Why is there a divide between African and African Americans?
Is there a divide between African Americans and Africans in the United States? Yes, there is, but first I want to clarify the distinction between what it means to be African American and what it means to be African in a purely social context. African American s are American citizens who are descendants of slaves while Africans are the people who immigrated to America from Africa. This is something that has always interested me because I have observed the divide between Africans and African Americans who have distinct cultures and ways of life that differentiate them. As an African immigrant myself I have been curious about this divide between African and their American counterparts. Both separate ethnic groups are both considered black in racial terms so one would think they would easily get along and have a sense of togetherness. The question though is what is the cause of the divide between them and why is it relevant in today’s social conversation. I see trends on social media talking about the differences and similarities between the two and I’ve listened to heated debates about the topic. Some people believe that there is a divide between them and that it’s African’s fault while some believe that it’s the African American’s fault. I want to explore both sides of the argument and examine how both sides contribute to the conversation. How has the narrative been spun in recent years? What difference does it make? And why did both sides of the conversation come to the conclusions they came to? In doing so I hope to shed some light and how both ethnicities feel about the divide with their counterparts and hopefully come to a consensus on the cause of our disparities.
African Americans and Africans have had very different experiences through the decades that differentiate them from each other, from slavery and the civil rights movement to colonization and the fight for independence. My first source is an article titled “The Social Distance Between Africans and African Americans’’ written by a Nigerian Journalist Ohimai Amaize. In this article Amaize analyzes what he considers to be the reason for the social distance between the two ethnic groups, “American popular culture”. According to the article the disconnect is majorly because of slavery and how it severed African American ties to Africa. The article quotes Phillip Gay a sociology professor at San Diego State University in the Los Angeles times where he says. “The overwhelming majority of black Americans are, at the very least, six or seven generations culturally removed from Africa”. In the article Amaize also quotes Nigerian-born scholar Tunde Adeleke where he says that “slavery accomplished the total destruction of the ethnic identity of African-Americans”. Amaize highlights several studies by reputable academia both African and non-African where they consider the American society to be at fault for the disconnect. The article talks about how African Americans were constantly separated from their roots by American society starting with the changing of their names to the constant stereotyping being reinforced that Africa was less than it is. They blame the stereotypes that have been reinforced in American society and the lack of proper African representation in American media. The article talks about the overwhelmingly bad representation of Africa in the movie “Coming to America ‘’ and its sequel “Coming 2 America”. And although the article majorly blames American popular culture for the disconnect the article also cites the reason why Africa as well faces a disconnect with African Americans majorly because of the negative portrayal of African Americans in American media which is consumed all over Africa. Altogether, the article does a good job of relaying its points to its audience and is a unique insight to the reasoning for the African, African American divide.
My second source is a podcast called “lemonade by lemons” episode 3 titled “Secure the tribe?”. In the podcast the speaker talks about the “secure the tribe” hashtag which was recently trending on social media. The hashtag was popularized by an African American media personality Tariq Nasheed who created the hashtag to talk about how African immigrants are taking jobs from African Americans. In the podcast the speaker talks about how she believes Africans are at fault for the divide between Africans and African Americans. The speaker talks about slavery and the civil rights movement and how African Americans have been through horrendous ordeals in the fight for their freedom while Africans just immigrate to the country that African Americans made safe for black people. She says “the rights that Africans enjoy in America are because of black people (African American)”. She also talks about how she believes Africans to be lazy and cowardice for not fighting for their country and instead running away to America. The speaker who has been living in Nigeria for the past 7 to 10 years praises African Americans and says that “African Americans signify courage, the courage that Africans do not have”. The speaker brings up several protests that Africans started but eventually gave up that all sum up to them not fighting for their country. The speaker uses this podcast to call out Africans who she believes are entitled and do not have the right to jobs in America because they are immigrants. She berates Africans for not fighting their leaders to help their country but rather running away. The speaker then argues that after the hardships that African Americans have been through, they will not easily cozy up to African immigrants coming to the country they already made safe for themselves. In summary she blames the divide on Africans and their entitlement to African American jobs. Even though the speaker’s insights may be biased she adds a distinctive voice to the larger conversation of the topic.
In my third source which is an article written by Sierra Leone immigrant, Jacob Conteh titled “How African-American s and African Immigrants Differ”. In this article Conteh highlights the difference between African immigrants and African Americans. He gives a unique perspective to the African immigrant experience where he talks about how most Africans are not eager to participate in political rallies or civil right protests here in America which is something African Americans have been known to actively engage in. According to the article the major cause of the divide is “deep misconceptions, sometimes fueled by the U.S. media.”, where Africans tend to believe African Americans are lazy and violent and African Americans tend to believe that Africans are backward and primitive. Although the article tries to place the blame for the divide on American media, Conteh unfairly targets African American s by saying that they tend to blame everything on slavery which is a major part of the shaping of the African American identity. Conteh also throws shade at African Americans by giving backhanded compliments to Africans like when he says “African immigrants know who they are ‘’ indirectly implying that African Americans don’t know who they are. In the article Conteh offers some fair criticism of African Americans but never for Africans. He may not say it out right but his article tries to blame African Americans for the divide. He gives the problems that African Americans have with Africans like their lack of participation in civil rights matters and their respect for white Americans and somewhat justifies those African traits but never criticizes them which can make this article seem like it is targeting African Americans. Overall, the article does provide a unique view on the matter, shedding light on the differences between these two groups while also giving reasoning behind those differences that add to the larger conversation of the divide between African Americans and Africans.
My last source, a YouTube video about African American perspective on Africa and Africans, discusses the way the media has portrayed Africa and how it affects the perspective of African Americans on Africans. The host goes to the streets of America and asks several young African Americans their perspective on Africa and we see them talking about the first things that come to their mind when they think of Africa like “dry, desert, hot, dark skin people”. The host asks these young African Americans what they think of Africa in regards to how the media portrays them and we hear them talking about how Africa has been portrayed very negatively in the media. One man talks about how his grandparents still think of Africa as primitive and behind the times. Another woman talks about how she had to look outside of the media and what was being taught in school to really learn about Africa. The host then shows these people pictures of the beauty in Africa that would not likely be shown in the media and asks how their perspective would change if these pictures were shown more in the media and their response goes to show that the media plays a major part in how Africans are viewed by African Americans. In the beginning of the video, we hear from a recent African immigrant who says people ask him a lot of questions about Africa that are weird and strange that goes to show the ignorance about Africa that goes unchecked in America. He also talks about the way African Americans are also portrayed negatively in the media and how different they were when he got to this country. This video depicts the media as the main source of African American and African disparities and shows that a positive portrayal of both groups would go a long way to reduce the chasm between them.
Considering all this information I think it is safe to conclude that there are clearly many disparities between African and African Americans and the blame for these differences should not be thrown at each other. Both groups need to better understand the other in order to understand their differences and possibly grow past it.
Source 1: Amaize, Ohimai. “The “Social Distance’’ between Africa and African-Americans.” JSTOR, JSTOR, 14 July 2021, https://daily.jstor.org/the-social-distance-between-africa-and-african-americans/. Accessed 10 April 2022.
Source 2: “lemon by lemonade.” podcast discussing the hashtag “secure the tribe”. Episode 3, Secure the Tribe?, 30 January 2022, https://open.spotify.com/episode/7pgZH3sgqO1mNYD8mfa3Dt
Source 3: Conteh, Jacob. “How African-Americans and African Immigrants Differ.” The Globalist, 16 November 2013, https://www.theglobalist.com/african-americans-african-immigrants-differ/. Accessed 13 April 2022.
Source 4: African Americans on Africa.” YouTube, uploaded by Name of Summer J. Robinson, URL. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRZwwtEfsh0&t=124s