On December 27, 2005 the New York Times printed an article entitled
"Ghanaians' Uneasy Embrace of Slavery's Diaspora." The New York Times rarely
delivers on its claim to give its readers "all the news that is fit to print."
Even white politicians like John Kerry get biased coverage when they dare to
challenge the established order. If a white presidential nominee can't catch a
fair break from the Times, then black people are definitely out of luck.
According to the Times, black Americans should just forget about visiting
Africa or forging any links with Africans. Like people in poor nations all
over the world, many Ghanaians seek to emigrate to the United States. The
Times tells us that Ghanaians envy their American cousins for being taken into
Suppose, for arguments sake, that the statement is an accurate assessment of
some Ghanaian opinion. A real newspaper would then ask how much Ghanaians know
about the United States, and what if anything they have been taught about
African American history or their own history for that matter.
Ghanaians aren't alone in seeking refuge in nations that exploited them. Most
of the southwest United States was stolen from Mexico. Mexicans know this but
still cross the border in hopes of improving their lives. The United States
military killed hundreds of thousands in the Philippines at the turn of the
last century. That unforgotten history doesn't prevent Filipinos from waiting
years to get green cards that ensure their passage to the country that caused
their people so much anguish.
The reality is that Europe and the United States created terrible poverty and
instability around the world. So much so, that the people they oppress yearn
to live in the oppressor nations in hopes of improving their lives.
The real point of the New York Times article is to tell black Americans that
they should just get over the past, realize they are in the best nation on
earth, and stop trying to learn anything about their ancestral home. After
all, Africa is poor and its people envy three hundred years of slavery,
lynching and Jim Crow.
No other group is dissuaded from learning about its ancestry as much as black
people are dissuaded. Even groups whose ancestors immigrated voluntarily came
from poor countries. Their homelands weren't just poor, they were often
oppressive. There would have been no immigration if that were not the case.
Yet the New York Times doesn't tell anyone else to forget about identifying
with their place of origin. Only black Americans are told to wise up and be
grateful for what the system has meted out to them.
Not content to make light of African Americans attempts to connect to Africa,
the times had to add the piece de resistance. They had to call Henry Louis
Gates' area of expertise is African American literature. He is not a
historian. He is not a mental health professional. He is not an expert on
public affairs. He is not an economist. He knows literature and that is all.
Despite his limited base of knowledge, he is continually called upon to opine
on subjects he knows little if anything about.
Gates is definitely shrewd. He has gamed a system that confers top dog status
on only a few black faces. Journalism schools teach courses like Gates 101 and
grade students on their ability to get in touch with Gates when in need of a
handy quote about black people.
Several years ago Gates proudly showed the world how little he knew in the PBS
documentary series "Wonders of the African World." In the slave trade segment,
Gates'only moment of anger was directed at an Ashanti prince. If Gates wants
to wax righteously indignant, he should interrogate a member of the Brown
family of Brown University. The Brown fortune was made through slavery, as
were many others. Gates ought to give a Brown descendant the third degree on
In the Times article Gates gives us this nugget of wisdom. "The myth was our
African ancestors were out on a walk one day and some bad white dude threw a
net over them. But that wasn't the way it happened. It wouldn't have been
possible without the help of Africans." A real historian might have added that
there would have been no slave trade without a demand from Europe and America.
From Canada, where slavery was once legal, to the Caribbean, and all the way
to the tip of South America, white Americans developed and sustained a
voracious need for African free labor. Maybe the Times will tackle that
subject some day.
If the Times and their journalistic brethren stopped thinking of the head
Negro in charge of all things involving colored people, they might find a
useful perspective and write better articles. The New York Times can make
local phone calls and find experts on any subject known to humankind. New York
City is home to Columbia University, New York University and a 19 campus City
University of New York, to name just a few.
Is it possible that some of these institutions have experts on African
history? Of course they do, but they will never be heard from as long as a
publicity savvy English professor is the only acceptable source of
So, if on your next visit to Ghana, you are referred to as "obruni," a word
usually reserved for white people, don't worry about it. Take it as an
opportunity to learn from another culture and to teach people who may need to
learn from you. In any case, obruni has probably come to mean "foreigner who
has more cash than I do."
Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BC. Ms. Kimberley
is a freelance writer living in New York City. She can be reached via e-Mail
at firstname.lastname@example.org You can read more of Ms.
Kimberley's writings at freedomrider.blogspot.com.