Trump Has No Respect for the Africans Who Helped Shape America Into a Great Nation

U.S. President Donald Trump's dreadful characterization of African nations as "shithole" countries has sparked swift condemnation from around the world. His distorted characterization of Africa not only raises questions about his ability to understand the intricacies of world affairs, but also poses questions about how Africa and Africans are perceived in the American mind.

Much of the reactions to his vile remark have been emotional rather than intellectual. Although Trump's remark may represent the view of those who have naively convinced themselves that they are on a divine mission of "making America great again," it is also shaped by a rising nationalist sentiment among segments of American society and ignorance about the history of both Africa and America.

America is an idea, and Africa is an idea too. Both are the product of their own history and politics.

Nations and states were made, not inherited by their citizens as final products. They were made by a multitude of communities, who have willingly agreed despite their diverse cultures and identities to live together in political communities, governed by a set of shared ideals and institutions. Americans and Africans have always been in the process of making and remaking themselves.

Trump seems to believe in the fallacy of "the end of history" that is egregiously constrained and has frozen in place the continuous creativity of states and nations and their ability to invent new political and economic realities.

Indeed, Trump's remark is a product of his own history and politics, the history and politics of the U.S. That history and politics was conceived through the degrading and tragic historical episodes of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the practice of slavery in the southern states, Jim Crow racial segregation laws, and ongoing forms of institutionalized racism.

Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump leads a prison reform roundtable in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, on January 11, 2018 in Washington, DC. Trump stirred criticism after he called several Central American and African nations “shithole countries”. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Of course, the idea of America, with its narrow conceptualization of its identity as white, Anglo-Saxon and Christian, is contested not only by immigrants, as Trump and company seem to believe, but also by those who have different views of America—an inclusive America.

An America that values and cherishes the highest ideals of humanity manifested in its respect for those who may be labeled by the dominant group as different, and do not belong to the republic of Abraham Lincoln.

Martin Luther King Jr. and others made concerted efforts and selfless sacrifices to perfect the idea of America and the meaning of America as home to anyone who wants to make a destiny with America irrespective of race, religion, gender, place of origin...etc.

By the same token, Africa as a continent, not a country, is a historical idea shaped by its own history of encounters with Europeans, Arabs, Asians, Muslims and Christians, just to mention a few.

However, its history does not begin and end with the arrival of the European during the colonial era. The richness of its pre-colonial history has been recorded and acknowledged by Africans and non-Africans.

The politics of the Cold War, in particular the tense rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, have affected Africa's recent political history. Hence, the continent's contemporary political crises and economic difficulties should be located into their proper historical context.

Despite its painful memories among Africans and African-Americans, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade brought Africa and America closer than apart. The celebrated agricultural and industrial revolutions in America and Europe were made possible by the free labor of enslaved Africans who were forcibly removed from the African continent.

Politically, the civil rights movement, with its humanistic ideals of freedom, equality, and justice, was spearheaded by the descendants of those who considered Africa the birthplace of their ancestors. No doubt, their struggles and sacrifices refined and strengthened American democracy and citizenship. Culturally, the magnificent display of popular culture in the inner cities of America today reflects the continuous effects of African rhythms and heritages.

Of course, Trump, like many Americans and Europeans, has missed the opportunity of educating himself on the richness of African history and the historical and cultural linkages between Americans and Africans.

Neither African countries nor the U.S. are perfect spaces. Nevertheless, there are concerned Africans and Americans, on both sides of the Atlantic, who are genuinely seeking to perfect their countries, not in exclusive, chauvinistic and racist terms, but in inclusive, collaborative, and welcoming terms.

Therefore, Trump's vile remark about Africa and Africans should be treated as a teachable moment for both Americans and Africans, instead of considering it a dark moment in the history of the relationship between the U.S. and Africa.

Amir Idris is a South Sudanese academic and professor and chair of Department of African and African American Studies at Fordham University, New York City.