A flyer popped up on my news feed inviting Black Houston residents to a forum discussing the divide between Black Americans and Black Africans. I don’t know what sort of wiretapping equipment Facebook has, but I was just having a parallel conversation with a friend the other day. Excitedly I sent her a screenshot of the event followed by an invitation to join me. She was less than enthusiastic but that didn’t deter me one bit. I was going and we were going to figure this out once and forreal. Being born to an American parent and a Nigerian parent has often made me feel compelled to choose “a side”, inadvertently causing me to avoid the subject all together. But this time, I was going to speak my piece and I hoped others would too. The rift between Black Americans and Black Africans had somehow stood the test of time. Essentially with no validity to cling to, both parties had resorted to the regurgitation of meaningless falsehoods as the backing for their discontent. And make no mistake, there is discontent. Being the product of an Intercultural marriage has exposed me to the worst of both sides. At times, causing me to both love and hate the duality of my identity. Either way, I was going to this forum, I was going to let my voice be heard and I was going to be on the ride side of change. How naive was I? After 3.5 hours of finger pointing and who said what’s, we all filed out of that hall feeling every bit of frustration. “If only they would just apologize”, you could hear people mumbling among themselves, “this is why we don’t get along now!” Was it though? Did anybody actually know why the divide existed? Sure, it didn’t seem like we had any issues personally upholding the divide but with two communities functioning continents apart, how had such a divide come to exist in the first place? The more I investigated the more I understood why there would likely be no solution. Not because a fix wasn’t warranted but because it’s difficult to create peace when you’ve only inherited chaos. And black people, globally, have inherited more than their fair share of chaos.
There’s often a propensity to hush the discussion of ethnocentricism among global black communities. For many of us, that term doesn’t even ring a bell. Ethnocentrism in sociological terms is the belief in the inherent superiority of ones own culture, something both sides are guilty of. But from the perspective of an American citizen, we’d be remiss to pretend ethnocentrism and nativism don’t play a huge role in our less than welcoming attitudes toward Black outsiders. Prejudicial attitudes towards immigrants and their cultures have been prominent in the United States since late US President James Polk championed the phrase “Manifest Destiny”. While we’d like to believe as Black Americans, that we’ve remained immune to the philosophical ailments of our oppressor, some of our behaviors are riddled with contagion. Even now as we watch thousands of immigrant children being ripped from their parents at US borders, not all of us are on the humane side of this issue. Some going so far as to say “I’m not fighting for anybody who don’t fight for me”, as if a cage full of 4 year olds secretly hoard the solution to white supremacy.
Truthfully, our Eurocentric conditioning doesn’t allow us to recognize the community in other Black people, even as it applies to our fellow Black Americans. While the slightest blip is enough to proclaim “nah I don’t fck with them Africans, they don’t like black people”, centuries of oppression haven’t been enough for us to apply the same totality to police officers, or politicians or white people in general. Our conditioning demands that we seek out the glimmer of good that white people possess, if only we afforded each other the same luxury. Truthfully, the many Black African immigrants who arrive in this country seeking a better life aren’t traveling 7,000 miles across the Atlantic for the purpose of stealing opportunities from Black Americans. It’s a fully European frame of mind to even think such a thing, which is convenient considering that the real hoarders of opportunity is this country are of European decent.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 9.4% of the foreign-born labor force is Black, while Hispanics account for 47.9% and Asians, 25.2%. Still pales in comparison to the native-born labor force, which is 72.3% White and only 12.2% Black American. Some of the other falsehoods used to justify this divide include nonsense like African immigrants go to college for free, get free money from the government just for arriving on US soil, and have access to business loans that Black Americans do not. It’s 2018 and white kids cant even go to college for free in this country, anyone who believes African immigrants can is seriously misguided. And outside of the stereotypical “Those African ladies in the braid shop we’re talking shit about me in African”, there is no legitimate cause for angst from Black Americans to Black Africans, so how do we rectify a problem with no real underlying issue?
Make no mistake, continental Africans are equally at fault in the deterioration of this relationship. No, I’m not talking about their rumored participation in the slave trade and if we still buy the notion that West Africans were basically running a global eBay for slaves then we’ve been misled. This narrative created by pro-slavery historians and politicians has been debunked time and time again. In fact, hundreds of thousands of Africans died trying to put an end to the kidnapping of African men, women and children. Make no mistake, slavery was not a “trade”, it was robbery and genocide. With that said, African immigrants are guilty of judging Black Americans based on beliefs and convictions belonging to various African cultures that do not apply to Black American culture. For instance, a common criticism is that Black American men abandon their children in excessively high rates which is something African men aren’t known for doing. And while this is true on its face, black Americans can’t be evaluated based on the standards of a culture they don’t belong to. The same goes for criticisms of academic performance, familial structure and professional advancement or collective lack thereof. While continental Africans have faced countless atrocities over the centuries, including to this day, their history of trauma in the United States is fairly new. Meaning discussions about the shortcomings of African Americans must be had with special consideration for African American history in this country. Criticisms labeling black Americans as lazy, unmotivated and aggressive are made without proper context and as if stereotypical black American behavior is exhibited in a vacuum. A people who built an entire country could never be lazy. I don’t care if they took the rest of their lives off. Granted, traveling 6,000 miles just to attend an American university can lead you to question the motivation of a Black American who drives past that same university every day without so much as a lick of interest. But being subject to the long arm of white supremacy every single day can make admissions to that same university seem completely out of reach. There’s an undeniable arrogance when it comes to being an African born African. Africans are literally raised to believe that there is nothing better than being African. Black Americans are literally raised to believe the opposite. Even some going as far as to thank white supremacy for freeing them from the horrors of being born in Africa. I mean, have you seen National Geographic? Slavery had to have been better than that. There is no doubt that the affects of slavery have distorted the way many Black Americans view Africa in general. How can a people who are working out from under a sense of cultural shame connect to a people with an unending sense of cultural pride? They can’t. Because their pride stems from the very thing you’ve been conditioned to hate about yourself. And if you hate yourself, you’ll undoubtedly hate anyone who resembles you. And because many Africans associated Black Americans with self loathing, there’s an underlying concern that Black Americans pose a threat to Africans and African culture. In fact, we witnessed this in 1847 when a group of emancipated Black Americans cooperated with white philanthropists and clergyman in order to organize mass repatriation to Liberia, West Africa. Once there, Black Americans immediately instituted a systemic hierarchy that mirrored European cultural supremacy. Yes, freed Black Americans moved to Liberia and oppressed indigenous Africans. Denying them the rights to vote, own land, and hold positions of power within the government. Creating a caste system based on complexion, native tongue and nationality, using Christianity as a means of “civilizing the wild” and killing countless others in manufactured civil war. Forcing fleeing Liberians to hide out in caves for years, resorting to cannibalism to survive. It is not our birthplace alone that causes some Africans to distrust Black Americans, many distrust us for the same reasons we distrust one another. Our complexions are only a result of our shared genetic markers, but that means nothing when our allegiances are purely European.
I had high hopes for this open forum on repairing the global black relationship. I sat intently waiting for the light bulb to come on but that never happened. We never came to a resolution for healing the divide because it simply wasn’t possible. In order to heal the divide it would require that we first healed ourselves and I saw nothing but broken people in that room. People who donned dashikis to an event about resolving discourse but joked about the room “smelling funny” as a result of the Africans in attendance. People who scoffed at the idea of Black Americans still needing to heal from the affects of slavery but freely used the term “nigga”. If solutions are built into problems, then at some point we need to be honest with the fact that we are all a part of this problem, and only then can we resolve the discourse within ourselves that would have us view any of our brothers and sisters as our enemy. If you’re a black American who dislikes black Africans, then you are a part of this problem. If you’re a black African who dislikes black Americans, then you too are a part of this problem. And before I engage in repetitive dialogue surrounding who called who lazy and who called who an “African booty scratcher”, I’ll call everyone to task on acknowledging one simple truth, we cannot put out a fire when we ourselves are the fans to the flame.