Part 1 of 4 in -WEIRD Diaspora and Responsible ‘Return’-
Mindful Mapping & Misguiding Models
For better or worse, there is most likely going to be a continued increase in the African Diaspora ‘Returnee’ phenomena.
Spurred not least by events such as Ghana’s year of return. According to figures released by the Ghana Immigration Service, Americans arriving in Ghana increased by 26% to their highest ever rate between January and September 2019. The numbers of visitors from the UK (24%), Germany (22%), South Africa (10%) and Liberia (14%) also grew.
For many places and communities in Africa, this offers both opportunity and challenge.
In this exploration I’ll be using insights from living systems thinking and the field of culural evolution to help map and make visible various dynamics at play. I’ll also be looking through a lens of my own first hand experience as a UK born person of mixed British-Nigerian Ethno-cultural heritage, navigating these dynamics.
It may often feel like a whistle stop through a whole range of subjects that each rightly deserve their own deep dives. However, rather than trying to map each field in infinite detail, this is intended as more of a practical map, showing how these various fields weave together in a broader context.
The intent is to help facilitate more productive collaborations between these fields and their ‘specialists’. While I see myself as more of a generalist or ‘Neo-generalist’ throwing a party to bring a range of interesting minds, hearts and bodies into generative relationships together.
For this reason I will be linking fairly heavily to source materials for your rabbit-holing pleasure.
Any navigator worth their salt, needs to keep a keen eye on their surroundings. At this time global systems of social, political and ecological health are in a range of precarious states of crisis, as they struggle to maintain balance upon an underlying meta-crisis. I’ve spent a lot time looking in particular at the ecological dimensions of this many headed Hydra, which we Earthlings - Human and Non-human - currently face.
In his book ‘Designing Regenerative Cultures’ Daniel Wahl highlights a view of health as a multi-scale fractal pattern. Meaning that if part of a whole - like an organ in our bodies - is unhealthy, then the emergence of health at the scale of the whole organism, is also hindered.
This then, is not a separatist manifesto, but a call for focused regenerative efforts to be nurtured both within and in relation to the African continent and its diverse communities — both human and non-human alike. For the wider intent of nurturing biospheric health.
“Africa is immensely rich in biodiversity. Its living organisms comprise around a quarter of global biodiversity and it supports the earth’s largest intact assemblages of large mammals, which roam freely in many countries”
Therefore it is literally of vital importance that we develop healthy cultures of mutual flourishing and interdependence, capable of coherent co-evolution with bio-diverse environments.
It’s my suggestion that African diaspora across the globe, play some key roles in this process.
Like any map, this shouldn’t be mistaken for the infinitely richer and more complex terrain upon which we stand.
Models can be useful tools, so long as we don’t allow their constraints to limit our capacity to see beyond them.
Diaspora are defined as people of any ethnicity or cultural heritage who are dispersed from their ancestral homeland. Here I’ll be focusing on Diaspora of African descent, who are now frequently travelling to, or settling on the African continent. In particular the focus will be on Nigeria and Ghana, in West Africa.
In my experience, the current flow returnees in West Africa seem to be mostly arriving from the USA and European countries such as the UK. I will be focusing primarily on the UK and US dynamics In Ghana and Nigeria as these are the dynamics that I am most familiar with and so most able to speak to.
Exploration around non-western diaspora returnees’ experiences, is unfortunately beyond the scope of this particular inquiry. However I am also very interested in these dynamics regarding populations from the Caribbean or Brazil - which holds the largest black population of African descent, outside of Africa.
If this research were to be taken up and integrated into a wider system analysis, it would be worth considering a range of other factors that are likely to influence diaspora migration to African countries, such as:
- Economic capacity and travel expenses.
- In-common spoken languages.
- If the diaspora live in a black minority or majority population.
- The prevalence and degrees of social phenomena such as colourism and racism - and the resulting violence - in those countries.
Developing a deeper understanding of how these kinds of variables affect wider system dynamics of migration could help paint a clearer picture of the delicate and ever shifting terrain that we traverse.
It’s worth noting that in living systems thinking, there are no hard boundaries between systems. This is most definitely the case with the distinct yet interrelating populations and cultures that I’m mapping here.
While the ancestral stories of migration and displacement between UK and US-born diaspora may differ significantly, there are many shared commonalities in the types of cultural values and assumptions that have often been inherited.
Populations in both the US and UK often cohere with the sociological category of W.E.I.R.D cultures (Western Educated Industrialised Rich and Democratic).
Studies have shown that behaviours and values of such populations often differ significantly from the wider human species. This is evident in factors such as a relatively increased sense of individualism, relatively less value placed on things such as traditional sanctity or group loyalty, increased aversion towards the prospect of death and even how certain optical illusions are perceived.
These weird cultures also tend to hold worldviews that are dualistic in nature, meaning they have a tendency to see the world as being fundamentally arranged of separate components. This dualism is largely a legacy of Plato’s philosophy of mind body separation.
Whereas other cultures throughout Africa instead perceive these different facets as interdependent parts of the whole.
Chinese Taoist philosophy also resonates with this perspective, and this is reflected in the spoken language. Whereas modern English is a much more product/object-oriented language, Chinese is a process-oriented language. Recognising the changeable situational nature of things, rather than trying to discern some kind of inherent essence.
What happens to the ‘object’ that is your fist, when you open your hand?
Many Diaspora such as myself, who have been born, educated and en-cultured in WEIRD worldviews, yet have not found a firm sense of belonging there - so who tend to experience an increasing sense of alienation - are now looking to ancestral homelands and worldviews for the possibility of attaining new depths of self knowledge and the re-connection of dislocated limbs of heritage.
The distinctions between race, ethnicity and culture become accentuated in these circumstances.
Cultural values, educational indoctrination and conceptions of the self, stop simply being the water in which the fish swim and become visible for deeper contemplation and transformation.
Many of our parents and grandparents came to countries like the UK to benefit from education and wealth that had been extracted from their homelands through European colonial exploits. My own Grandparents arrived in London from Nigeria in the 60’s. My Granddad first, to train and work as a lawyer and my Grandma followed shortly after to study and work as a social worker.
In my experience, The more established members UK diaspora who migrated several generations ago, tends to have more familial connections on the African continent, when compared to much of the more temporally established US diaspora, who have faced a much starker displacement and disconnection as a legacy of their ancestors forced migration through the transatlantic slave trade.
This can make it more difficult to identify with specific ethno-cultures (although this dynamic is being shifted by technological advances in genetic ancestral mapping) and may likely make factors such as common languages — like English — a much more influential factor in decisions of which African countries they decide to both visit and settle in.
However, between 2000 and 2016 more than 1 million immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa migrated to the United States mainly from Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia. This means much more live connectivity between populations in the US and such African countries.
It’s fairly common practice for the UK diaspora, particularly older generations, to send remittances back to their homelands and provide support in a multitude of other ways to family members on the African continent.
In 2018, Nigerians received an estimated £18.2 billion in remittance, with 15.9% (£2.89 billion) of that from the UK alone.
It also seems fairly common for these same UK diaspora to have been gradually investing in building homes and businesses on the African continent (Though financial capacity to do so varies). With many intending these investments to be part of their retirement plans, as well an inheritance for younger generations.
This suggests that ‘Return’ is no new phenomena, but is perhaps maturing into a new phase of action and implementation of long standing ideals, plans and dreams.
There are many factors involved here including:
- Racial wealth gaps in ‘Western’ cultures.
- Thus the time it’s taken black families to attain socio-economic stability to be able to make such investments.
- The social stability and strength of economies on the African continent.
- The age of children in diaspora families and the opportunities currently available to them on the continent if they were to relocate.
- How viable businesses there will be in producing an income that will allow for the continued participation in wider global ecosystems of activity that they have become accustomed to — such as trade and travel. (although the current ecological crisis demands that the ‘western lifestyle’ cannot continue as it has been)
There is also a higher degree of deeper relations between differing African (and non-African) ethno-cultures within diaspora populations outside the African continent.
This includes the increasingly common birth of children such as myself, who straddle the lines between traditionally held categories and distinctions (Although this is changing in the more metropolitan African city populations, sometimes dubbed ‘Afropolitans’).
Many of us are refusing to split ourselves or choose ‘sides’, to satisfy the synthetic binaries of established archetypes. Instead, many are attempting to walk paths of authentically integrating seemingly contrasting elements of identities.
Yet, some of us simply hold these in-continuities in a kind of quantum superposition of being - One, the other, both and neither, all at once.
I remember the moment of shock during my first time in Nigeria, when I was informed that I was an ‘Oyibo’ — a ‘white man’. After growing up, in London, often in majority white social settings, where my blackness was regularly highlighted as something that set me apart.
Now, after travelling over a thousand miles to my father’s birthplace, I was now being set apart for my whiteness?? I promise you, it was a right headfuck.
It’s worth saying, That Oyibo doesn’t simply refer to skin tone or ethnicity. It’s much more about how you walk, talk and think — about culture. So even darker toned friends of mine still get labelled with this term. It also doesn’t hold inherently negative connotations, and in fact due to colonial hangover and the residual myth of white supremacy, in many cases it has positive associations for in the eyes of some local people on the African continent. However, these associations are rarely shared by diaspora.
Inevitably this mixing of cultures and ethnicities contributes to more Pan-African and Trans-cultural values and perspectives and emerging.
Values and perspectives that Diaspora are sometimes culture-shocked to find, aren’t necessarily shared by the majority of local African populations at this time. Wakanda is not waiting with open arms. Rather there is a stronger tendency to define ‘in and out groups’, along ethnic and religious lines, than is common for Diaspora populations from W.E.I.R.D cultural contexts.
However, our spheres of solidarity are not fixed. Under the right conditions, we have the capacity to nurture deeper empathy across a wider range of surface differences, unveiling the deeper correlations at the core of seemingly separate selves.
I believe that the understanding of - and intentional harnessing of - such knowledge in transparent and collectively driven processes of trans-cultural mediation, is of vital importance for the future health of the African continent, it’s inhabitants and the rest of the biosphere of which it is a part.
While Wakanda is not waiting with open arms - something real may be. If only we are willing and prepared to be transformed by it’s embrace.
Part 2 - The Emerging ‘African’ Self’ - will dive deeper into issues of conceptions of self, relations between the self and other and characteristics of self organising systems.