Creating the Blackness of Africa
“Creating the Blackness of Africa: Deconstructing European Imaginations and Exploitations.” This documentary project, “Creating the Blackness of Africa” by Obehi Ewanfoh in 2015, challenges the notion that the color “black” can define the identity of African people. We totally reject that.
Instead, the documentary argues that African identity is shaped by culture and historical experiences which goes far beyond the limited scope of color. The documentary through a series of interviews and analyses, explores how the term “Blackness of Africa” is a political construct that has been used to justify exploitation and dehumanization of the African people over the years.
What do they mean by the “Blackness of Africa”?
To you, it might appear innocent and an appropriate way to refer to a person as Black, but what you might not understand is that the concept of “The Blackness of Africa” in a European imagination extends beyond skin color. It is a construct that encompasses stereotypes, biases, and preconceived notions about African people are sub-humans. This term has deep historical roots and has played a significant role in shaping how Africa and its people were perceived by the world dominated by the European concept of reality.
To understand the origins of the “Blackness of Africa,” we must briefly touch upon pre-colonial Africa. Prior to European colonialism, Africa was a continent with diverse cultures, languages, and societies. All, those years, several thousands of years before the first Europeans made their way into the African continent, the African people have always known that there were differences among them, and these differences were often interpreted in terms of culture and historical experiences. However, the arrival of European colonial powers, only a few centuries ago, marked a turning point in African history. African identity became a focal point in the colonial context, as it was used to justify the subjugation of African nations and the exploitation of their human and natural resources.
The Role of Language
Make no mistake about it, language played a crucial role in reinforcing the “Blackness of Africa.” Terms like “Negro” were used to categorize and label African people based solely on their skin color. These labels were part of a broader effort to dehumanize Africans and justify their exploitation both during the enslavement period and the colonization of the African continent.
The European linguistics experts and historical scholars were simply not interested in understanding how the Africans called themselves, interpreted their differences, and what their worldview was. Instead, they forcefully and strategically forced their own worldview on many African people, reconfiguring their languages and reshaping a new identity for the African people.
It’s only when you pay more attention that words such as “No”, “Negro”, “Nil”, “Black”, and “Nullify” might come to make sense to you. Or maybe when you try to understand why what was supposed to be your identity as Negro or Black comes to be very close to or exactly as negative all the time:
- Nil – not existent,
- Black – black day (meaning a negative or bad day),
- Black continent which in their immigration means nothing is there as the British historian, Hugh Trevor-Roper would propose in 1963. “Perhaps in the future, there will be some African history to teach. But at present, there is none; only the history of Europeans in Africa. The rest is darkness.”
Are you offended by that? Well, there are several of them that were needed to paint a certain image of Africans in the European minds. Of course, you might think it is intelligent or makes sense to exchange Africa or Africa for Black so that you can have something like:
- Black music,
- Black business,
- Or black culture and so on.
But it is wrong. These terms are too superficial to explain what they were created for. “Black music” is not the same as African music and “black business” can mean many other things but certainly not African business. African businesses have no more things to do with the color black than European businesses.
Dehumanization Through Art
Similarly, European art and imagery portrayed Africans in dehumanizing ways. These depictions, which you can find in different places, perpetuated stereotypes and reinforced negative perceptions of African people and their likeness. Such representations had a profound impact on public opinion, further deepening the divide between Europe and Africa.
You can consider checking out the following publication at Pepperdine University, a Private university in California: “An Analysis Of Internalized Racism In Art Created By Black Artists; Implications For Psychological Intervention”,
See a Time Magazine article: “The Fight Over ‘Black Pete’ Brings a Reckoning on Racial Equality in the Netherlands”!
The 19th century, for example, saw the emergence of scientific racism, which misused science to justify the exploitation of African people. Pseudo-scientific theories about African inferiority were propagated, providing a false intellectual basis for discrimination and oppression. And they often based their evidence on what they had imagined rather than what they possibly could see in Africa and among Africans.
Check out a Cambridge University Press article: Scientific Racism in Modern South Africa. All these and more have been instrumental not only as pure scientific work but also in helping justify the economic exploitation of African human and natural resources. That is what it’s all about and has always been the real objective.
In the names of these seemingly unrelated events, resources have been extracted, economies are controlled, and local populations are subjugated—all in the name of supposed European superiority over “black” Africans.
Resistance and Resilience
Of course, there has been resistance and there will always be. Throughout history, Africans have mounted resistance movements against colonialism and sought to redefine their identity.
Different leaders and intellectuals from the continent and among the African diaspora have challenged the narrative of African inferiority, sparking movements for independence and self-determination. And we are not going to stop until we are free.
In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in African culture, language, and art. This cultural reclamation is an essential part of redefining African identity beyond the confines of the “Blackness of Africa.”
In conclusion, “Creating the Blackness of Africa” affirms that skin color does not define African identity. It emphasizes that identity is shaped by culture and historical experiences. The term “Blackness of Africa” has been a political construct used to justify exploitation and dehumanization. By recognizing this construct and understanding its historical roots, we can better appreciate the complexity and richness of African identity. Feel like contributing to the narrative?