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Kinship: A Family's Journey in Africa and America

17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0756756451
ISBN-10: 0756756456
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Editorial Reviews Review

With his bicultural heritage, journalist Philippe Wamba--born of an African American mother and Congolese father and reared in California, Boston, Tanzania, and the Congo--offers an evenhanded and encyclopedic examination of the facts and fictions that have grown on both sides of the Atlantic. "My Blackness has been the bridge that has linked my two identities," he writes, "the commonality that my split selves share." In this exceptional book, Wamba recounts the long history of the African image among black Americans, from the 18th-century Senegal-born slave poet Phyllis Wheatley to Marcus Garvey, the fiery back-to-Africa "race man" of the early 1900s. Across the water, Wamba tells how Africans waited for Afro-Americans to liberate them from colonialism, and how their leaders like Haile Selassie, Kwame Nkrumah, and Patrice Lumumba interacted with their transatlantic brethren. Wamba also recalls how he was treated as a foreigner in Tanzania, the ambivalence his mother received from his paternal relatives, and the idealism that U.S. blacks have of the continent, which at times has led to uncritical support of corrupt dictators like the former Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko (who once imprisoned Wamba's activist father). As he relates how Michael Jackson sneaks Swahili words in his songs while African kids incorporate hip-hop slang into their vocabulary, Wamba lays out the past perils and, ultimately, the future promise of transcontinental black unity. "I have discovered that African Americans and Africans are culturally distinct," he says. "But through the evidence of history and my own personal experience, I have learned that Africans and Black Americans can move beyond their real and perceived differences to celebrate and build on what they share." --Eugene Holley Jr. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In a beautifully written, extensively researched personal response to the idea that shared skin color implies a shared heritage, outlook or destiny, journalist Wamba examines his African-American family roots in order to understand the importance, if any, of racial affinity. Born to an American mother and a Congolese father, Wamba spent his formative years in the Tanzanian city of Dar es Salaam and in the suburbs of Massachusetts. A child of the 1970s, he writes that while he took for granted that black was beautiful, he was less sure of what being "African" meant. Each time he crossed the ocean, either literally or figuratively through music and literature, Wamba was confronted with cultural expectations and prejudices. Each place was viewed as either a jungle (whether it was an urban jungle or one flush with lions and tigers) or a paradise, and its people as either savages or saviors. Most troubling for Wamba was that, beyond myth and preconceptions, neither Americans nor Africans seemed to have much interest in the other's politics, history or people. In addition to his own family's experience, Wamba examines decades of political, literary and musical reactions to the pan-African ideal of all black people sharing common interests and goals. In the end, he argues that though simple Afrocentrism serves only to contribute to the "often seemingly unbridgeable cultural gap separating black Americans from their African counterparts," pan-Africanism remains a desperately needed political force lying dormant. Agent, Tina Bennett, Janklow & Nesbit Associates; 10-city author tour. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 383 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton/Penguin (April 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0756756456
  • ISBN-13: 978-0756756451
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,674,748 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Ein Kunde on July 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
There are many books (both fiction and nonfiction) that explore what it means to be an African-American. As far as I know, this is the only book that focuses on being an African among African-Americans, and being an African-American among Africans. Philippe Wamba, born of a African-American mother and a Congolese father, was raised in the United States, Congo, and Tanzania. Growing up he is always partially the outsider, not fitting in completely among Africans nor African-Americans. He astutely observes relations between Africans and African-Americans on both continents. His personal and family history and anecdotes are interesting enough, but they are only half his book. His book is also a thoughtful and very well-researched essay on various connections (and disconnections) of Africans, African-Americans, their culture, history, and relations. He discusses everthing and everyone from James Aggrey to Maya Angelou, Edward Blyden to James Brown, the Congo Free State to the Cosby Show. These two strains are woven together quite well: throughout the book his family's story sets the scene for a lesson in African history or a review of African-American literature, which in turn, leads to the next topic in his own story. (In this way the book reminded me of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by Robert Pirsig, which is both a story of a father-son motorcycle trip as well as a history of Western philosopy.) The book contains useful notes, a bibliography, and an index. Highly recommended.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Rekiyatu O. Lawal on April 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
My life is chronicled in Mr Wamba's autobiography/history of pigment-endowed peoples. As the child of a Nigerian father and (black) American mother who was also born in the USA, moved to Nigeria at age 6, and returned here for college, I readily identified with each scenario and sense of excacerbation which he too experienced and describes. I recall once even arguing with someone regarding whether Africa was a country or a continent!
Kinship is a carefully crafted, meticulously researched and beautifully written, enlightening work of art-political history. I have described it to friends as taking off where "Before the Mayflower" stopped, with some forays into earlier history. The focus and view point here, ofcourse are different, but oh! The volumes we learn from both immeasurable!
My only disappointment, was that although he has very deliberately chosen issues to discuss (music, clothing, cross-cultural marital problems), there are some more pressing issues which are only fleetingly adressed, and he offers us no suggestions for possible solutions. I wondered as I read this fascinating piece of Phillipe's heart, whether he worries, as do I, about the continuing brain-drain from the continent, and how to rectify the problem. Does he wonder about how to persuade our (relatives) to desist from destroying themselves and our homelands; how to make the politicians realize that nepotism and corruption will never lead to improvement? Phillipe, do you wonder how much longer we will have that other place to call home?
All that aside, I intend to pad his coffers and buy copies for my siblings, that they too, may look in the mirror he presents us, and reflect on our responsibility as representatives of, and ambassadors to both sides: the African and "New World/Diaspora" Blacks.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Tione Chilambe on April 6, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book has enlightened me on so many issues affecting the Africans and the African-American communities. As an african living on the american soil, it has opened my eyes to some peplexing complicated behaviours which I observed among our extended family folk for which I lack the history to verbalise it and understand it. Phillipe was placed in unique position to dig deeper into both worlds and find the answers he needed in order to maintain a healthy balance of his dual heritage.What amazes me is the fact that he became properly assimilated into the Tanzanian community its cultures and values, while on the other hand reverse assimilation on his african-american side proved to be a challange "He was still the African cousin"? Its a wonderful book and a job well done.. We will be looking for more literary works from you Phillipe... and be assured in knowing that I am going to recommended this book to every Mwalimu I know.. we will pad your pockets alright!!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By UCLAgirl on June 24, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Philippe Wamba does a masterful job of using his own family's experiences to introduce and highlight broader trends and issues in the history of relations between Africans and African Americans. He manages to combine historical analysis and synthesis with very personal episodes, showing how long-standing issues continue to bear relevancy and immediacy. I found this book to be a thoughtful examination of how Africans and African Americans have made attempts to work together across the Atlantic, even as each group has labored under mistaken impressions of the other.
I would not limit the readership of this book to African Americans, or students at historically black colleges. I think it's possible for students (formal and informal) of all ethnicities to learn from this book, both about African/African American relations in specific and cultural issues in general. _Kinship_ provides a new angle on U.S. and world history. Its thoroughness and accessibility should make it a useful and welcome addition to any number of course reading lists.
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