When I landed in Johannesburg I did not feel like I was returning to his homeland (since my homeland is Gray, Ga). It was not like I feel when I land in Knoxville and say to myself “home”. Go back to my things, to my house, to my dogs, where I belong. No here in Africa, no one looks remotely like me. The only people who thought I was a native were a couple from Charlotte (naturally) who asked me for directions (speaking very slowly) at the Johannesburg airport. I told them I was from South Atlanta not South Africa. There was one ticket agent for South African Air that was sufficiently mixed race that she could have passed for an American. No one was going to run up to me and speak Xhosa and welcome me home as a fellow tribesman. Of course my African tribes are much farther north. They were only one of at least 100 tribal groups taken to America where they were broken up and sold and dispersed with loss of language and cultural identity. When you arrive in Johannesburg, there is a sign that says “11 Languages one Country.” In the airport you could see distinctly different tribes. Although the color was fairly uniform, there were very distinct differences in the features from broad noses and lips to rather thin ones and all sorts of differences in cheekbones and brows. There was not nearly the variety that we see among American blacks. However when I landed in Polokwane where most of the blacks are Lesotho, you could see the similarities. At home it is rare to see two black people that could be identified as being from the same tribe unless they were from the same family. Do you think that Andy Young, Clarence Thomas, Vanessa Williams, Byonce, Jay Z, Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Aretha Franklin, Al Jarreau, Thomas Sowell, and Keb Mo look even remotely alike? Even if you go to one region – like Knoxville – its hard to see tribal similarities. I guess in America since the blacks came from all over central and east Africa from literally hundreds of tribes, then got split up when sold and then mixed with whites and Native Americans the result is me. I have resisted calling myself an African-American. To me that’s silly. I even read a scholarly paper where the author referred to “European-Americans” a term that radical blacks have tried without success to pin on whites. Those are the people who want to segregate us with hyphens: African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian Americans, Native American-Americans, and European-but-not- of-Hispanic descent-Americans. Enough already, I have long contended that the hodge podge that makes American blacks American like me with my Scotch Irish and Cherokee ancestors the result is truly Mongrel-American. For some reason, that has not gained much traction. So what am I? I am an American-American.
Harold A. Black is professor emeritus in the Department of Finance, University of Tennessee, Knoxville having retired after 24 years of service. He has served on the faculties of American University, Howard University, the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill and the University of Florida. His government service includes the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and as a Board Member of the National Credit Union Administration. He also has served on the boards of directors Home Savings of America and its parent company, H. F. Ahmanson & Co., Irwindale, California prior to its merger with Washington Mutual Savings Bank, on the board of New Century Financial Corporation, Irvine, California, then the nation’s largest real estate investment trust and as director and later chairman of the Nashville Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. He writes an occasional article for the Knoxville News-Sentinel at http://www.knoxnews.com/staff/dr-harold-black/. His web page is haroldablackphd.com