“Thank God that I am an American.” – Keith Richburg
Suffice it to say that Keith Richburg didn’t make a lot of friends in the militant black and liberal white communities after he published his book Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa in 1997.
Richburg had the guts to tell many Americans exactly what they didn’t want to hear. Namely that the myth of Mother Africa is just that; a myth.
A foreign correspondent with The Washington Post, Richburg was The Post’s go-to guy in Africa from 1991-1994.
As noted that when he wrote the book back in the late 1990s, the government of Zimbabwe offered a glimmer of hope that it wouldn’t “tumble down the same slope of bloodshed, chaos and instability that had engulfed much of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.”
Yet in the very next paragraph, Richburg laments, “Mugabe has destroyed what there was of a middle class. The country is in ruins, unable to feed itself; half the population of 12 million people is dependent on outside food aid.”
Then Richburg drops the hammer on Mugabe’s communist paradise, “The currency is virtually worthless, with inflation over 200 million percent.”
You read that right – inflation is over 200 million percent.
In his handful of years in Africa, Richburg’s had an AK-47 shoved in his face in Somalia, witness the handiwork of boy-soldiers in Uganda, and seen the stacks of corpses in Zaire prepared for dumping into mass grave.
The very first sentence of the first chapter leaves little doubt as to what a gut-wrenching horror story his first-person account of what Africa is really like: “I watched the dead float down a river in Tanzania.” Richburg describes men, women, pregnant women and girls, children… even babies, bloated, discolored, some disemboweled, some with limbs macheted off, all floating downstream to Lake Victoria.
But what really caused an avalanche of hate from the American Left were these few short paragraphs (emphasis mine);
Sometime, maybe four hundred years ago, one of my ancestors was taken from his village, probably by a local chieftain. He was shackled in leg irons, kept in a holding pen or a dark pit, possibly at Goree Island off the coast of Senegal. And then he was put in the crowded, filthy, hold of a ship for the long and treacherous voyage across the Atlantic to the New World.
Many slaves died on that voyage. But not my ancestor. Maybe it was because he was strong, maybe just stubborn, or maybe he had an irrepressible will to live. But he survived, and ended up in forced slavery working on plantations in the Caribbean. Generations on down the line, one of his descendants was taken to South Carolina. Finally, a more recent descendant, my father, moved to Detroit to find a job in an auto plant during the Second World War.
And so it was that I came to be born in Detroit and that 35 years later, a black man born in white America, I was in Africa, birthplace of my ancestors, standing at the edge of a river not as an African but as an American journalist – a mere spectator – watching the bloated bodies of black Africans cascading over a waterfall. And that’s when I thought about how, if things had been different, I might have been one of them -or might have met some similarly anonymous fate in one of the countless ongoing civil wars or tribal clashes on this brutal continent. And so I thank God my ancestor survived that voyage.
Thank God my ancestor got out, because, now, I am not one of them.
In short, thank God that I am an American.