Alek Wek, fashion model (Sudan) © Alek Wek

11- Africa's second gift to the world

Towards a Black Consciousness

The second lesson has to do with proxemics and adaptability. Compared to other cultures, spacial and kinetic relationships between Black people vary, in many ways:

Regarding proxemics, they pay less attention to the relative position of the body in space; for instance, in a room or in a street in Accra or Yaoundé, private and public areas tend to overlapp. This, of course has changed in the diaspora. Primarily, at least in the Americas, we belong to the place where we were born. Second, Black Africans, opposed to what people think, are sensitive to silence. Even when they speak loud, they constantly pause and promote a mutual scanning of their body's language. Black people read bodies and gestures.

On the contrary, Caucasians mostly observe their faces, eventually hands, but that's all. Blacks also express feelings with their hands and arms similar to Italians or Latin people. Wole Soyinka and Tony Morrison are masters describing this particular issue. The relations Africans have with their own bodies are more relaxed and complex than in other cultures. Part of the reason lies in a strong conexion between people with Nature and the Elements: sun, wind, soil. There is a dialogue between exposed bodies (no need of many garments) and the environment (hot climate). They created a different Habitat, a link between the Earth and the Sun.

 West African house, from African Canvas, courtesy Margaret Courtney-Clarke. A Futuristic Pod.

To a certain extent, Europeans do not relate well with Nature, they have lost that skill. Probably the cold environment was the main factor, but from the point of view of thinking, since Plato's Idealism they seem to have focused more in playing with ideas, rather than reality and Nature. This aspect was pointed clearly by the extraordinary philosopher Karl Popper. This is also one of the reasons why we are destroying our Habitat.

About adaptability, Afro-descendants are resilient to diverse physical and cultural environments. This sort of gift, cultural flexibility, is something others can learn of us. In the US, an anglo-saxon culture that looks for empirical solutions, racism was a severe problem till a few decades ago; it started to be solved, step bu step, since the mid 20th century. A variety of systems, platforms and tools were set and now Afro-descendants can progress, a positive cycle started and it is up and running.

Mae Jemison, first African American woman in space, aboard the Earth-orbiting Endeavour, circa 2005. Courtesy NASA.

The US Affirmative Action policies worked brilliantly: today there are Afro-descendants working in every imaginable position; the most visible highlight was the fact that Barak Obama became president of the Nation, running office twice, with excellent results.

US President Barack Obama, pointing you, circa 2010.

In the US, since the late sixties, Whites started to interact with Blacks and it is extraordinary to see the mixing of different proxemics today, in streets, in classrooms. In that sense, the Americas (as a whole) is like an experiment and as such, in the US is going reasonable well, particularly in the East and West Coasts. Still, Afro-descendants and mixed marriages are exposed to unnecessary over-stress suffered in other regions.

The situation in South America varies, poverty is (slowly) receeding but it is still a society dominated by dogmatic statements, from left and right ideologies. In the old continent, in culturally developed countries like the Netherlands, the integration works well. The cultural matrix counts: the Netherlands has been a territory exposed to foreigners, since ever.

Read the next chapter, Black and Afro-descendant, here.


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