- We Won't Budge:An African Exile in the World
In his latest book, We Won't Budge: An African Exile in the World (2003), Manthia Diawara provides a multifaceted assessment of African modernity, a theme at the forefront of all his major works, such as the documentary film Rouch in Reverse (1995) or In Search of Africa (1998). Diawara engages African modernity concepts within his fundamental politico-cultural argument of modernity and cosmopolitanism. Inpractice, it means a universal form of humanism that manifests itself by avoiding romanticizing the past, embracing everyday life and material conditions of the present. Globalization and cosmopolitanism come packaged with the intensification of exchanges of bodies, cultures, and ideas, and Diawara devotes his work to make sense of the complexity of these processes.
Indeed, Diawara believes that essentializing culture today is nothing but a demagogic enterprise. AboutAfrican culture he writes:
What we call African culture—the vernacular, thereligion, the music, the dance, the food—has been appropriated by world cultures. Africans too, have embraced various aspects of other cultures of the world. In the process, Africa has lost some of its characteristics of its cultures, and gained some new ones. The same can be said about everywhere in the world today. Because of modernity, we can have anybody's culture at every corner of the world, and anybody can lose his or her own every corner culture to a new one anyplace in the world.(148)
Thus, Diawara sees changes and adaptations as the conundrum of everyday life. Diawara himself is a pureproduct of those conundrums. Born in Mali, raised in Guinea, he was schooled in France and the United States and now holds the title of University Professor at New York University. He speaks Sarakolé, Malinké, and Bambara—all West African languages—in addition to French and English.
The title We Won't Budge is taken from "Nous pas bouger," a song by the Malian superstar singer Salif Keita that Diawara describes as a song in "defense against the exclusion and the human rights violations of Africans in the global world" (xii). He goes on to identify the project of his book as a dissemination of Salif Keita's ideas to improve the lives of African immigrants. The book, therefore, is about the dignity and the recognition of Africans living overseas, mainly in Europe and America.
The nobility of that enterprise notwithstanding, the project is ripped with tensions and contradictions of all sorts. From the beginning of the book Diawara deplores the "African Americanization" of blackness in the United States, which is the pathologization of all black men in terms of the stereotypes of the black underclass irrespective of their national origins and background. In America, Diawara writes, "the black man bears the curse of Cain, and that in America they, too, are considered black men, not Fulanis, Mandingos, or Wolofs" (ix). He goes on to cite the examples of Amadou Diallo, who was cut down as if he were a black American, and Abner Louima, a Haitian American brutally raped by members of the New York Police Department, to suggest how these immigrants were submitted to the ritualistic white violence generally reserved for African Americans. He concludes that it "should finally suffice as a political awakening for Africans and Caribbeans to the issues of race in America" (ix).
On the other hand, Diawara does not see racism and xenophobia as the main obstacle to black immigrants in [End Page 71] the United States. He sees conflict and change as the quintessence of everyday life. He also likes the individualism and freedom that America provides. He equally appreciates that a good work ethic gets rewarded in America. From pantry man for Chez Dominique, a French restaurant in the Washington, D.C., area, Manthia went on to earn his doctorate and achieved a successful career in academia.
He cannot say the same would have occurred had he stayed in France. On the advice of his friend, the black poet Ted Joans, Manthia left France for the United States in the...