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We, the Descendants of African Slave Traders

I’ve been watching the Diaspora Wars of the blogosphere for ages, with bubbling words from the pit of my stomach. In anger and disappointment, frustration at my people, I’ve scribbled and read and stashed articles away in the archives waiting until my writing was perfect enough to say, “Stop it.”

Black Panther opened some bandaged wounds and pursed lips, and we seem to be throwing around even more insults and blame from each side of the Atlantic than ever before. But, Africans, if you are ever going to disparage, judge or contemn African Americans as descendants of slaves without a cultural identity, please first be sure that your ancestors are not responsible for their plight. We, the descendants of African slave traders need to be certain about who we are before we point our fingers in judgement of anyone or of any legacy. We need to be clear about what bloodlines we descend from and what benefits they have gained from the most lucrative tragedy in the history of mankind.

My great, great, many times great grandfather was Akinsemoyin. He is documented as having helped bring slavery to Lagos. I am descended from many others. Considering the frequent movement and blurring of ethnic lines in pre-colonial Yorubaland, it can be surmised that my ancestry may include those who existed in Yorubaland before the Yorubas arrived, those who migrated there from the East, those who were royal and those who were enslaved. Considering the tens of thousands of former slaves repatriated to West Africa from North and South America and Europe–many of who moved into Yorubaland–it is not far-fetched to consider that I may also have repatriated slave ancestry. If you’re in the Nigerian Diaspora and you’re reading this, your ancestry may likely be quite similar.

Slaves taken to the Americas came from many sources, but were ultimately the most valuable commodity of the last few hundred years. Few civilizations as rich as those in existence today have existed since the beginning of recorded history. Some of the richest empires in the history of the world have been those built on slavery.

Many of Nigeria’s slave traders became incredibly wealthy, expanding their military power, real estate holdings and families. Slave capital helped build Lagos, and it certainly helped build some of Lagos’ most prominent families, as in the many who have had squares, streets, neighborhoods and more named after them. This also applies in many countries across West Africa, from which slaves were taken into the Black Holocaust. The difference between them and Nigeria, is that so many have acknowledged their role in the slave trade and at least attempted to atone for the sins of their forefathers.

Wherever you go in the world, you will see that the darkest skin overwhelmingly correlates with the lowest wages and steepest marginalization. In some places, it is evident that slavery never ended, but only changed form. Being vigilant about the global nature of economic racism will serve us all far better to understand why Africa’s most progressive leaders always seem to die, and why gunfire can’t seem to stop in Chicago. These issues have the same source. There is something missing in our souls if we can not see the plight of other downtrodden descendants of Africa as our own.

As the descendants of African slave traders, it is up to us to embrace the Diaspora, to extend the ever-young olive branch. The initiation of 400 years of slavery can never be equated to the teasing we experienced on the playgrounds of our youth, nor the legacy of rejection we’ve carried as a cross. We really need to do better.

I will write to the African Americans soon.

Be Well,

Lolade

References

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. 2014. Slavery Made America.” The Atlantic. Retrieved Jan 15, 2019 (https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/06/slavery-made-america/373288/)

Falola, Toyin, and Matthew M. Heaton. 2008. A History of Nigeria. Cambridge University Press.

Mann, Kristin. 2007. Slavery and the birth of an African city : Lagos, 1760-1900. Bloomington, Ind: Indiana University Press.

Iloabugichukwu. Arah. 2018. “Luvvie, You Are A Guest Of African-American Culture. Act Accordingly.” Madame Noire. Retrieved Jan 15, 2019 (https://madamenoire.com/1037541/luvvie-you-are-a-guest-of-african-american-culture-act-accordingly/)

Trustman, Harry. 2017. “How a Cornell student group sparked debate over who qualifies as an ‘underrepresented black student’.” The Daily Pennsylvanian. Retrieved Jan 15, 2019 (https://www.thedp.com/article/2017/10/how-a-cornell-student-group-sparked-debate-over-who-qualifies-as-an-underrepresented-black-student)

About Lolade

Lolade is a Gates Cambridge Scholar, starting her PhD in Sociology with the 2019 class. She recently graduated with her MA in African Studies [Sociology discipline] from Yale University where she researched ethnic identity formation among Nigerian immigrants in New York, Tokyo and Mumbai. She is the author of 'Market of Dreams' a radical poetry collection about love and freedom. She obsesses over indigenous textiles, cultural preservation and innovation, and intimately connecting the African Diaspora.

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