By: Son Gyoh -Development practitioner
I was first confronted with this question about two years ago, when a friend and I would occasionally engage in deep self reflection on issues within African communities. On that occasion, we tried to compare Africans with other Diaspora communities as the Asians and Arabs for example.
We noticed that these other cultures seem to hold their values strongly, even when aspects of their traditions have been weakened or adapted to ways of the dominant society. We also reasoned that while there is a thin line between culture and tradition, the latter could be shared across diverse peoples and is more about custom, a way of ‘doing things’. We also figured that culture is built on deeply enshrined value systems shared by a community with a common heritage. So, while Africans may share similar traditions/customs, our cultures could be uniquely different.
But what concerned us more was why many Africans not only take pride in assimilating foreign value systems and attitudes, but see the negation of their cultural values as a form of progression or ‘civilisation’. This is common with us in varying but significant proportion, regardless our diversity. For example, we are more likely to openly say to others how our children detest African food or cloths. We condone our kids not greeting, (something very basic and unique to Africans) to the extent that we have even lost ‘thank you’ manners which European kids still have. We willingly and easily attribute insolence to elders as a sign of liberation or civilisation, much more than the Asians or Arabs (including African Arabs) would.
Worst still, rather than make others copy us, we detach our values and copy others consistently, forgetting that we may have something positive to offer other communities. Quite often our new counterfeit values leave us worse off without an identity and worst still; this loss of values is allowed to take over our kids and communities here in Diaspora.
This whole issue of our cultural resilience confronted me yet again as I journey on a Galway bound train from Dublin last week. I had the misfortune of sitting next to two teenage school girls (15/16 years) I guess were originally from Nigeria. The girls were in the company of an Irish girl friend, who appeared a little overwhelmed by the antics of her two friends. The two black girls were talking loud and dirty on and off the phone as well as playing loud music, one with her feet on the spotless seats, was discussing sex on the phone and the other could not complete one sentence without using the ‘F’ word.
I had to bury my head in my reading material as a young Irish lady sitting opposite me tried to read me. I wondered what she might be thinking if she was encountering African teenage girls for the first time. I also wondered why our kids get easily taken by this nasty habit of smooching in bus stops and public transport without the feel for caution, are our youths becoming more ‘European than the Europeans’? It’s not every day you see an Indian, Arab or even the Orientals do that and the reason is the resilience of their value systems and its relevance wherever they find themselves.
How come our wives are the first to threaten their husbands with eviction and why are the husbands coveting people’s wives (vice versa) and having children indiscriminately? Yet, I could not help but wonder the influence of our intrusive style of fellowship, as these kids worship with their parents each Sunday. Do we spend more time vilifying unseen enemies and plotting our prosperity to provide our kids with basic cultural values? Is our ease of cultural capture down to the need to connect with the western black culture, which we consider more mainstream?
But even then, black Americans have evolved a code of decency among its less dysfunctional and more educated community. Isn’t it time we uphold our culture and sell to others some of its positive values which include; extended family values, empowerment of adults to guide the youths, perseverance in adversity, revere and care for the elderly, brother’s keeper, community values above institution, the sanctity of life that reduce murders and suicide, marriage as union of families than individuals and a strict sex codes. But we need to first reclaim the spirit of common good and the lost virtue of dignity over vanity.