Egyptians Are Not My Brothers
I'm not buying the romanticism of sharing the pain of "fellow Africans." But that doesn't prevent me from sympathizing with their struggle.
In the same way, I cannot honestly process the Egyptians as "us." I doubt that most black Americans can, and I'm not sure there is anything wrong with that …
… or is there? Others remind us that Egypt was once a hub of anti-colonialism in the name of struggling peoples worldwide. There was an intoxicating sense of potential in the idea of all the world's peoples who are struggling under the colonialist yoke banding together to bring on a new day.
Another passage that sticks with me: Maya Angelou, in the fourth installment of her autobiography series, The Heart of a Woman, being whisked into Cairo in a cab with her son at the height of the pan-Third World ideology. Maya and Guy are so elated to be there that they look out the windows and just laugh and laugh. I love that scene -- and instances of black Americans of that era regularly lending support to people of color resisting oppression. Another good scene: Adam Clayton Powell Jr. at the Third World Conference in Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955, schooling pro-colonialist reporters on how the oppression in places like India was as unforgivable as what was then happening in the American South (he describes it best in this book).
What happened to that sentiment? Well, we know, don't we?
Reason 2: Black America overcame. Wait, wait -- I know, not completely, by any means. But when Egyptians tell the press that an educated middle-class person has no significant chances in life there, who among us can say that this is the black American plight today -- as opposed to what it was for all but a sliver in 1955?
Who can honestly say that poor black people are poor because of efforts as nakedly oppressive as those of the Mubarak regime? Inevitably, then, black Americans' sense of solidarity with those suffering from concrete, brutal subjugation -- rather than the more abstract bugbear of "institutional racism" -- will not be as immediate and spontaneous as it was more than half a century ago.
Will we have no interest at all in what is going on in Egypt? Of course not. But we return to that circle of empathy. Its expansion is a mark of human advancement -- from family, to city, to nation -- but extending it beyond national or cultural boundaries is a stretch.