History or Fiction

Ansah Yasmine, Lehigh University 

Let's talk about a story which is getting a lot of attention lately. No I'm not talking about Trump’s controversial presidency, but rather Amazon’s new alt-history series called “Black America”. Amazon is developing a series about what could have happened if freed African-Americans after the Civil War formed their own nation from Southern states as reparations for slavery.

Few weeks ago, HBO announced a new series called “Confederate”, also an alt-history show imagining what would happen if confederate states won the Civil war. Many people claimed that Amazon announced the series in response to HBO new series, but the creators of “Black America” affirmed the contrary.

A lot of people went on to social media to protest “Confederate”, some even called it racist and inconsiderate to African-American history.

It's not the first time people try to downplay slavery and romanticize it. Few months ago, a Danish event received a lot of backlash for their chosen theme: slavery. The event was called “The Edgy Slave Market”. Basically, the event was a revival of what a slave auction looked like in Europe during the time of slavery. Can you imagine the reaction of most people if someone decided to organize an event or a reenactment of the holocaust? Unfortunately, when it comes to the genocide and exploitation of African people, it's all fair game.

Before we get sidetracked, let me refocus on the main reason of this article, Amazon’s new series “Black America”.  I have been seeing a lot of people online, trying to tie the story line into the history of Liberia. For those who are unfamiliar with Liberia’s history or just need a small reminder, let me give you a broad overview. The country of Liberia was founded in 1847 by freed slaves from the New World, mostly the United States of America. They were given full authority by the US government to control and govern the land and its locals. Up until 1980, Liberia was dominated by the small minority of descendants of the free black colonists, who clashed with the locals which resulted in years of civil wars.

Joseph Jenkins Roberts. When Liberia became independent in July 26, 1847, Roberts was elected the first African American president for the Repubulic of Liberia serving until 1856. In 1872 he was elected again to serve as Liberia's seventh president.

Joseph Jenkins Roberts. When Liberia became independent in July 26, 1847, Roberts was elected the first African American president for the Repubulic of Liberia serving until 1856. In 1872 he was elected again to serve as Liberia's seventh president.

The history of Liberia brings out important questions: what is the goal of African Americans on the African continent? How can they participate in its development? Africa is a continent with vibrant cultures and growing economies. For many years, African Americans have been retuning to the motherland with the hope to be key actors in Africa’s rise. Many African countries, like Ghana, have opened their doors to all returnees and out in place polices to facilitate their integration. Unfortunately, a lot of returnees have a mindset which causes them to clash with locals. To thrive in any foreign place, one must remain open-minded and willing to learn about the culture and ways of life. To be fair, there is no right way to contribute to Africa’s development, but we need to be cognizant of the fact that even though Africans and African Americans have a shared history, both people have had different experiences. Yet, through slavery, segregation, colonization, Africans and African Americans endured similar struggles. Unity is more than ever critical for people of African descents to flourish and gain their freedom, whether on the continent or not.

People tie the new series “Black America” to Liberia because of the idea of freed slaves reclaiming their land. “Black America” portrays the notion of African American independence, “Colonia” as a strong nation with a technology advanced economy and a thriving culture. Many Black power movements advocate for economic freedom and support of black-owned business. Indeed, a people’s independence can only be sustained if they controls their economy. I hope that this new series will be an aspiration to African Americans and will empower us to see the possibilities of a sovereign Black community.

Black Wallstreet. The St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in Richmond was one of the first black-owned banks in the United States. 

Black Wallstreet. The St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in Richmond was one of the first black-owned banks in the United States. 

However, detractors of the show believe that black people were unsuccessful when they tried to run their own nation in Liberia, therefore, it's a predicament of their inability to take ownership of any land and govern it successfully. People who make these type of statements completely ignore the historical, geographical and social context of Liberia. And far too often, people of African descents, whether living in the USA, Africa, or anywhere else in the world, are judged out of context and not given a fair reaction in regards to their struggles, successes or failures. People should not use Liberia’s or any other black nation’s history to discredit African people's ability to self-govern. To understand why Africa is the way it is, one needs to understand its history and the complex relationship this continent has with the world. And for African Americans in particular,

The show “Black America” is more than just a tale of Liberia’s history. It is a story many people would like to hear. Not only African-Americans are left out of American history while they highly contributed to its development, they never received reparations for the atrocities they went through for centuries. The idea of reparation is not new, but there aren’t a lot of content about what reparations would look like. “Black America” gives us an alternative of African-Americans getting their own reparations in a time where they weren’t considered worthy of anything. We need more powerful images of what black people are capable to achieve, especially in a time where black people are only portrayed negatively by the media.

Even though I'm very excited to watch Black America, I would love to see the writers incorporate Native Americans in that new nation. How will the relationship with sovereign Native Americans pan out? Let’s not forget America belonged Native Americans before Europeans took it away from them. Will Native Americans be allies of the independent African American nation, cut out American influence and trade together? Or will the Native Americans fight to regain control of their lands? Either way, I will be more thrilled to see the writers showcase Native Americans’ union with African-Americans to fight white supremacy. I would also be curious to see how “Colonia” would impact Europe and the scramble for Africa. As we know civil rights movements highly influenced independence movements in Africa; we can’t only imagine how this black powerful nation would have impacted the rest of the world.