Statement in Response to Reported Remarks about Africans by the President of the United States

January 15, 2018

The African Literature Association is an international scholarly organization with over 600 members dedicated to the study of African linguistic and literary excellence. Our members’ mission is to educate university students and teachers about cultures that have produced centuries of written and oral literatures in a plethora of languages. As educators, we note the recent statements by the President of the United States with alarm. The scatalogical language with which he reportedly refers to Africans on the continent, and their descendants in the first Black Republic, Haiti, betrays shocking ignorance, poverty of imagination, and an atrophy of moral values. We recognize that the president may well have had limited opportunities to learn of such great African thinkers as Saint Augustine, Antarah the Ethiopian-Arab poet, the bards of the Sundiata Epic, or contemporary Nobel prize-winning Africans including Wole Soyinka and Nadine Gordimer. However, we remain committed to our educational mission, and issue this statement not simply in condemnation of ugly words and ugly thinking, but rather in sincere invitation to enrich his mental world.

The African Literature Association will be holding its 44th annual conference in Washington D.C. in May, 2018. We hereby invite the president to send representatives to attend our sessions, listen to readings by some of Africa's living literary legends, and view recent African films. We would like to hope that with broader exposure and the opportunity to learn, the president and those in his administration will come to recognize the profound contributions that the daughters and sons of Africa have made to the United States since before its very founding. Those contributions emerge over centuries, whether under the brutal enslavement of the pre-1865 era, the shameful discrimination of the Jim Crow era, or in the wake of successive waves of recent immigration from the continent. On this day when we celebrate the vision of justice, equity, and reconciliation that Martin Luther King, Jr sacrificed his life for, we recall one of his early statements, "Nonviolence is absolute commitment to the way of love. Love is not emotional bash; it is not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of one's whole being into the being of another."

As educators, we stand willing to share the very best of what we know of African culture and literature, and invite the president to learn just a little about the world he inhabits.