Dear Africans are You Woke?

Nannette Boakye, Columbia University

The term ‘woke’ seems to have become a part of many people’s vocabulary as a result of the ever-intensifying racial tensions in the United States. A ‘woke’ individual is not afraid to point out the blatant disregard of the value of all black lives in America. Someone who is ‘woke’ stands up for all black lives regardless of the backlash they may receive. To be referred to as ‘woke’ is to fearlessly vilify the white supremacist, white-privileged, and racist America under which all black people must suffer and also to recognize that protecting black lives means protecting a wide spectrum of individuals. Although this term is one which is colloquially used, it holds so much power. For a while now, I have been wondering how ‘woke’ can be applied to Africans.

The majority of the people I interact with on a daily basis are people of African descent, and as someone who constantly travels back and forth between Ghana and the U.S., I have had the opportunity to engage with many continental Africans and Diaspora Africans. Therefore, I can confidently say that I have seen a disturbing trend in the African mindset; the recognition of some groups of Africans and the dismissal of others.

In transferring ‘woke’ to the continent, I would like Africans to not just selectively subscribe to some aspects of the word, but commit to all of them. This means acknowledging the struggles of queer Africans as well as Africans who suffer from mental health issues because, to me, these are two extremely oppressed groups of Africans. Among the Africans I’ve met on the continent and in the United States, I have observed a systematic refusal to accept queer and mentally disabled Africans, and this refusal seems to stem from the conditioning we’ve received from our elders. Many of the older generations have refused to adapt their way of thinking to a shifting society defined by advances in research and technology. Consequently, and rather sadly, many of our parents and grandparents have been able to indoctrinate us with their old-fashioned way of thinking.

1. Queer Africans are Africans Too.

“It is an uncomfortable position to be in.” “I have to sit back and silently listen to my family members condemn queerness” “My family told me it is not possible to be muslim and queer” These are just a few quotes from adolescent Africans who are near and dear to my heart. I was heartbroken when my school’s African Students Association had a discussion about the ‘QueerExperience in Africa’ and I heard my friends share some of the aforementioned sentiments and experiences. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat as we were shown videos of queer Africans literally being lynched by a mob. Dear Africans, I really want you to ponder this question: How can we ascribe humanity onto some, and deny it to others? If you turn away your queerAfrican brother or sister because of how they choose to identify, then you have chosen to segregate a people who are in dire need of unity and protection. Consequently, this hinders our progress as a continent and as a people.

2. Mental Health Issues are Real: Read It, Reflect Upon It, and Believe It.

I am left dismayed whenever I drive through the streets of Accra and see the many people who are left to fend for themselves due to the scarcity of mental health resources in Ghana. The lack of attention given to mental health is deep-rooted in a system which has failed to both recognize and prioritize the existence of mental health issues. Africans as a whole have yet to acquire the knowledge and the vocabulary to correctly address mental health issues. As a result, there is no awareness of its prevalence and hence, there is no discourse about it. This lack of conversation makes it easy to ignore the struggles of an entire group of people. We leave them voiceless as they continue to suffer silently. As Africans, if we indeed pride ourselves in the idea that it takes a village to raise a child, then we must come together as a people to start creating a more open dialogue for our loved ones who suffer from these illnesses.

It is time we take care of our own people, especially those who suffer most with nowhere to turn for help. Only when our most vulnerable Africans are accounted for will we be able to move forward as a people. Let us create safe spaces for those amongst us who are still very much oppressed. Let us refrain from nurturing division and hatred amongst ourselves. Let us end the dehumanization of, and violence against, certain Africans. Dear Africans, let us try to be more 'woke' in light of the increasingly oppressive atmosphere of ignorance we have created.