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CLARENCE PAGE: Perhaps once upon a time, Adam and Eve saw this vision, dawn over the great Rift Valley in Ethiopia. Adam and Eve were Africans, scientists say, and they probably lived in this part of the world, Ethiopia, in East Africa, and if we are all descended from Adam and Eve, that makes us all, all of us humans, African, all cousins. We are the world, and the world is us.
For 30 years, African-American photojournalist Chester Higgins, Jr., has traveled to over 30 countries tracing the contours of the African diaspora. What he found is currently on exhibit in New York’s International Center of photography and the recently published book dealing with spirit. “I believe there is a collective memory in all of us,” Higgins wrote, “a memory in tune with a universal flow of light.”
Maybe he’s right. Maybe no matter how black or blonde we may look on the outside, we have the memory of Africa on our inside. Our veins flow with the blue waters of the River Nile, the Niger, the Congo, the Limpopo, to look at the African is to look at you. We all are related, only some of us are related a little more closely than others.
Africans have a saying about us, their visiting American cousins. The African-American comes to Africa, they say, to find themselves, only to discover that he left himself back in America. The African has many cousins around the world. Few of us ever get to Africa, but we all carry Africa around in us. We Africans abroad are the children of the diaspora, which means we are children of mixed marriage, “two warring ideals in one dark body,” said W.E.B. DuBois.
We are burdened and buoyed up by a double consciousness, a terrible twoness, at once anchored in African soil and orphaned from it like others in the diaspora, scattered like seeds to the shifting winds of history, and commerce, and change. We are the offspring of Mother Africa, kidnapped more often than not, then abandoned. Now we long for both parents, the conqueror and the conquered.
Yet, there is a hesitation. Our parents are reluctant to claim us, and we them. We made changes in the world. We brought our African food, our rice, and our yams to the dinner tables of the world.
We brought our rhythms and our language, and the world also changed us.
We became West Indians; we became Afro-Europeans; we became Afro-Brazilians; and we became African- Americans.
When we travel, we marvel at how many cousins we have and how much we have in common, yet how different we are.
To be African-American is to be questioned. Why? We are often asked. Why do you call yourself African-American? Why can’t we all just be American? I think most of us would rather just be American, but that choice never has been left up to us. Maybe someday it will. Then the many races of the world will return to what they once used to be in Mother Africa, one race, the human race.
I’m Clarence Page.