outside, solicited web pages
other great sites
The short answer is that Africa is an intrinsically fascinating place, full of friendly, hospitable, intelligent and interesting people. Its history is so fascinating, but difficult to comprehend, and its contemporary problems are so challenging to overcome, that we who study Africa are surprised more people don't want to be involved with Africa. Maybe everyone doesn't relish the intellectual and physical challenge of studying Africa the way we do. We feel sorry for you.
The long answer goes back to seventh grade, when I found out
that Africa HAD a history. It also involves having to defend
my own African
cultural heritage (e.g. a taste for banjo
- ever hear "Blackgrass"
by Bad Bascom?), finding that many of my other intellectual interests, from
folklore to archaeology
studies, were useful in the study of African history, and all kinds of
other boring details that make the eyes of most people asking the above question
glaze over. If you still want an answer, find out more about Africa,
and see if you don't find it a place you want to know still more about yourself.
My two best undergraduate professors had no Ph.D.s. They didn't need any Ph.D. to be the top experts in their fields.
One of them was Garma C. C. Chang, a Chinese scholar who had spent years in Tibet studying Buddhism intensively. He was outside Tibet when the Chinese army invaded, and couldn't return to the adopted country he loved. He probably knew as much about Tibetan Buddhism as anyone outside the country, and he was a master of skillful means of transmitting that knowledge. My own philosophy of testing owes much to him.
The other professor I had without a Ph.D. was Samuel P. Bayard. He had spent years studying and collecting local folklore in southwestern Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia. He was related to most of the families in the area and he had no trouble getting people to trust him and teach him their personal beliefs and traditions. He had a wealth of knowledge about the old people and what they had learned from their parents and grandparents. He was a specialist in fiddle and fife music and ballads (try searching his name on this site.) Like Professor Chang, he knew more about his subject than anyone, even before he went to graduate school. Today other people write Ph.D. dissertations based on Sam's ideas.
Sam went to Harvard and got an M.A. under the famous folklorist and Shakespeare scholar, George Lyman Kittredge. Kittredge became a figure of folklore in his own right, and has his own entry in the Funk & Wagnall's Standard Dictionary of Folkore, Mythology and Legend.
That pretty much sums it up for Professors Chang and Bayard,
too. They didn't need Ph.D.s to prove they knew their subject.
No one else was in a position to challenge their knowledge. Maybe you
think you're their equal and don't need a Ph.D. to be an expert about something.
Maybe you are and you don't. I know I don't have anything like their
expertise, so I need a Ph.D. to validate what I've got.
The next graphic is "John
Philips" transliterated into Japanese katakana. Unlike American and Hausa
societies, Japan is not an assimilative culture. While adopting a Hausa name
has been useful to me and appreciated by most Hausa (especially those who
have trouble pronouncing my original name) adopting a "Japanese" name would
strike me (and probably most Japanese) as a silly affectation.
Q: How come there's no picture of your Ph.D. advisor, Professor Obichere?
Q. What's that "Homo sum" stuff, something about queer arithmetic?
I wound up doing international educational exchange on a third continent altogether. Now I not only teach in Japan about the U.S. and Africa, I try to encourage Africans to learn more about Japan. In the meantime I find I have had more impact in my minor field of American studies than in my major field of African studies.
But there is an even more fundamental connection between the
quote from Terence and my American studies background: my understanding of
the nature of American society. Just as the German
Empires were intended to be new Roman Empires (or didn't you realize that
"Kaiser" and "Tsar" were from "Caesar"?) so the United States, with its Senate,
was supposed to be a new Roman Republic.
Just as the quote from Terence
is the key to the cosmopolitan universalism of Rome, so I take it as a key
to the cosmopolitan universalism of American culture.
But let's go back to ethnicity. On the radio I used to hear about "ethnic Albanians in Kosovo province" of Serbia. When people talk about "ethnic Americans" it is with an entirely different meaning. Situations like that of Germany are unthinkable in the United States. In Germany Turks whose families have spent generations living in Germany are denied citizenship but ethnic Germans whose families have lived near the Volga river for centuries are given automatic citizenship rights. (In fairness I should also point out that German has recently changed its laws to make citizenship easier to obtain, although still not automatic, for persons of other ancestries who were born in Germany.) For all our history of racism and ethnic discrimination, most Americans recognize that citizenship and ethnicity are best kept separate. We don't have a "nationalities policy" although we do have affirmative action.
What is an American, anyway? One of the first and most famous persons to try to answer that question, J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, wrote in his Letters from an American Farmer (1782) of "that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country. I could point out to you a family whose grandfather was an Englishman, whose wife was Dutch, whose son married a French woman, and whose present four sons have now four wives of different nations. . . . Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world."
If being ethnically mixed qualifies one as an American I reckon I fit the description as well as most folks. I couldn't marry someone of my own ethnic background, since it's illegal to marry your sister. No one but us has that same exact mixture. My surname is Welsh (or Greek, if you want to be fussy about the etymology,) but I don't think I'm more than one sixty-fourth part Welsh, if that.
Being a confirmed American I don't put much stock in ethnicity. During periods of conflict between Jews and blacks back in the States I had blacks accuse me of being Jewish and Jews accuse me of being black. Since neither had insulted me I felt no urge to correct these misimpressions. Rather I am amused that people make such a big deal about it. I'm proud of my ancestors, but I'm prouder of my own achievements. Those are things I have accomplished myself. Those are what I think people should be interested in.
There were Philipses in the American Revolution, if that matters to you. It doesn't make any difference to the U.S. government, which is one of the things they were fighting for in the Revolution, and the way I think it ought to be. Crevecoeur also wrote that "He is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys and the new rank he holds. . . . The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore entertain new ideas and form new opinions."
intolerance of any kind bothers me, and the clashes between Muslims and
others (especially Christians) in the world today therefore bother me. Blame
is not all on one side in this matter, but it is the responsibility of all
of us to understand each other and find
a way to get along. The Qur'an
(5:82) says that Christians are the best friends of the Muslims. I wish more
Christians and Muslims knew that.
I am not the ordinary "native speaker" so common in Japanese English conversation schools (although my mother tongue is an academic standard with casually (and correctly) used subjunctive.) Lessons will cost you at least 5000 yen per hour.
Take me home!