Afro-pessimists argue that the experience of racism and slavery in the Americas makes the Black American experience unique and incomparable to the suffering of other peoples, including Africans. This perspective has led to a rejection of the equation of the struggles of a permanent minority with anti-colonial nationalism in Africa and Asia.
While historical records show that connections between the African diaspora in the New World and those who remained in Africa persisted and grew, contemporary Afro-pessimists see no shared identity that can serve as the basis for solidarity between Africans and African Americans.
In a publication by Alden Young, assistant professor of African American studies and a member of the International Institute at UCLA, on Noema, an online and print publication by the Berggruen Institute, we explore the How Black America Fell Out Of Love With Africa. Alden argues that the Afro-pessimist perspective has resulted in a disconnect between Black Americans and Africa despite greater migration over the last few decades and vastly increased communication and transportation links between the United States and the continent.
In the West African Kingdom of Dahomey, before the Kingdom’s captives departed for the New World to be enslaved, they were forced “to march around the ‘Tree of Forgetfulness’ six times” so that they would remember neither their home continent nor the people they were leaving behind.
By the middle of the 18th century, the British were annually shipping tens of thousands of Africans in chains from the west coast of Africa across the Atlantic Ocean, feeding their seemingly inexhaustible desire for enslaved labor to work their sugar plantations dotted across the Caribbean. These voyages have frequently been referred to as the Middle Passage, a one-way journey transforming Africans into Black slaves. Its irreversibility is a bedrock of the African American origin story.
The Dahomey aristocrats forced captives to sever ties with their homeland. In the same vein, contemporary Afro-pessimist intellectuals argue that the Middle Passage means today’s Africans and members of the African diaspora have forgotten one another. Afro-pessimism is a theory developed by Black American intellectuals like Frank Wilderson, Christina Sharpe, Saidiya Hartman and Fred Moten, which holds that the experience of racism and slavery in the Americas makes the Black American experience so unique that it cannot be compared with the suffering of other peoples.
Originally published on Noema – Continue to read on Noema