Some years back I made a resolution to ignore the second half of any sentence that began with the words "We are the only people who..." Almost always the next clause featured some shortcoming of the race and after years spent drenched in the backwaters of Afrocentrism (the patchouli era), I'd had my fill of black specificity.
"We are the only people," came to be an advance warning that I was talking to someone who probably didn't know much about any people other than (a small segment of) black ones. More subtly, an expression of the speaker's fixation on the values of a wider world they both rejected and envied.
I spent the past spring semester teaching African American history at Moscow State University. People tend to toward a common reaction when I mention this. "What was that like?" The inflection hinting that two decades after the end of the Cold War, Russia -- at least in the minds of Americans -- remains foreign in a way that few other places are. There's a lot I could say about that experience but the shorthand version is the we are not the only people.
Half the horror of racism was the creation of a set of artificial specifics about black people, the idea that the trials, problems, shortcomings and quirks of one community are in no way reflective of the general folly of human behavior. And, on some understandable level, it made sense that generations of black folk fought back by forging another set of specifics, equally artificial but like steroids for the self esteem. (This is where the line about Great Kings and Queens in Africa goes.) I needed that at some point -- which is how my middle name came to be Swahili as opposed to "Anthony." But live long enough and you inevitably come to the conclusion that the world is actually bigger than a cotton field.