The black man’s Sob by Alain Mabanckou

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This very short essay is only available in French at the moment. Since, almost all of this author’s previous works have been translated in English, I have no doubt that this book will also be translated. In the meantime, this is what I have to say about the book.

I figured the whole point of writing this book was to drive a point home: It is true that we (Africans) are great people with illustrate ancestors. We are proud, beautiful and hard-working. Our ancestors were rich, organized, civilized… They were descendants of the great Egyptians. The most ancient civilizations were born in black Africa…

…So what?

Can you ancestors feed you?

Africans, Mr Mabanckou is asking us to wake up from such dreams and do something that matter in the present rather than live in the past. It is not helping us in the least. Also, he is asking us, for God’s sake, to stop blaming everything on the white man and acknowledge our share of responsibilities. These are my own interpretation of his text of course.

But before I delve into the work , a word about the author.

About the author

Alain Mabanckou (born 24 February 1966) is a novelist, journalist, poet, and academic, a French citizen born in the Republic of the Congo; he is currently a Professor of Literature in the United States. He is best known for his novels and non-fiction writing depicting the experience of contemporary Africa and the African Diaspora in France. Among the best known and most successful writers in the French language and one of the best known African writers in France. He is also controversial and criticized by some African and Diaspora writers for pointing out the responsibility of Africans on their own misfortune.

About the book

I’m black, and it inevitably shows. So black people I meet in Paris call me “my brother”. Are we really brothers? What do an Antillean, a Senegalese and a Black born in the tenth district have in common, if not the color to which they claim to be constantly reduced? I forget the genealogy they have forged for themselves, the misfortune and humiliation – slave trade, colonization, living conditions of immigrants …

Because beyond the skin, it is their tears that unite them. I do not question the suffering they went through and some blacks are still suffering. I challenge the tendency to erect these sufferings as signs of identity. I was born in Congo Brazzaville, I studied in France, I am now teaching in California. I’m black, with a French passport and a green card. Who am I? I would be pressed hard to tell.
But I refuse to be defined by the tears and resentment

This book is filled with very interesting statements and insightful comments. I reproduced some of them here:

Nowadays there is what I call the black man’s sob. A sob increasingly noisy that I could define it as the trend that has led some Africans to explain the woes of the black continent – all his misfortunes – through the prism of the encounter with Europe…. A.Mabanckou (Translated in English by me)

Mr Mabanckou, I agree with you on this one. It is true that some people have this very bad habit of blaming everything on the white man. However, we must not dismiss the implication of the Europeans in all our problems. The slave trade, colonization and neo-colonialism are all the white man’s creation. It is undeniable that they have a great responsibility in the continent woes. But, rise, we must – from all of it – without forgetting the past. We must forgive but not forget. Nothing can be gain by blaming others indefinitely.

The black consciousness movement is in reality a demonstration, where one would have expected a construction, so as not to devote his energy to do the “stock of negroes values​​” as written by Frantz Fanon… A. Mabanckou (Translated in English by me)

Well, I find this one a bit harsh but nonetheless true. In fact, a lot of energy has been poured into reclaiming the back identity or consciousness. It could have well be used to build something else.

Obviously, this work is a self-critique of the black men (mostly those in france) about their way of thinking, their identity and their relations with other communities . If you have been to France, then you know all about the situation there. The country is polarized to the extreme, cities are divided into racial ghettos called “cité” where only black people and arabs live.

It is very easy for me, a black person living in Canada to judge and criticize black people living in France for being too compliant, too bitter about french people, too jumpy about racism, too sensible about race or just being too Africans and refusing to integrate the french system. The truth of the matter is that I have never experimented open racism, so I don’t know how they feel. No one has never denied me anything here in Canada, because I was either black or an immigrant. I went for an exchange program in the south of France, for a semester, and no one never gave me the racist treatment there. But I was not fooled one bit, I have eyes to see the way african immigrants are treated there. The only time I came close to being disgraced by the police in public was at the Nice’s train station. My friends and I were boarding a train bound to Monaco, when a group of policemen noticed an unusal number of black people. So they approached us asking for our papers. All the people who were living in France were searching for their passports, while I was shocked to be asked such a question. Plus, I didn’t have my passport. Why would I carry such an important document on me all the time? You think it’s crazy? Think again, if you are a black person leaving in France, you have to carry it everywhere. I showed them the only ID that I had on me at the time, my student card. When they realised where I was coming from and that my friends were studying at the International university of Monaco, boom! change of attitude. They became very friendly and we were chatting nicely while waiting for the train. I will let you decide for yourself what to think.

It’s not like some people could leave the country and go somewhere else, they don’t have the choice but to stay put. Other people were born in France and are effectively in their country. Where would they go? Mr Mabanckou reflected on all these aspects in his essay, but in his own perspective, that of an immigrant from Congo who attended university in France, found a good job, became a writer and then moved to the United States to a better job. He insisted that he had a good life and a good job in France and that he moved to the US only because he had a better opportunity.

When talking about these issues, one must be very careful and speak with measure. Because we are on the outside, we don’t perfectly understand a situation that is extremely complicated. On the other hand, a solution must be found. We can’t keep living in “we were great people until the white man came along and ruin everything”. They did. But shouldn’t we concentrate on ways to rebuild our countries?

I really love this book. It is nothing short of the naked truth. I did not totally agree with the author on everything but it was a very insightful essay. I recommed it. If you have already read it, please do share your views with us.

3 responses to “The black man’s Sob by Alain Mabanckou

  1. Pingback: 2013 Under The Neem Tree best non-fiction books | Under the Neem Tree·

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