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Africa on My Mind: Gender, Counter Discourse and African-American Nationalism E. Frances White Equality is false; if s the devil's concept. Our concept is complementarity . Complementarity means you complete or make perfect that which is imperfect. The man has the right that does not destroy the collective needs of his family. The woman has the two rights of consultation and then separation if she isn't getting what she should be getting.1 The African past lies camouflaged in the collective African-American memory, transformed by the middle passage, sharecropping, industrialization , urbanization. Few material goods from Africa survived this difficult history, but Africans brought with them a memory of how social relations should be constructed that has affected African-American culture to the present. Although the impact of these African roots are difficult to assess, few historians today deny the importance of this past to African-American culture. But the memories I seek to interrogate in this essay have little to do with "real" memories or actual traditions that African-Americans have passed along through blood or even practices. Rather, I am concerned with the way African-Americans in the late twentieth century construct and reconstruct collective political memories of African culture to build a cohesive group that can shield them from racist ideology and oppression. In particular it is the political memories of African gender relations and sexuality that act as models for African-American social relations that will serve as this paper's focus. Below I will focus on black nationalism as an oppositional strategy that both counters racism and constructs conservative Utopian images of African-American life. I will pay close attention to the intertwined discussions on the relationship of the African past to present day culture and to attempts to construct Utopian and repressive gender relations. After situating my work theoretically in the next section, I return to an examination of Afrocentric paradigms that support nationalist discourse ©1990 Journal of Women's History, Vol 2 No. 1 (Spring) 74 Journal of Women's History Spring on gender and the African past. Finally I look at the emergence of a black feminist discourse that attempts to combine nationalist and feminist insights in a way that counters racism but tries to avoid sexist pitfalls. Throughout the essay, I choose examples from across the range of nationalist thinking. Some of this writing is obviously narrow and sexist. Other works have influenced my thinking deeply and have made significant contributions to understanding African-American women's lives. I argue, however, that all fail to confront the sexist models that ground an important part of their work. I imagine that my criticisms will be read by some as a dismissal of all Afrocentric thinking. Nothing could be further from my intentions. It is because I value the contributions of nationalists that I want to engage them seriously. Yet it is the kind of feminism that demands attention to internal community relations that leads me to interrogate this discourse even while acknowledging its ability to undermine racist paradigms. This kind of black feminism recognizes the dangers of criticizing internal relations in the face of racist attacks but also argues that we will fail to transform ourselves into a liberated community if we do not engage in dialogue on the difficult issues that confront us.2 African-American nationalists have taken the lead in resurrecting and inventing African models for the African diaspora in the United States. They recognize that dominant, negative images of Africa have justified black enslavement, segregation, and continuing impoverishment .3 Accordingly, nationalists have always argued persuasively that African-Americans deny their connections to Africa at the peril of allowing a racist subtext to circulate without serious challenge. At the same time, nationalists have recognized that counter attacks on negative portrayals of Africa stimulate political mobilization against racism in the United States. The consciously identified connections between African independence and the U.S. civil rights movements and, more recently, between youth rebellion in South Africa and campus unrest in the U.S. stand out as successful attempts to build a Pan-African consciousness. The construction of Pan-African connections can have its problems, however. At times it depends...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 73-97
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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