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A black American author has sparked anger and controversy among black nationalists "by repudiating his African roots and thanking God his ancestor was enslaved."
"Keith Richburg has been shunned and insulted for daring to reject the Afro-centric idealism which is an article of faith in black America. In Out Of America, published in February,1997, (hardcover, 288 pages; 'Basic Books,' ISBN: 0465001874), after he spent three years reporting from Africa for the Washington Post, Mr Richburg hurls down a challenge to black American leaders to stop deceiving themselves and the 35 million (black) descendants of slaves, that Africa is Eden on earth.
"I'm tired of lying,' he writes. 'And I'm tired of all the ignorance and hypocrisy and the double standards I hear and read about Africa, much of it from people who've never been there, let alone spent three years walking around amid the corpses.
"Talk to me about Africa and my black roots and my kinship with my African brothers and I'll throw it back in your face, and then I'll rub your nose in the images of the rotting flesh.'
"Richburg spent three years covering the continent's senseless violence, corruption, bloody and incessant cruelties--machete-wielding Hutu militiamen, a cholera epidemic in Zaire, famine in Somalia, civil war in Liberia, disease, dirt, dictatorships, killer children, AIDS, terror.
"Had my ancestor not made it out of here,' Richburg muses, 'I might have ended up in that crowd...maybe I would have been one of those bodies, washing over the waterfall in Tanzania or maybe my son would have been set ablaze by soldiers. Or I would be limping now from the torture I received in some rancid police cell...'
Afrocentrism 'has become fashionable for many blacks, Richburg notes. 'It cannot work for me. I have been here, I have lived here and seen Africa in all its horror.'
"Mr Richburg's every word is an assault on the group identity politics which have taken hold among black intellectuals and leads, critics say, to a Balkanisation of American society. Thinking about his slave forebear, transported in chains to the Caribbean and thence to South Carolina, Mr Richburg writes: "Thank God my ancestor got out, because, now, I am not one of them [Africans]. In short, thank God I am an American."
"Borders, a Washington D.C. book shop, was packed this month for a lecture by Mr Richburg at which hecklers accused him of racial betrayal. 'One man demanded to know if the author had a white girlfriend,' said Mary Ann Brownlow, who organised the lecture.
"When Mr Richburg appeared on a talk show on Black Entertainment Television, Randall Robinson, leader of the TransAfrica lobby group and one of America's most prominent blacks, refused to join the discussion.
"Jackie Clark, producer of the show, said: 'We African-Americans have this vision of Africa as the motherland which we see in this wonderful light, but people who have lived there can burst this bubble. It takes courage to say things you know are going to outrage people, but I think Richburg wishes he were white.'
"Out Of America is a gruesomely detailed account of barbarism and corruption across the continent, particularly in Somalia and Rwanda. The author pulls no punches in condemning it, and no...myth is spared. When sketching how his ancestor was enslaved, he says it was first 'probably by a local chieftain.' The suggestion that African blacks were slave owners is anathema in America...
"Mr Richburg, who is now working for the Washington Post in Hong Kong, says he is not condoning the evil of slavery, but insists that condemning it should not blind blacks to the fact that good has emerged from it..."
Reviews of Richburg's Out of America:
E.G. Long: "Africa is a painful reality. Over the past 21 years, I have lived and worked in five African countries: Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zaire and Nigeria. ..There is nothing in Richburg's book that I could contradict. I too, experienced the horror, and hopelessnesss of that continent. I read 'Out of America' in one sitting... "
Steve Wishnevsky: "This is the voice missing from the current race 'dialogue.' Mr. Richburg is a courageous writer and clear observer...His is an authentic voice and should be listened to closely. America is the only land where the descendants of Africans have anything approaching freedom and economic opportunity."
H. Luther: "So much of what you hear about Africa lately is from people who have never been there. People who want to romanticize what is in fact chaos and disaster...Richburg has written what he has seen, he has presented reality with great integrity. It is a must read. "
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