TheGrio Daily

African Amplified: where do you come from?

Episode 87

“Are you an African, an African American, or are you just Black?” There is still some confusion to how Black people should identify. Michael Harriot breaks down how we are all connected and why there are different identities to being Black. TheGrio Daily is an original podcast by theGrio Black Podcast Network. #BlackCultureAmplified


[00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black podcast network. Black Culture Amplified. 

Michael Harriot [00:00:05] Hello and welcome to another episode of theGrio Daily. Now, this month, of course, maybe you’ve seen that we’re doing a special thing across all of our platforms called Africa Amplified. And, you know, we’re reaching out because theGrio is not just about, you know, Black people in America. It’s about the entire what we call the diaspora, Black people worldwide, Africans worldwide. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today. So welcome to another episode of theGrio Daily, the only podcast that is willing to discuss. Are you an African, an African American, or are you just Black? 

Michael Harriot [00:00:54] The first thing you have to understand is who calls themselves African? And when we’re discussing that term. Right. First of all, you have to realize that the idea of one African people is kind of complex because, you know, there are people like we don’t well, Europeans don’t consider themselves European. French people think that they are different than Greek people or English people. And, you know, for most of history, people, you know, considered themselves part of the group of people who they lived alongside, whether it was a village or a kingdom or a small community or, you know, what we call a tribe. And for the most part, the idea of race began there. Rightly, Greeks considered themselves an entirely different race than people who lived in Rome or the Roman Empire, which is a thing that we’ll have to talk about another time. The idea of the Roman Empire. But, you know, the term race began there, right? Like it was just a word that described a kind of a thing. You know, you could see in the 1400s where Shakespeare described a bottle as a race of wine. Right. And so this idea of Africa, I don’t want to say it started in Europe because there is no such thing as Europe. I don’t know if you know that. Right. Like, you know, Africa, if you’re talking in geographic terms, is a continent, although, you know, there are people who think of it as a country or, you know, an island because they don’t know geography, you know, blame the American education system, not me. And you can’t even blame this one on white people, just the American education system. 

Michael Harriot [00:03:15] But Europe isn’t a continent, right? It is a place that white people made up to separate themselves from the rest of the world. And that idea is kind of based in their idea of supremacy. I don’t want to call it white supremacy because we ain’t even gotten to the invention of white people yet. But the collective idea of a place called Europe was created out of the idea that there was a place called Africa, because the African continent, of course, is a one uniform connected landmass, although the people weren’t necessarily connected to each other’s cultures and identity. You know, Europe kind of created the idea of Europe to justify them going to a continent called Africa to steal or take human beings. And so how we think of Africans as a people who are from one place was not really a thing for, you know, most of our history. Right. The people in the you know, the Yoruba people considered themselves a different people than the people across the continent who oftentimes they’d never seen or interacted with. The same way as, you know, Greeks didn’t interact with people in Portugal. 

Michael Harriot [00:05:05] So when we’re talking about, you know, Africans and one connected identity, we have to understand that that connected identity kind of emerged pretty recently in the course of human history. Now, if you are an American and Black, or if you’re an American of African descent or, you know, if you live in Jamaica, you may connect with that African identity through what we call the diaspora. One group of connected people. But again, that is a term that is very complicated, an idea that is very complicated. Because there are Americans who don’t consider themselves African, and this is very recent. They considered themselves descendants of enslaved people. Some considered themselves American, some considered themselves all of that and some consider themselves none of that. Well, how do you think of yourselves? Well, that is determined by how you view your culture and your history and how far back you want to go, because, you know, you really telling the truth like if we go back far enough, every human is a descendant of an African. But how do we view our identity in the terms of history? 

Michael Harriot [00:06:39] Well, if you are an African, if you consider yourself an African, you might say, well, my descendant, my history goes back to the continent of Africa. And that is an important notion because for most people, their identity has a stopping point, right? So when you consider yourself a descendant of enslaved people, you know, I think a lot of us have recently started using that term, although that term is fairly old. Right. I remember in the eighties when my grandmother told me like to not refer to us as descendants of enslaved people. And and here’s why she said it. What her quote was, “We more than just something white people did to us.” But for other people. Right. These, you know, term terminating your history or beginning your history with the arrival of African people in America is fraught with all kinds of things. Right. First of all. Right. Like it gives you a history, a beginning point that is arbitrary. You know, if you date your history or define your history by this small period of enslavement that is relatively tiny in the long history of humanity, then you’re disconnecting yourself from a lot of your ancestors. Right. Like, here’s an example. Right? And we’re going to do this on another episode. But I am a descendant of the Geechee Gullah people of South Carolina. You know, the Geechee Gullah people is a blend of African and Caribbean cultures that arrived in South Carolina. But when we talk about those Caribbean cultures, those were enslaved Africans who had spent generations enslaved in the Caribbean. And their culture is a mix of African cultures. 

Michael Harriot [00:09:06] So the idea of African descendants is is complicated, to say the least. Right? And even if you’re thinking about yourself as a American descendant of enslaved people, Right. You also eliminate a lot of people. You know, we know in history, for instance, there were some Africans in America who were never enslaved. Right. Like, there were some who absconded as soon as they got off of the slave ship. There were some who were who came here as freedmen during the period of enslavement. There are some people who escaped during their first generation. So, you know, to describe all of the subsequent generations as descendants of enslaved people kind of slights their ancestors quest for freedom and their escape. Right. And there’s so many things and problems with those identities that all, again, connect back to Africa. And that’s why a lot of people use the term African to describe themselves. I think if you describe yourself as an African, it is more encompassing. Like you don’t eliminate anybody or any of your ancestors by describing yourself as African. Right. And it doesn’t negate that you are a descendant of an enslaved person. It doesn’t negate the fact that I am Geechee Gullah. Right. A lot of people in the Geechee Gullah Culture or Geechee Gullah community. I say Geechee Gullah, if you look it up on the Internet, it’s called Gullah Geechee. But like I was kind of older before I even kind of used the word Gullah because we just described that sells in the Charleston area of South Carolina, in the Lowcountry of South Carolina as Geechee. It’s how we talked. It’s the language we used. So I put Geechee first. It’s my preference. But you may use the term Gullah Geechee. If you look it up on the Internet is probably Gullah Geechee. 

Michael Harriot [00:11:50] But I consider myself a Gullah Geechee person. I descended from enslaved people. And all of those demographics or communities or people are people of African descent. So I kind of don’t get the notion of you have to be one thing or the other. Like, I don’t bristle when someone calls me a descendent of an enslaved person because I descended from ancestors, some of whom were enslaved. I don’t bristle when someone calls me an African. I don’t bristle when someone calls me an American because I live in America, and that is my technical legal status. But none of those things are mutually exclusive. And so there are people who think of the world in those terms, Right? So are you more connected with your fellow countrymen or the African people across the world in the diaspora of African people? And by African people most of the time when we say that, we mean Black people because, you know, white people, technically, if they go back far enough, are also African people. 

Michael Harriot [00:13:20] Again, it’s how you arbitrarily assign a beginning and end point to your identity. And that’s what we’re doing this month on theGrio. Right? We’re highlighting. The origins, the place that is the origin of that African identity, whether it is in Jamaica or in the United States of America or in Canada, or on the continent of Africa, in the countries of Nigeria or Egypt. Because, you know, despite what white people would tell you, Egyptians are Africans, because it is on the continent of Africa, again, unless you ascribe to that arbitrary white definition where Egyptians are somehow Middle Eastern, even though I don’t know if there’s a country called the Middle East. What they call the Middle East is just the place where Africa connects with parts of Europe. Which is it really a place of the Euroasian continent. So. Again, as you can see, all of these are arbitrary geographic, cultural, ethnic, national designations. And one is not more right than the other. I think that when you talk about African people across the world, what connects us is, first of all, our origin story, which began in the continent, on the continent of Africa. And the other thing is our relationship to how we were treated in the world, you know. Most of the people in the African diaspora who are not living in Africa got to wherever they came from through either immigration or slavery to a country that usually has, to some varying degree, a degree of prejudice against African people. 

Michael Harriot [00:15:44] And that in itself is kind of interesting because none of those things, none of those places, none of those people probably could have survived without African people. We gave them the knowledge, the science, literally the scientific method. If you look it up, was created in Africa, taught to Greeks and Romans, who came to Africa intentionally to learn science, to learn about astronomy, to learn about ship making, to learn about the classification of plants and animals. All of that, all of that science, all of that technology began in Africa when Europe was basically struggling to even read or write. You know, this was during a time when most Europeans or people who lived on the Eurasian continent. In the western part of that continent were illiterate. You know, these people who we, you know, assign scholars of European history or that classical European societies, they got they got the designation of a philosopher or a scholar or a scientist, because at some point either they they did or their teachers came to the African continent to learn whether it was Egypt, whether it was North Africa. 

Michael Harriot [00:17:26] And so, again, all of the history of the world, all of the science in the world, of course, people advanced that science. But the origins either begins in Africa or, you know, in Asia after humans migrated from Africa. And so that is why we’re here this month during this, because what we’re amplifying is not just Africa, but the world history of humanity and its origin story. Right. I don’t know if you know this, but Wakanda isn’t a real place but Africa is. Europe isn’t a real place but Africa is. Asia really isn’t a real place, except if you include Europe, what I call the taint of Asia. The Middle East isn’t a real place, it is a designation that was arbitrarily assigned to places in, I don’t know, because it’s Turkey in the Middle East? Is India in the Middle East? Is Egypt in the Middle East? Different people will give you a different answer. The kind of only place that we know that is real is Africa. And that’s what we’re amplifying this month. That’s why you got to download theGrio streaming service. And that’s why you got to subscribe on every platform that you listen to podcast or watch things on. Right? Whether it’s your Roku box or your Apple TV or your phone or your iPad. Subscribe. Download the theGrio app and make sure you’re here for every episode and make sure you are following our month long Africa Amplified series. And that’s why we always end every episode with the quote. And today’s quote is “If it ain’t from Africa, it’s probably from Africa.” We’ll see you next time on theGrio Daily. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review. Download theGrio app. Subscribe to the show and share it with everyone you know. Please email all questions, suggestions and compliments to podcasts at theGrio dot com. 

[00:20:16] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast network. Black Culture Amplified.