By Michael Walsh
In the U.S. Strategy toward Sub-Saharan Africa, the Biden Administration declares that the engagement of the African diaspora is a priority activity for resetting relations with sovereign states across the region.
From a philosophical perspective, this raises important ontological and epistemological questions about what the African diaspora is and how that social fact came into being. At first glance, it might appear that the national strategy provides the answers to these questions. The written text explicitly declares that the African diaspora includes African Americans who descended from enslaved Africans as well as African immigrants who did not. However, this representation of reality does not provide answers to the above questions. It simply provides clues for further inquiry. Written texts cannot change reality on their own. What is declared by the pen still must be accepted by the people. To answer these questions, we will have to wait and see how American policymakers talk about the African diaspora in the context of regional relations. Those revelations will take time.
In the interim, we should ask ourselves why American policymakers think that the African diaspora is something of value in the context of regional relations. Here, we may need to mark an evaluative distinction between the old and new diasporas.
The national strategy suggests that African immigrants are valuable because they are “among the most educated and prosperous communities in the United States.” However, it makes no similar declaration for the value of African Americans who descended from enslaved Africans. Such silence is deafening.
This raises a couple of follow-on questions. Does the Biden Administration think that the new diaspora is more valuable than the old one in this context? If so, does it also think that they should have different sets of duties, rights, obligations, requirements, authorizations, and permissions arising in this context. From a policy perspective, the answers to these questions matter since society is ordered by such deontic powers.
Michael Walsh is an adjunct fellow of the Center for African Studies at Howard University.