoria to distort the realities of the world we live in. It was Steve Biko who said that, “merely by describing yourself as black you have started on a road towards emancipation, you have committed yourself to fight against all forces that seek to use your blackness as a stamp that marks you out as a subservient being.” We still live in a world that is primarily white-dominated and to a large extent white-defined and it will be the responsibility of this generation of young black people (Africans especially), who have witnessed these previously indomitable walls coming down, to take the initiative in leading and defining the world according to their own pattern. To use the words of Steve Biko, “the blacks are tired of standing at the touchlines to witness a game that they should be playing. They want to do things for themselves and all by themselves.” The seminal moment in the World Cup opening ceremony for me was at the end of the American singer R. Kelly’s performance when he put up his fist, with a black glove, which reminded me of the black power salute which became very popular during the sixties in the last century. Whether intentional or not, the singer’s gesture served to highlight for me that this was not just about hosting a football event, it was a proud moment for the black race all over the world, it was yet more evidence that there is a Renaissance on the way which will put the black man at the forefront of human progress and development, where he rightfully belongs. It therefore becomes of primary importance that young, black Africa is aware of this seminal moment in history and seizes the day. The words of Frantz Fanon are important for us in this regard, “each generation must discover its mission, and then fulfill it or betray it in relative capacity.” The walls of impossibility have come down for young black people all over the world. We have seen enough evidence through the first ten years of the twenty first century to convince us that the black man can lead and define the world in the twenty first century and beyond. It is important that we take advantage of this historically unprecedented moment for black people because as much progress as we have seen in the last decade, it is still a fact that the black man is still very much on the periphery of global leadership, influence and development. Even the examples we have of the black people who have succeeded, are still quite deceptive because to a large extent, they are just examples of black people that have succeeded in a predominantly white-defined and dominated environment. We still live in a world where white competency and black incompetency is still the accepted paradigm. In South Africa we still find ourselves in an environment where young black people go into the working world with this constant, often unspoken pressure to prove themselves because it is often assumed that they are incompetent until they prove otherwise, whereas young white South Africans go into the working world often being expected to excel until they prove otherwise and even that is something that is often covered up. So we find that the black man is still struggling to succeed in a world which is not primarily defined by him. We witnessed this in the typical Afro-pessimism that dominated European media prior to the start of the World Cup as many Europeans assumed that something would naturally go wrong as the World Cup came to Africa. So whilst we celebrate the currently successful hosting of the first football World Cup in Africa we need to acknowledge that at present it is nothing more than the African proving to a skeptical European audience that he can produce something of style, class and excellence. We need to move towards a world where the African does not have to constantly feel the need to prove himself to an audience that is clearly hostile to him. This phenomenon can be likened to the experiences of the great black American, W.E.B Du Bois who famously said of his experience as a black man in a world that was hostile to him, “it is a peculiar sensation, this sense of always looking at oneself through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” It is a fact of life that in spite of some of the ground-breaking successes that black people have witnessed over the period of the first decade of the twenty first century, the world still looks at Africa, black people and blackness with, “amused contempt and pity” to use the words of Du Bois. The challenge for this generation of Africans and blacks the world over is to take advantage of the current momentum and to redefine and lead the world on their own terms. It is not enough to be content with succeeding in a white-defined, white-dominated world. It is not enough to just be content with the freedom to define ourselves according to our own terms; we need to seek to define the world and history at large in our own terms. To put Africanness and blackness at the centre of world civilization. We need to be a generation of Africans and blacks, who will be empire builders, who will seize the initiative and lead and define the world in the twenty first century and beyond. Unless we do this we will be stuck with the current phenomenon of just merely striving to prove ourselves in a world that is predominantly hostile to and dismissive of our “blackness, our Africanness” and what we can contribute to the cause of world civilization. We will continue to perpetuate the phenomenon identified by W.EB Du Bois, “the shadow of a mighty Negro past flits through the tale of Ethiopia and of the Egypt, the Sphinx. Throughout history, the powers of single blacks flash like falling stars, and die somehow before the world has rightly gauged their brightness.” Unless we see the successes of the likes of Obama, Woods, The Williams’, a successful first African World Cup etc as an opportunity to wrestle back the initiative to define and lead the world from the white man, all we will continue to experience will be flashes of black excellence that are like falling stars in a white-dominated world, to continue with Du Bois’ analogy. In order to take the initiative in this regard we will need to, in the words of the French philosopher Michel Foucault, “ be there at the birth of ideas, the bursting outwards of their force: not just in books expressing them, but in events manifesting this force, in struggles carried on around ideas, for or against them.” This is absolutely imperative because it is ideas that shape history, that define nations, societies and historical epochs. It was Albert Camus who said that, “great nations and big empires and civilizations are often created through great ideas and dreams of men and women, for ideas do not die.” Young Africa must seize this opportunity to define and lead the world by being at the forefront of the development and contestation of ideas. Young Africa must seize the opportunity to usher in an African Renaissance that will put Africa at the apex of world civilization just like the European Renaissance did for Europe. So as we celebrate this historic moment of a first African World Cup let us be cognizant of the opportunity presented to us as Africans and blacks at the beginning of the twenty first century. Africa must arise, carpe diem, lead, innovate and define the world in the twenty first century. We must take heed to W.E.B DU Bois’ words, “now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seedtime, now are the hours of work.” Arise! Africa arise!
- Senghor and Black Business
- I Am Juju