We Are All Africans… Right? December 14, 2010

We Are All Africans… Right?

When Richard Dawkins appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher last season he brought Bill a present:

That’s your set up for this uncomfortably stereotypical Funny or Die sketch by Sam Sero:

On a serious note, is there anyone who would feel uncomfortable wearing that shirt, despite its evolutionary truth?

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I’d feel uncomfortable around some drunk bling bling wearing gangsters whether or not I was wearing that shirt.

  • Dan W

    I don’t know about anyone else, but this video wasn’t all that funny to me. It reminded me of the music video for that Weird Al song “White and Nerdy.” Stereotypical white nerd can’t get along well with stereotypical black gangster crowd. Except I actually liked Weird Al’s video. Not so much with this one.

  • well Weird Al’s song/video was actually made with some talent… this was just tasteless.

  • Dan W

    Yeah, that’s why I liked Weird Al’s song/video over this one. For comparison: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9qYF9DZPdw

  • Revyloution

    When I asked my dad why some people had dark skin, he launched into a talk about melanin, the diversification of homo sapiens out of Africa, and genetic drift. I was 5. I’ve never given it a thought since then. Ive known that ‘were all Africans’ for over 35 years.

    To Larry Meredith, Im more nervous around men in suits than I am around ‘bling wearing gangsters’. Ken Lay has stolen more from me than any street thug.

  • Proximity does not factor into the harm wrought by Ken Lay.

  • Its truth is evident in the evolutionary record. If someone confronts you, explain it.

    Fuckin’ solidarity between all humans would rock.

  • jess

    I think that I would be uncomfortable wearing that t-shirt. The essence of the message is lost in the unfortunate choice of words. I fear that I would spend most of my day explaining my choice of shirt. However I would probably wear it if a map depicting the dispersal of homo sapiens was included. It would help clarify the message, imho.

  • Nixon Is Lord

    Interesting and I’m an atheist but you’ve got to be honest and admit that atheism is not only disproportionately male but about as well integrated as the Unitarians or the Congregationalists or the Quakers: Not very much.
    If religion preys on the vulnerable (and it does)and if you’re not white you’re more likely to have a tough life(statistically true), then why aren’t “people of color” leaving religion as often as white (guys)?

  • Kimpatsu

    On a serious note, is there anyone who would feel uncomfortable wearing that shirt, despite it’s evolutionary truth?

    Hemant, what does “…despite IT IS evolutionary truth” mean, exactly?
    Or is correct English grammar not required for math?

  • I want that shirt!

  • Vote Josh

    Baba Brinkman – African A great song from a great atheist rapper.

  • Aaron

    I taught middle school science for the past two years, and last year, I revealed to my 7th graders (a large percentage of whom are black), “I’m African.” Of course, I explained what I meant, going on to explain that everyone in the room is African. It was interesting to see their immediate reaction, though (“Wtf is he talking about…”).

  • Aathorus

    I think it’s a great idea. I’d be comfortable wearing it, however if I got the impression that it was offensive to the African Community (I’m from Australia)I would take it off. The sentiment is wonderful.

  • James

    Kimpatsu, trolling is on the fourth floor with the theists. Wrong level brother.

    And I know, I fed a troll.

    And I would have no problem wearing the shirt.

  • Claudia

    I think the only “danger” in that shirt is that someone mistake it for a “back to Africa” movement (I’m sure it has another name, so forgive my ignorance please) type thing, particularly if the wearer were African American themselves. I wouldn’t feel at all uncomfortable in that shirt, though I personally want this one.

  • Phil

    I really like this site precisely because it so rarely wastes my time flagging up lame crap like this.

  • Laura Lou

    I might not wear it just because, sadly, I don’t think a lot of people would get it.

    Claudia, I think you’re talking about Pan-Africanism.

  • Sweetredtele

    would feel comfortable, I think you mean.

  • Sweetredtele

    Or “wouldn’t feel uncomfortable”. You put a “despite” in the second half of the sentence. Without the bit after the comma, the way you phrased it would be fine.

  • minus

    I wouldn’t wear it except in special circumstances. I’m white; most people who see it would be totally puzzled. Just cause you know what it means, most others won’t. Imagine if I showed up wearing a shirt that said, “We are all Chinese.” Everybody would be scratchin’ their heads. Same thing here.

  • I don’t really see the point of this shirt… It’s a little too obvious and not in need of pointing out. It’s just a fact, you might as well where a shirt that says 2+2=4. The only reason I could see anyone wanting to wear that shirt is if they purposely want to piss off religious people.

    Dawkin’s may have given Bill the shirt, but how much you want to bet that Bill never wears it? I’d even hazard a guess that he gave it away after the show.

  • Claudia

    @Laura Lou, yes, that’s it exactly. Thanks!

  • DADT

  • I have ordered myself one of the shirts. I shall wear it proudly.

  • It has an appropriation vibe to me. Yes, historically we all came out of Africa, but claiming the label of African has a different connotation and seems like stealing it from people to whom it has a more personal meaning.

    Nixon is Lord, I think the discrepancy of races and religiosity has more to do with http://chunkymonkeymind.blogspot.com/2010/08/privilege-in-atheism.html“>privilege than just vulnerability (though, they’re two sides of the same coin).

  • Im more nervous around men in suits than I am around ‘bling wearing gangsters’.

    And I’ve had problems with gangsters. Little bit of a run-in with the 5 Percenters back in the day. Not a big thing really. Just one of them didn’t like me being friends with his brother. After they burned a small fire (don’t freak, really small, I didn’t even know about it until morning, they must have put it out quick too) outside my apartment door and put their symbol up above it as a calling card to who had done it, brother brought him around to meet me and while we didn’t exactly part best of friends, we parted cool. He just seemed to need to be assured that I had no romantic intentions on his brother. Since his brother was under-aged (mostly hanging around my apartment because of girl who often babysat for me his age), I didn’t particularly blame him.

    The suits are far more dangerous. I’ve found with the thugs (the real ones of the unsuited variety), mostly, if you mind your own business, they’ll mind theirs. The suits are far more dangerous because they aim to inflict their life choices on everyone. Besides, what’s with the assumption that anyone black wearing bling and hip hop fashions is a thug? Most are not. Hell, I recently had a boss that was all about the bling bling and he’d been working for the State since he was 15 years old. (He just turned 55.) It gave him the money to buy lots of the gold he had a fondness for. And, yep, racism being what it is, idiots criticized him for “dressing like a pimp” behind his back even though he was in building management and could have dressed in ratty jeans and t-shirts instead of dressing sharp like he did. (He was never without a hat, Revyloution!) I got the stares for saying I think he dresses sharp.

    But, no, I wouldn’t wear this shirt. I loved it in the picture of the black Atheist group you featured but it seems to me more a shirt for African-American freethinkers. To usurp it seems kind of a slap in the face to them to me. As a group, black Atheists have a double problem of fitting in where blacks are sparse and because black culture — hell, our society at large — assumes black belief. Much of it is centered in gospel and black churches. I think this shirt says more about African-Americans asserting their right to disbelieve than evolution. It sends the double message to Atheists that yes, African-Americans are Atheist too and to other blacks that even though I’m Atheist, I’m still one of you. At least that’s the way I took. Since I’m not black, I wouldn’t wear it.

  • Oh, and I didn’t like either video. I’m partial to Offspring’s “Pretty Fly for a White Guy”. Now that one’s funny. But I admit I’m a huge Offspring fan.

  • Acitta

    This song by Johnny Clegg is one of my favorites: Scatterlings of Africa — “on the road to Phelamanga”

  • Siobhan in Vermont

    1) It wasn’t Africa when we were all there originally. It didn’t even look the same.

    2) Like with all language, what “African” means has drifted and changed over the years, but in general, it has a specific connotation and meaning, and it doesn’t have anything to do with evolution.

    3) This shirt is trying to be provocative but only succeeds in being obscure. It requires too much explanation and back-story to be worn as a tee shirt.

    4) No, I wouldn’t wear it. I’d prefer something less obscure if I’m going to make a “bumper sticker” statement.

  • Lost Left Coaster

    Siobhan in Vermont just said pretty much everything I was thinking about saying too. Africa, of course, is a cultural and geographic conception that didn’t exist at the time the first Homo sapiens evolved. So it doesn’t make much sense, any more than saying “We are all Ethiopians,” since obviously Ethiopia didn’t exist back then either. So instead it just kind of seems to me that a (mainly) white crowd is saying, “Can’t we all get along? We all evolved in Africa, after all,” but that doesn’t have much contemporary relevance — it ignores, frankly, the history of human intercultural relations, colonialism, slavery, etc., and I think that it may be a more worthwhile exercise to examine and challenge one’s own privilege rather than wear a shirt that seems to make the assertion that we should all be colorblind without critically examining the sociocultural and economic roots of racial inequality.

  • Revyloution

    Thats a point of view I hadn’t considered Muggle. I can see how it would be effective, and not terribly offensive for dark skinned people to wear it. I guess this is just another example of my ethnic blindness, It just didn’t occur to me that one ethnicity might have a larger stake in a t shirt design.

    Always glad to know about another respecter of the hat. Men really don’t wear enough good hats.

    Like you, I’ve found thugs and criminals quite easy to get along with. T ray said that proximity doesn’t ,matter with Lay. That’s a great point, oddly, the closer you are to him the safer you would probably be.

  • My preference would be to refer to a point farther back in the evolutionary tree and use a term that does not have another meaning.

    I did enjoy the links that various people posted.

  • andrew

    I wear it all the time. I get weird looks, but I’m also an attention whore!

  • I like what Michael Dowd says:

    “Forget monkeys, you’re related to zucchini! Get over it!”

  • Guest

    I agree with Palaverer and Lost Left Coaster. I think wearing this shirt is appropriation but also insensitive to the racism that is still prevalent. I think it’s a bad move, and that it can make us look really bad. The atheist movement is primarily white, and hasn’t seemed to analyze concepts of privileged.

  • lauren

    I don’t like the piece, and would doubt I would like any video classified as “stereotypically funny.” It seems to mean playing on negative racial stereotypes. That is racist. It makes me very uncomfortable.

    I agree that race is a social construct. (i.e. where we draw racial categories and which differences count toward what racial group are socially constructed) But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t “real” and a part of out lives. I think, in the US esp, African” has racial implications even though it is referring to a geographic location. That makes this shirt problematic even though there is positive intent.

    I have a shirt that has similar problems. I bought in a context that made it ‘okay’ for me to wear. I can only wear it once a year now, (in a similar context) due to problems arising from a white girl wearing it.

    T-shirts and bumper stickers can only say so much, and background explaining why it makes sense doesn’t make the list. And if you need to explain it that much, it is a problem. yes there are Atheists in all locations and of all origins and colors. however, it is still white dominated. I think it says something that two rich white guys are displaying the shirt. Also, your sentence presumes a non-African/non-black audience. why would a black person feel uncomfortable wearing such a shirt if they liked it? They wouldn’t. But a white person might. That in itself should be a clue to the racial issues involved.

  • Wrong

    Wrong. We are all Pangeans, not Africans!

  • littlejohn

    I disliked the piece. It wasn’t funny.
    Its attempt at humor relies entirely on the stereotype of young white guys being nerds and young black guys being dangerous ganstas.
    Also, let’s be honest, if you want to find a demographic group (besides white Texans) that rejects human evolution, it’s African-Americans.
    I would wear the shirt around white people, not blacks. It’s the white people who need to be shocked, which I gather is the point.
    However, since I would need mine in an XXL, I wouldn’t be afraid to wear it anywhere.
    (Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sissy and a coward, but through an accident of DNA, complete strangers ask me where I played football.)

  • Peter

    Well, in New Jersey…. a white medical student (born and raised in Mozambique, Africa) was “harassed and ultimately suspended for identifying himself during a class cultural exercise as a “white African-American”.

    The thing is, this guy actually WAS African (by birth, childhood, etc.) AND American (by naturalization), and thus he was a TRUE “African-American”…

    BUT… because he wasn’t black they felt it was offensive for him to call himself “African-American”.

    Here’s the story at ABC news website:
    http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=7567291&page=1

  • And, yep, racism being what it is, idiots criticized him for “dressing like a pimp” behind his back

    It’s not really racist. I would be uncomfortable around anyone drunk and dressed like that. Yes, it does make them look like a thug, whether they are white or black.

    I’m partial to Offspring’s “Pretty Fly for a White Guy”.

    How about Weird Al’s “Pretty Fly for a Rabbi”?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l93OlHZcNsM
    Aw, gotta love a good parody…

  • catsnjags

    Have the shirt… wear it all the time. I’m in Mobile Alabama… I don’t think most people understand it. (Africans is 3 syllables… the cutoff for comprehension here is 2!)

  • SadiqaT

    I found the video completely racist and unfunny. Just like the “sambo” stereotype was used in the past, the “gangsta” gambling, drinking a “forty” scaring a white person apparently is alive and well and will take a long time to die also.

    This shirt is nothing new to Black Americans, we have been saying this for years(theists and atheists). Wearing that shirt is not going to fill Black Americans with surprise and amazement that there is this fact that all humanity originated from Africa. So the assumption that most Black Americans are blinded by faith and religion when it concerns humanity’s origins is laughable. We KNOW that Africa is the cradle of civilization and all roads lead back to Africa for ALL of humanity. So in that regard, we do not claim ownership to the words Africa or African. Genetic research just provided confirmation not “revelation”.

    As to the question of whether to wear the shirt or not, why let ignorance stop you from spreading the truth? Wear the shirt all you want. The whole point of the shirt is to confront the myth of race and make people uncomfortable in their ignorance. This shirt has nothing to do with Black Atheism, it is a statement about our human evolution and the fact of our common ancestry, period. Which is exactly what Richard Dawkins said when he gave Bill Maher the tee shirt!

    Finally, as an Atheist, Dawkins giving the shirt to Maher was a wonderful moment in television.

  • Daniel

    I might. Depends on whether or not I have time to explain it to twenty people a day.

    As others said, I’d like it more if it had an image like this:
    http://www.riseofthewest.com/images/dc290slava04.jpg
    on it as well,

  • “We are all African” was a slogan invented by Christopher DiCarlo, he wrote an article of Free Inquiry about it and has been selling shirts and other things to raise money for charities in Africa.

    http://www.humanistperspectives.org/issue154/we_are_all_african.html

    Apparently Dawkins had no idea. He should have googled the phrase, which incidentally isn’t correct. We are all Africans – there should be no S on African.

    And DiCarlo’s shirts are much better anyway.

  • Ibis

    Hmm. How about “We’re all immigrants”? (not to be worn in central Africa…)

  • ethinethin

    @Siobhan in Vermont

    1) It wasn’t Africa when we were all there originally. It didn’t even look the same.

    The land mass of Africa was pretty well-defined by the time primates began to walk upright, although the climate was quite different.

  • Jeanette

    I agree with Siobhan and Lost Left Coaster above. Kind of dismissive of complex race issues. So I wouldn’t wear it, although I understand the sentiment.

  • momo

    Here’s a nice song that I thought should be added to these comments:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCCzugeSPPA
    Enjoy 🙂

  • The only thing funny about that sketch is that one of the guys playing craps is wearing an old, faded Dave Meggett jersey from 1995.

  • Also, I really can’t say I’m interested in wearing any of the “Scarlet A” shirts. Not because I’m ashamed of my godlessness, and not because I don’t get it, but because I simply don’t like how it looks. The idea is great, and it’s the only reason it succeeds, but it doesn’t appeal to me aesthetically. I’m probably being way too picky, but I’m always pointing out how ugly Christian tee shirts tend to be, so it’s only fair.

  • Except, Larry, he didn’t really dress like the stereotype of a pimp. Yeah, he liked gold and wore chains, rings and a watch every day. However, the hats were as nondescript as Revyloution’s and the clothes were dress pants and silk shirts. He dressed sharp. A white guy — even in Building Maintenance where jeans are the norm — wouldn’t have got the same.

  • cat

    @Donna Hamel, you are right, I have seen that stereotyping occur a million times, regardless of how the person is dressed. I remember sitting with a black university classmate in a study room where a conversation about poverty got going and everyone looked to her for the ‘poor person’s perspective’. Um, hello, this woman’s outfit probably cost a good three hundred bucks, she went to a private school and took ballet lessons. And there I was in my five cent second hand novelty t shirt and a pair of old jeans, someone who had actually grown up extremely poor and gone to a low income school. They made an assumption about her economic status and mine based solely on her dark skin and my light skin, regardless of our clothes. I also wanted to point out that anything that gets coded as black gets coded as violent, criminal, etc., because that’s how people stereotype black people. Just look at how Jazz was viewed at the height of its popularity. ” Besides, what’s with the assumption that anyone black wearing bling and hip hop fashions is a thug?” Hip hop fashions and bling are associated with black people, that’s enough to make them be seen as ‘thug clothes’ to racist whites.

  • Donna, the people in this video aren’t wearing silk shirts and dress pants though, are they? They’re in jeans and sneakers. One guy is in a sports jersey, one has a sweatshirt, and one has a t-shirt. Hardly dressed sharp, and they are each holding a bottle of alcohol. They do look like thugs, and I’m pretty sure that was the point of the video… geeky white guy trying to fit in with black thugs.

  • Caley ‘PolyLan’ Phillips

    Am i the only one who noticed that the white ‘evolutionist’ used the word “monkeys”? I mean, obviously he’s putting his foot in his mouth in terms of racial relations using that specific word.
    But, sanity check me here. Evolution right? We didn’t come from monkeys, we share a common ancestor with apes. Not the same thing. So aside from this video propagating negative African stereotypes, negative atheist stereotypes, and negative geek stereotypes. it also helps misrepresent the actual concept by propagating the misinformation creationists cling to.

    Sorry, i think this video fails to do ANYONE justice. AND it’s not funny :\

  • Larry, you blockquoted what I said about people saying my boss (he was the boss; hence, his ability to not dress in jeans, he ordered other people to do the dirty work) dressed like a pimp. Then you said, it’s not racist. I was clarifying that, despite the gold, he really didn’t dress in a way that would justify them saying that. Seriously, even with the gold, a white dude wouldn’t have gotten that. How many white bosses wear gold watches and rings, a gold chain or two even, and no one blinks an eye at it?

    cat, I’ve lived that too! more times than I cared to count. A black friend of mine and I were discussing living in the projects and I talked what it was like in the mid-60’s. She came back with a smirk and told me how someone she knew didn’t believe I lived there because I’m white. I told her to ask him if he remembered the Hamel family (we and one other were the only white families there) and if he remembered the Jolly Green Giant. Now this was a nickname of a kid who earned a rep picking on little kids because he was extremely tall but, unless you were from the projects, you wouldn’t have known that. Also if he remembered the crazy white chick who used to whip off her skates and go upside peoples’ heads with them. She came back laughing. He had to eat his words because he did. He even remembered the chant that kids used to dare themselves to taunt my sister with.

  • GirlJack

    Goodness, I’m black and I wouldn’t consider wearing this shirt. To me, it implies false solidarity with Africans, most of whom are people over whom I hold an absurd amount of privilege that does not make me feel good. I’d look like an idiot. I might go for it if, as mentioned above, there were an African diaspora diagram on the back. That would be cool, actually. Otherwise, it really just seems tasteless, insensitive, and meaningless.

  • DebGod

    I’m surprised no one’s mentioned the fact that Dawkins was born in Kenya and grew up there for some portion of his childhood. Does that make him more African? And does it matter when it comes to whether or not individuals like Dawkins and Maher can/should wear the shirt?

  • ethinethin

    @Caley

    We didn’t come from monkeys, we share a common ancestor with apes. Not the same thing.

    Well, which common ancestor did apes share? Check out AronRa’s video “Turns out we DID come from monkeys!” on youtube.

  • “Turns out we DID come from monkeys”

    I was always partial to being a “hairless monkey” 🙂

  • Paul A

    I thought the atheist “A” being used in the word Africans is the reason why the question was asked about whether people would wear it in public. Since most non-atheist are unaware of the symbol, I think the question is invalid.

  • Caley ‘PolyLan’ Phillips

    @ethinethin

    hey thanks for the resource. I suppose it depends on what form of tree your using but i agree this one seems to be the modern standard. I stand corrected.
    but then, It would still apply to say that we come from apes as well, and are more closely related to them would it not? if were going to take the extra step back to monkeys we could just be super generic about it and say ‘we are all mammals’ and then everyone rolls their eyes. or maybe not. i’ve seen people deny our status as mammals… oi.

  • ethinethin

    @Caley

    It would still apply to say that we come from apes as well, and are more closely related to them would it not?

    Yes, I suppose, but one of the points AronRa makes in his video is that the distinction between ape and monkey is somewhat meaningless.

    ‘we are all mammals’

    We certainly are all mammals. I’ve never heard anyone deny that. We’re also animals and eukaryotes. Remember, the theory of evolution doesn’t just describe the diversity of organisms, it also describes the unity.