African-Americans Don’t Owe Egyptians Anything

February 11, 2011  |  

(The Root) — Only now am I becoming able to make peace with something that has nagged at me lately: I don’t think of the protesters in Egypt as my brothers and sisters.  There, I said it.  I am heartened daily by their victories. If someone asked me to help in some way, I would do all I could. But I do not see the people in those streets as “my people.”  Some would say that I am supposed to. But here’s why I, at least, am no longer feeling a pang of guilt when I see photos of Tahrir Square and do not see the faces as comrades of mine.  Reason 1: We are to perceive the Egyptians as fellow “Africans,” but designating people as culturally united simply because they share a landmass is dicey. Imagine the newspaper headline “Asians Found Adrift on Raft.” We would be properly horrified at Chinese, Vietnamese and Sri Lankans being lumped together as one entity. Calling an Egyptian, a Senegalese and a Malagasy all one thing suffers from a similar problem. Spontaneously, most of us process Egypt as culturally a part of the Middle East — because it is.  Oh, but “black” Egypt was the source of the ancient Greeks’ intellectual legacy? Well, for one thing, it wasn’t (try here or here). And besides, the arrival of Islam in the seventh century made Egypt a culturally and demographically distinct place from the land of the pharaohs.  And the problem only gets worse when you really think about what it means to treat an Egyptian, a Senegalese, a Malagasy and a black man from Detroit all as one thing. Black Americans are descended from Africans, but my, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

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