By Richard Meseko

What first? What black? What is this frenzy about being the first black person to accomplish a feat in an area of human endeavour? First for what purpose? First to what end? ‘First Black’ presupposes a non-previously existing and rare ascendancy or breakthrough in one discipline or another by a member of the black group hitherto considered backward or presumed inferior according to the methods of a civilization. And any such rare achievement is commonly perceived as a fluke and merely an exception to the prevailing rule. But while celebrating the ‘first black’ appellation may be seen as perhaps an acceptance of the notion of backwardness, it is nothing short of a capitulation to the depraved presumption of inferiority. If it’s not ‘first black’ or African, it’s first Latino, first Asian, first American Indian, etc. But ‘first’ by what dictates and in whose doctrine? There is a connoted expectation of the renunciation of one’s own background for a total assimilation of a foreign culture and the acceptance of its extraneous criteria as the ultimate measuring standard of human progress. But what if the world is unwittingly ramming head-on into self-annihilation by the pull of only an outwardly more compelling system?

The so-called ‘backwardness’ of the black group – as per an adopted development index – has been historically manufactured through the repression inflicted by another group and is still pervasive and self-evident today in the society; the inferiority notion, however, is of a more intricate prism. While it is established that no human being or one group of human beings is superior or inferior to another as everyone has the intrinsic and inalienable potential to develop and realize whatever is humanly achievable, there is a cultural inferiority that cannot be denied in the manifest obsequious tendency to relinquish one’s own indigenous values for the imitation and total adoption of foreign values. In the same way as there is nothing more refreshing and uplifting about a person than when they are themselves, so also is there nothing more degrading and uninspiring than the projection of an imitation as one’s own identity. Whatever is imitated will always be caricatural, cartoonish and never resonate as the original. It will always be inferior at the minimum.

It can be argued, of course, that the ‘first’ achievements in themselves are worthy of celebration as a deserved crowning of hard work, diligence and dedication – positive qualities universally extolled. Yes, in the modern dispensations, such accomplishments would most certainly guarantee the means to a comfortable living and the offer of role models for intellectual aspirations. The development would thus become the collective focus of everyone; parents would send their children to school and out in the world to emulate or achieve similar feats. People who have an intuitive sensing of something deeply wrong with the trend would, however, often remind their children to never forget where they come from and the children in turn would relay similar messages to their own children, even while the multiple generations of families are completely entrenched in the foreign ways without the will to take change direction. Everyone is rushing in this same direction, but where exactly does it lead – what is the ultimate issue? Put bluntly, do all human roads lead to the stomach as with animals with no fundamentally deeper differentiation?

Examples of past civilizations reveal that the stomach is only so large in what it can take, and the intellect has a limit beyond which it cannot rise. Empires have risen and fallen but were in their zenith the greatest models towards which the whole world aspired. Yet they collapsed for other empires to emerge in their stead in repeated pattern, seemingly locking up humanity in a perpetual perambulation from one epoch to another. If we are, therefore, evidently heading towards an intellectual cul-de-sac, mightn’t we stop and do a rethink? Perhaps the stone that the builder refused would always still be the pierre angulaire. Why must we obfuscate the unique contribution of our indigenous cultural values to the vital make-up of the world?

Today, the typical African pursues their self-realization only in the context of European civilization; every aspect of the African life is an imitation of Western cultures. An average African youth looks to emigrate from Africa to the so-called ‘greener pastures’ of Europe and America, and Africa has become nothing but a caricature of foreign cultures. — Our religions are imported – we adopted the heritage of other peoples as if we had no ancestors and no heritage; our educational system is imitative – we measure our progress and adjudge our beauty by the standards of others; we name our children names of which meaning we don’t understand; our mode of dressing is a copy-and-paste of foreign styles; our healthcare delivery is derivative; family members cannot communicate effectively except in the languages of foreigners; our economy is regulated from outside the continent; our judiciary is predicated on alien methods; even our traditional marriages are not considered complete in themselves until they are done according to foreign ways … The outgrowth of all these is weird, incongruous and grotesque. One must surely feel an intuitive sensing of something missing and lost, something incomplete, even if indefinable.

When we reject our own values to adopt the ways of others, our campaign for respect and equal treatment among the comity of nations becomes a blatant self-mockery, lacking the natural effect of any deep conviction. We relegate ourselves to playing catch-up in perpetuity. We blend with others in every way to the complete negligence of our uniqueness as a people. It is like a world striving towards uniformity to the neglect of the beauty of diversity. Yet we see that Nature all around us rejects uniformity with seeming abhorrence. There is hardly a pair of things that are identical. Everything blooms in variety, and only in the union of many elements can anything be brought closer to perfection. The more the variety of flowers in a bouquet the more resplendent its beauty. Rainbow remains radiant on account of its various colours. No colour can dominate the other without a ruinous defacement of beauty. Everything has its place; every human colour has its unique and inviolable role to play in the collective development towards the ultimate perfection.

The upliftment of our culture does not mean a return to some primitive past, but rather an improvement of our indigenous ways. We may find ideas for further development through cultural diffusion and thereby make the world richer; but when we adopt wholesale the cultures of others, we lose our identity and deprive the world of our unique contribution to society. We make the world poorer.

The ‘First Black’ Syndrome

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