Reflections/Jonathan Gramling
Thoughts about Africa

      Did you ever feel as if you have been to a place because you've heard so many people talk about it, but had never  actually been there? I must say that is the case for me with Africa. I have heard so many people talk about it and have heard so many things that I feel that I have been to Africa, even if it has only been through the imagination of others and the media.
      I must confess that my first acquaintance with Africa came at a very early age on Saturday afternoons watching Johnny Weissmuller play Tarzan in old black and white movies on  our television. Africa was such a dangerous place in those movies with crocodiles and tigers ready to pounce on people for dinner. And then there were the Africans portrayed as uncivilized, savage people who occasionally were cannibals. Tarzan, the epitome of the paternalistic Europeans, could hold off an entire tribe and strike fear in the heart of anyone. He looked out for the White folk and occasionally the Black folk. Tarzan was a symbol of colonial Africa and as children, we ate it up.
      The image of Africa as the "Dark Continent" wasn't confined to Tarzan movies. There were many cartoons and movies that had racist imagery that sought to keep Africa in its place. Africa was a place where countries obtained raw materials, but that was all that Africa was good for in these  depictions.
      It wasn't until I entered the University of Wisconsin-Madison back in 1970 that the imagery and information about Africa began to change. I read"Before the Mayflower" by Lerone Bennett Jr. and "The Autobiography of Malcolm X." And while these books dealt primarily with the Black experience in the U.S., they  also touched on a different side of Africa. Bennett talked about the universities at Timbuktu and Alexandria. Malcolm X talked about his experience in Africa and the grand cities that he saw there, hardly the African bush portrayed in the Tarzan movies.
      And then, there were the liberation movements still flaring across Africa. I read and heard a lot about how Africa had been exploited and the callous, disrespectful and cruel ways that Africans had been dealt with by Europeans. I learned through my international economics classes how Africa's infrastructure had been developed totally with the interests of the Europeans in mind, to help them extract natural resources out of the countries and not allow the countries to communicate together. The basis of colonialism -- and later neo-colonialism lay in the structure of Africa's infrastructure.
      I continued to learn about Africa throughout the years as I worked at the Urban League and held office in the NAACP-Madison Branch. These organizations always recognized the importance of Africa and its contributions to the world. I read many books and listened to many a presentation about Africa. I have always been a good student and a life-long learner and there was much to absorb. There was as  much to "unlearn"about Africa as well. I always learned about Africa through the eyes of African Americans. While I met Africans from time to time at parties and worked with several at the Urban League, I had primarily seen Africa through the eyes of African Americans and the perspective that African Americans bring to Africa.
       It wasn't until I started as the editor of The Madison Times in 1999, that I started to get a firmer understanding about Africa. I attended Africa Fest for the first time in 1999, although I gave Aggo Akyea a free consultation on fundraising a year or two before that when he and others were planning the first Africa Fest. It was probably at these festivals and future graduation ceremonies and parties that I first began to truly understand Africa from an African's perspective. As I heard people sing their national anthems with emotion, I began to understand Africa's importance to their lives.
      At gatherings, I heard little snippets here and there about life in Africa. Eyes would glisten as people would talk about the beaches in costal      Nigeria. Photos from home revealed modern, skyscrapered cities. And there was always talk about family members still in Africa and their progress with their studies. Africa was also filled with people who cared about each other in contrast to the news footage depicting the carnage in Rwanda and Sierra Leone and Liberia and Darfur.
      While many of the Africans who came to the U.S. planned to return to Africa once they obtained their education, their education, ironically enough, made them not fit in to what was going  on in Africa. They became expatriates. Yet many of their hearts remained there. Annual trips to their home countries were important and their children spent many a summer there. Some plan to retire there.
      My thoughts about Africa have taken me on quite a journey over the years. When I talk  to some Africans, they think that I have been there. The only trip I have made is through my imagination and the eyes of others. And what I see is a beautiful place still caught in the throes of neo-colonialism. It is a place that is still designed for the wishes of others and not for the African people themselves. It is a place that is still acted upon and not an actor on the world stage.
      Africa is the place from which world civilization sprang eons before today. It is a place where great strides in mathematics and the sciences took place. It is the home of great civilizations. It is the home of much heartache as well.
      I have come to care about Africa through the years and will one day visit it and see it with my own eyes. But for now, I must appreciate this mother of civilization from afar, a mother that has taken care of all of her children and has received so little in return. Someday, that too shall end.
August 8, 2007
STORIES AND COLUMNS


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The Literary Divide: The Cape Verde Islands and the Roots experience,
by Dr. Paul Barrows

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An interview with U.S. Senator Russ Feingold: Africa concerns,
by Jonathan Gramling

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Prestige Funding LLC and Manchester Realty Group: Land values,
by Jonathan Gramling

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Asian Wisconzine: Thao Nuon -- A journey back to Cambodia,
by Heidi M. Pascual
www.asianwisconzine.com

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An interview with DOT Dep. Sec. Mark Richardson: Branding Wisconsin,
by Jonathan Gramling

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Politicas de hoy: Educacion publica; para quien?,
por Alfonso Zepeda Capistran

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Simple Things: Contemplating the land,
by Lang Kenneth Haynes

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Voices: JENA6,
by Dr. Jean Daniels

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Center Spread: African World Festival
by Jonathan Gramling

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Africa Fest 2007: Lasting ripples of culture,
by Jonathan Gramling

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China Dispatch:Oh, Summer!
by Andrew Gramling

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An interview with Lucia Nunez: The Status of Civil Rights (2),
by Jonathan Gramling

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Caring for foster children in India,
by Partners for Foster Care, Inc.

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James Danky: Keeper of the written word
by Jonathan Gramling

* A spoonful of sugar: Grand opening of UW-Health/American Family Children's Hospital
(Photo caption)
by Jonathan Gramling



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ARCHIVES
VOL II No. 16                                  August 8, 2007
Celebrating the diaspora
Africa's influence on American culture