This conversation was definitely an eye opener. As a Black American, (I prefer to identify as African American, but for clarity), a descendant of slaves brought over to America in the 19th Century, topped with being a resident of the ultimate melting pot otherwise known as Brooklyn for eight years, I definitely didn’t pay much credence to the whole discussion and different cultural experiences of African or First Generation African and how that differs from a Black American. I figured we were all brown, we just cook our rice different and some suck their teeth while others kiss there teeth. Let’s hug it out and revel in how cool each of our cultures are. Clearly, it’s not that easy.
I asked EvelynFromTheInternets to join me in this conversation because she is a first generation Kenyan-American, like Obama. Which means that Evelyn has a great chance of becoming inspirationally famous and being the first Black something of something. Really tho, I asked her to join because I felt as a non-Nigerian she remember the other 53 recognized countries that exist on the continent of Africa and be able to speak to the more universal nuances of that Africans experience in America. Largely, when I’ve heard this discussion it’s been a comparison between middle class Nigerians and hood Black Americans of the WorldStarHipHop variety. I wanted to open the discussion up to more equal ground in hopes of opening up peoples perspectives.
Hopefully Evelyn will do a follow up post on her blog, however I’ll just be covering what I took away from the discussion.
First, I now totally understand why the majority of Black Americans look to avoid this conversation. I had to tuck my feelings in quite a few times as I read comments from women who previously stated that they would love to be friends with me but were now matter of factly stating that they don’t associate with Black Americans because we are lazy, our grades are not good enough, we don’t live or eat like you and generally speaking are not striving for success like you are. I get that a lot gets lost in translation when communicating via text and YouTube comments, but I silently wished that more thought was put into how one addressed their relationship with their Brown cousins.
It gets tiresome trying to defend “your people” because even though Black Americans are culturally diverse, we do not have clear ethnic lines to divide us up. And it’s tactless to lump people together based on class. Africans can hold their cultural pride while waving a flag and even further hold their heads high as they speak of their ethnic group. Nigerians love their green and white, but they also will pride themselves as Igbo or Yoruba, etc., Black Americans don’t have access to that same discourse. I’m from Delaware and what most Black Americans would identify as my differentials (light skin, education, socio-economics, diction) are off putting. So I talk around it, trying to explain that there’s levels to this and I’m not the same as the house of Chief Keef negroes that reside two doors down from me. It’s exhausting and then for many it taps into an insecurity about whether or not we as Black Americans have a culture. Not just hip-hop, Jay-Z and Obama, but a culture of rhythm, music, food, and renaissance. And if we do what do we call it? How do we separate it from the mug shots and grainy security tapes of criminal activities that run on the nightly news or the mug shots and mother’s living in the projects crying at about their drug dealer sons being a good kid on First48? How do we make our history, our nuances tangible? That’s the struggle for Black Americans in the context of this conversation.
I also learned that I was rather unaware of how different the cultural experience was for Africans and even first generation Africans. Figuring out how to hold on to ones cultures while becoming American enough to survive. Dealing with not being All-American enough but no longer being *insert country*-an enough. Straddling the line and defining what is acceptable while each side tells you are not enough. You’re shortcomings are always representative of what you are not enough of, leaving you wondering what you have a right to identify as. Are you allowed to raise your voice up and speak for either side? There are just things, that I as a Black American won’t all the way get and I understand the connection to others who have gone through a similar situation.
Sometimes I see the unity of Africans as threatening, because who do I have to identify with? Especially when folks are able to straddle the line of assimilating to American culture, like joining a Black Greek letter organization, which is seemingly reveling in the history of Black American culture, while readily reminding folks that your #naijasaloneliberianpride community still does it better. As others can talk shit about their ethnic differences but then all come together because ‘we’ just do things different from ‘you’- really meaning we do things better than you, it does feel rather isolating. But in turn an African will tell a story of experiencing a similar feeling from Black Americans who banded together and put them down for being different. Each side experiences it. I just wish there was more unity. More celebration of the diversity of culture. Do you know how great it is when I walked onto Howard’s campus and realized that Black people were diverse? That’s the feeling I wish this conversation would hold. The awe of learning and potentially eating some great food.
I don’t have any profound solution or end response on the relations of African and Black Americans. There is ignorance on both sides. ‘Our people’ who are embarrassing to our cultural collective. Stereotypes that are demeaning and ethnocentric attitudes that are demeaning. Air sucked between teeth as elders refuse to let go of old ideologies. All we can do is continue the conversation, stay opened minded and work towards doing better.
P.S. On why this initial conversation did not include West Indian/Caribbean’s. Cause no one offered me stew chicken or sorrel! On a serious note, I personally, do not see as big a division amongst Black Americans and West Indians. Technically speaking the West Indies is part of North America, and we largely landed on this side of the hemisphere in the same manner although our cultures morphed towards the lands our families settled on. Also there’s been an ongoing exchange between the islands and the USA that did not stop with the importation of slaves. Many historical Black Americans and just folks in general have roots in the West Indies. I do understand that cultural differences exist. But for me it’s the same as a Californian being different from someone from Biloxi, Mississippi. If a young girl moved from the back woods of Biloxi to California, she very likely would be teased and taunted for her different way of speaking and mannerisms – her cultural differences, even though they can all trace their roots back to a similar ground. So anyone coming into America and not landing in NYC, LA or Miami is going to have an interesting time. It’s not just about the relationship amongst the African diaspora but moreo being amongst small minded people in America. If we continue this discussion maybe I’ll bring someone who is West Indian in next time and we can discuss the difference between macaroni pie and mac & cheese.
If you’re African and want to learn more about Black American culture pick up any James Baldwin book.
If you’re Black American and want to understand the experience of Africans in America pick up Chimamanda Adiche’s Americanah.