African-Americans have been depicted as our long lost brothers and sisters in some circles and we love to believe the hype. Stories of Oprah Winfrey being from the Kpelle Tribe in Liberia and Whoopi Goldberg from an ethnic group in Guinea-Bissau excite us. However, does tracing roots to an African Tribe make African-Americans part of us? Do they want to be part of us? Whoopi Goldberg for one seems uninterested as she recently made headlines for saying she was simply “American” and not even African American. The whole dynamic is a complex balancing act. The pressure put on black-Americans is immense; to be just the right amount of African while being American enough to be respected in their home-country. For Africans, the choice is easier; we simply have to be African because that’s all we can and should be.
African Booty Scratchers and the Akata?
Africans and African Americans seem to be on opposite ends of the divide of class. Some Africans who have been to the United States of America feel the most hateful racial slurs have come from fellow blacks. One of the most notorious of these is “African Booty Scratcher”. In Bound: Africans v African Americans, a motion picture produced by Peres Owino, Actor Isaiah Washington of Grey’s Anatomy says, “There will be two people of colour in a class. One African and one African-American. And they will not look at each other.” Another interviewee then adds, “I was called an African Booty Scratcher I don’t even know how many times…Typically, the darker you are the more you get called it.”
Instead of just taking such slurs at face-value, we need to understand where they come from. How do blacks end up hating each other? Tampa poet, James Tokley says, “A lot of us (African Americans) do harbour a lot of hostility toward Africans. Many Africans have no idea what our ancestors endured during slavery.” The answer is therefore the shaky ground on which the United States is built. Slavery is the foundation on which the great edifice that the USA is was built upon and black-Americans feel they deserve apologies not just from the whites but their black brothers who “sold their ancestors off.”
Worse still, blacks who later came to America were known to have better relations with whites as a result of previous encounters with missionaries in Africa. This made them relate with the white man on a more cordial level than the black-American who had been subjected to years of institutionalised torture which remains even to this day. Looking from the outside, this was a betrayal. However, where African-Americans use their own slurs to hurl at Africans, Africans have their own to retort. Some call the black-Americans “Akata” which is a wandering cat. Luvvie Ajayi says, “That word epitomizes the terrible stereotypes that Africans have about African Americans. But many young Africans don’t know what it MEANS.”
The Role of Education
Luvvie Ajayi is a Nigerian and her understanding of the misunderstandings between the two groups stems from the inherent flaws in our education. Her views are that Africans do not know about the black American’s struggle for legitimacy and equality in America to which she even says, “I didn’t know a thing about African Americans being slaves when I was growing up. I thought everyone had a maid and driver like I did.” It might be a fact of most African countries that blacks no longer know the struggle of simply being labelled black. In America, they still have the Black Lives Matter movement to assert their rights in an environment that keeps reminding them that they are not at par with other races.
Some Africans do not know this and the way they connect with African Americans is telling. “Much of the tension between Africans and African Americans exists because we don’t talk enough about our uncomfortable relationship,” Ajayi says. Where Africans are successful in the United States of America, we feel it is the black American’s fault that he is not equally successful. We call the black American an Akata, a wild animal with no cause. Unknowingly, we play right into the hands of the conventional mainstream media. A synergy of African and African American voices is too hard to conquer and mainstream media seeks to highlight the differences in background over blood so as to divide and conquer. African Americans are taught that Africa is nothing more than a primitive backward jungle from where they came while Africans believe African Americans to be a very violent people who always have guns.
Kofi Glover, a Ghanaian political science Professor at the University of South Florida makes an eternally factual conclusion on the matter, saying, “A shared complexion does not equal a shared culture, nor does it automatically lead to friendships. Whether we like it or not, Africans and African-Americans have two different and very distinct cultures.” Though this is true, we have a shared background of repression and disputed legitimacy. This should count for something! African Americans should learn about our wars of liberation as we should also learn about slavery so we appreciate that none of us had it easy.