I am not a happy person, and this unhappiness surely is rooted in the brutality of the lineages which made me. From my paternal to maternal lineages, my elders were the victims, were shaped by or built through the Atlantic slave trade (father’s side)or by the Indian Ocean and Arab slave trades (mother’s side). I do not consider myself a Congolese at all, but rather an African who also happens to be multiracial. I enjoy the idea of Africanness as it incorporates all the various black African lineages I carry. Obsessed with Africa and our history, I could not be any prouder to have so many ties, as tragic as it is, to other African nations, even if this tie is the consequence of the slave trade.
Though aware that I will never have a fixed black African identity, I have learned how to embrace this dysfunction and racial chaos. The various races which made me are real, not fraudulent as many can think of, for unable to understand the concept of multiracial Africanness. I am the descendant of immigrants, enslaved Africans, slave masters, of colonizers but also of slaves who were sold within the African continent. Through my mother’s line, it is difficult for many to understand that a part of my blackness and Africanness comes from the Arab world. There, I descend from both black and white Arabs, but also from black Africans who were Arabized, while not being Arab.
Yet, I have been reduced to my Belgian-Congolese lineage, while the latter was the strict result of a colonial construction, through the concept of the “évolués“.
As we all know, Belgian colonialism in the Congo was extremely barbaric. Worst. Though we heard of the mutilation, cut off hands and feet, murders, and creation of the mixed-breeds who were placed in orphanages by the white institutions, no one really knows about the real extent of Belgian barbarity in Africa. The victims are slowly dying, and unlike the French authorities which, despite their racism, accept to listen to the anger of the descendants of slaves and colonized ones, the white Belgians still despise the black Congolese, do not pay attention to them, and abandon them to a political silence, refusing to tell them exactly about the reality of colonialism. The Belgian institutions want us to die, disappear, suffer and remain crushed for eternity. They hate us.
The specificity of my Belgian-Congolese lineage is that it is totally rooted in the colonial system of the “évolués” or assimilation. The same concept existed in Portuguese Angola and Mozambique as the educated and “civilized” Blacks were known as “assimilados“. If thousands of Congolese migrated to Belgium following the 1960 independence fiasco, the latter had to adapt to the identity and culture of their colonizers who truly despised them. Most of these blacks who fled were locals who came from the Congolese people. Unlike them, while so few people understand this reality for the intellectual limitation of many Congolese immigrants who do not enjoy reading and understanding about their history for nurturing entertainment, music and dance, our lineage had been Belgified in the Congo already, where white priests had not only shaped our lineage, but created it and made it. If I am a third generation immigrant following the immigration of my maternal grandparents, I should rather say that I actually belong to the sixth generation, as our Belgification began as early as the 1910s, in the Mayi-Munena catholic institution in Luluabourg.
It all began on my mother’s lineage, with whom I grew up with since I don’t know much about my father’s family I was never close to. In 1910, my elders were exposed to the missionaries of Coeur Immaculé de Marie, also known as SCHEUT. It was even thought that the Belgians had arrived sooner, around the late 1880s. I do descend from Achielle Demunster who helped shape, build my Belgian-Congoleness.
Consequently, since we had been much more Europeanized for almost a century, discrepancies were visible in my family. We came from the colonial era, while the other members were much younger than my parents and never knew anything from the colonial era. If my elders grew up within the white Belgian institutions which shaped and created them for their own political advancements, we were made to be white people with mixed and black skins. This process of whitewashing was not always applied through racial admixture but through the forced assimilation and manipulation of chosen and elevated black Congolese people who used to live through the Belgian lens, only.
My great-great grandfather, Léon Kankolongo who adopted us, was raised, made and formed by the white priests Belgians to whom he was extremely attached. Mentioned in several books which dated back to the early 20th century, Kankolongo was called the “son of the white priests” by the local Congolese. The Tshiluba that he spoke was not even that of the people, but was based upon the grammar established by the Dutch-speaking Belgians. He rode a byke, lived according to the Belgian lifestyle, and formed his children to follow the same path, including his mixed-race wife. Yet, a conflict erupted.
My great-uncle Albert, light-brown skin, was almost forced by his father to follow into the Catholic and Belgian way. Still, these motivations remained questioned during the debates surrounding independence. Patrice Lumumba was making waves, and conquered more hearts than many could have thought. Around 1954, Albert was sent to Rome to attend classes which would make him a priest. He was one of the first to travel there, in Europe, in the country of some of our Italian forefathers as well, on his mother’s side. Upon returning to Congo in a troubled nation waiting for its independence, Albert fell in love with a woman, Anastasie, who also came from an orphenage and of mixed-race heritage, with whom he fathered a child. As he clarified his situation to the white priests, the latter punished him by sending him in one of the most remote places of Congo. Upset and angry with his unfair treatment, as herenouncied his career as a future priest, Albert revolted, came back to Anastasie and fathered eight more children with her! He was also involved in the political movement of the Congo during and following the independence movement.
The women of my lineage were simply taught to submit, keep a low profile and were said that one’s success could only be achieved through the success of their men. For years, we no longer were Africans from various backgrounds and lineages, but suspended Belgian-Congolese, trapped in a failed independence, brutal colonial legacy, built to be “évolués“.
This colonial construction of my Belgian-Congolese heritage was unfortunately transmitted over the six next generations. There, the idea of success promoted by my elders, including my parents, was tied to white validation. A clear separation from the other blacks who came from lower social backgrounds was also felt. This generation of people born in the late 1940s and the early 1950s, to which my parents belong to, was totally cut off from reality and the evolution of the current of things. Most of them had already been established in Belgium since the 1950s and early 1960s, and the memory of the Congo they knew had vanished as soon as Mobutu came into power. There, while the Congolese from the Congo evolved on their own despite the dictatorship, my elders remained stuck between irrational social codes tied to elitism which were no longer important and their forced exposure to face the issue of uprootedness, hence a violence they tried to hide behind the social elevation granted by the white Belgian institutions.
The other members who were born later were much more tied to the horrible culture of Kinshasa, spoke Lingala, though their roots were in Kasai, where we spoke Tshiluba.From that specificity, a final division was present from my point of view. Though Whites had lumped us all into the same heritage, we were not the same, and did not belong to the same category.
I always despised both the colonial creation of my Belgian-Congolese lineage for the wickedness of its roots, but I also always held great disdain towards the Kinois scene, culture and later Congolese diaspora members. I was always angry with the constant fact of seeing the DR Congo being reduced to the sole culture of Kinshasa, when I came from a Luba Kasaian, Katangan and Bemba Zambian lineage. Though I embrace all my races and mixes, even those which came from the wrong place, I still loathe the limited vision of the Congolese who constantly fail to see the beauty and richness of their people, due to a stupid obsession with the idea of a failed nationalistic approach. The case of the Banyamulenge, or Eastern Congolese amazed me for the beauty of what they represented through their various lineages which blended so greatly prior to the arrival of the colonizers. Yet, due to their racism and limited vision, the Congolese always rejected the black Africans who did not look like them or acted like them. This horrific reality led to the dissimulation of many passionate identities which need to be explored whenever they result from the blending from non-black Congolese and non-Congolese groups.
I am not a Congolese, and not a Belgian. But I belong to this specific era of having been the descendant of uprooted colonial creations, of évolués who were made to oppose the idea of civilization to that of savagery. The obsession of my family for studies did not come from their desire of knowing more, but of remaining attached to a certain level of whiteness. He who thinks, studies remains separated from the lower blacks who belong to the lower classes and from whom no admixture should come to fruition. These same Blacks were totally different from us and did not see us for the Africans we were, since we had been whitewashed, especially mentally.
Though we were built by the Belgians, the reality hit different when my grandparents migrated there officially in the very early 1960s, hence more than sixty years ago. No one cared about our level of education since the Belgians regarded them as simple “niggers, zwarts”. The humilation, racism, disdain, was heavily traumatizing for my mother and her siblings who still suffer from the brutality of rejection. No matter what they did to be fully integrated, it was never enough. Therefore, the violence and barbarity of Belgian colonialism, along with the construction of our lineage through whitewashing and the shock of having been abandoned, rejected and crushed, led to who were are today.
The members of the Black Belgian community, contrary to the Black French, all evolve with the consciousness and spectrum of the violent colonial past we carry like a heavy burden we don’t know how to release. If our parents were conditioned to believe that social elevation meant success, thus whiteness, our generation realized that these ideas were not only false, but that it led us to a total void, so much so that we no longer know where to evolve in the Congolese sphere. We are not Congolese at all, not totally Belgians, but we belong to the specificity of being Belgian-Congolese, heirs to colonialism and violence. It is frequent to meet many unhappy black Belgian-Congolese, whether mixed-race or not, with a very cold vision and state of mind, due to the consequences of history and the spirit of loneliness. This spirit of loss can also be present among the Italian-Belgian community, especially from the Sicilians, Neapolitans who struggled in the mines and who suffered from racial and social rejection.
Yet, despite the struggle of our conception, few documents highlight our improbable conception, in both the mixed-race and black Congolese communities. We endure the constant disdain of being lumped into the same category when our heritages are not similar at all. Worst, the Congolese experience always evolves around that of the Kinois, when they do not represent us at all.
In the end, it is an entire generation which belongs to the middle. To chaos and destruction.
By Victoria “VKY” Kabeya. All Rights Reserved, No Copy Authorized, 2023.