On African Identity: Are you Indigenous / “Of the Soil” or Nah?

No White Saviors
4 min readFeb 17, 2020

We don’t have control of where we are born, it’s true. However, we do have control over whether or not we admit to the truth of our history. We have control over whether or not we appropriate or claim ownership over what was never ours to begin with.

Recently we’ve been discussing this very question: ‘What makes someone African?’ It is very important to highlight, as a Continent, that we are very diverse. As a people, there are vivid contrasts among us in skin tone, culture, religion, ethnicity, history and beyond. What we have come to, is that for one to be African, they must be indigenous to the land, sons of the soil. This is why, for us, the descendants of stolen African people in the diaspora today, are more African than the descendants of white colonisers ever could be.

Many people have been up in arms about our stance on what makes one African. This has come from reading, from self-reflection, from speaking to many other African people who are no less passionate than we are about African identity. We would be here all day if we showed you all of the feedback we’ve received on the topic in the last 24-hours, but we do want to provide you with just one example of what white / foreign claim over Africa looks like today, in 2020.

We understand that where one is born, will most likely feel like home. We are not denying this or even suggesting that you don’t belong here. What we are asserting is that you are not indigenous to this land, you are not ‘of the soil’, but it goes even deeper than that. Human migration dates as far back as humanity. We are not denying one’s ability to move or live anywhere in peace.

What we do need to talk about, however, is the fact that colonisers on the Continent have had a very long history of coming, committing violence, living entirely separate lives from African people and making it a point to differentiate themselves as “other” until it is to their advantage to claim African identity.

If a white South African and a black South African move to the UK, in no way will their experiences be the same. The white South African will not be racialized or discriminated against for his ethnicity, culture, accent or anything else based on his upbringing on the African continent. For us, one does not get to opt into or opt out of African identity.

We have heard all of the same arguments: your people have been here for six generations, you no longer have familial ties anywhere else in the world, you’ve “been accepted” by the local community, you “feel” African.

Formal colonisation is over, yes, but many of the same dynamics are still at play. Racism and white supremacy have had to find ways to adapt and become more sophisticated. Where white European settlers were once in complete control over South Africa, now we have less than 10% of the population (white people) owning roughly 3/4 of the land. White people still have tremendous privilege, protection, power and influence in a predominately Black country on the African continent.

Europeans, Indians, Chinese, Lebanese…Really, anyone non-Black who has come to the Continent, have all decided to live entirely separate lives from African people. While African people are required varying levels of assimilation just to survive when moving internationally, colonisers have always come and not only maintained their own culture but imposed it on us.

Lastly, for those who will try it, it is not the same thing as Brexit or Trump’s anti-immigration bigotry. We are not telling you not to immigrate or live here. We are telling you that you don’t get to experience all the “expat” / non-Black luxuries on the Continent and claim you are African, too. You are a settler/coloniser and until you accept this, we can’t move forward toward reparations or any real healing.