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Divided by Culture

Will Anyu - Program Coordinator for the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions

Akata – a word regularly used to describe American-born African Americans – is a descriptor I heard on a daily basis growing up. Without any additional context, I never understood what the word meant. I remember asking my aunt the meaning of this word and her response was simply, “It’s just how Africans refer to Black Americans.” But in fact, similar to the provocative ‘N’ word, it is a term used to speak negatively about African Americans. The strife between Africans (individuals who are one generation or less removed from the continent) and African Americans (individuals who trace their roots back to American slavery) is an issue that I have battled with for the majority of my life. I vividly recall being asked questions such as, “Does your family live in huts? Have you ever fought a tiger or lion? Do you practice voodoo?” and other outrageous questions similar to this while growing up in America. Though this was very troubling, I always attributed such banter as childhood ignorance and the lack of cultural incompetence.

 The 'Of One Blood' Project

The 'Of One Blood' Project

Similar to double consciousness, a term coined by Dr. W.E.B. Dubois that describes an individual whose identity is divided into several facets, I felt that my identity had to be divided between being African and African American. To further explain, I grew up in a Cameroonian household with a Cameroonian mother who cooked Cameroonian dishes and taught me Cameroonian values. But on the flipside, many of my experiences outside my home included my African American friends and the influence of their everyday cultural norms. This led me to struggle with defining my identity. It took me several years to truly fall in love with who I am and how both cultures attributed to the individual I decided to become.

 The 'Of One Blood' Project

The 'Of One Blood' Project

In 1712, a slave owner by the name of Willie Lynch wrote a letter titled, “The Making of a Slave,” to illustrate to slave owners how to keep slaves obedient by dividing them by color, sex, strength, and intelligence. Parallel to this letter, Africans, and Black Americans have been divided not only by the Atlantic Ocean but also by culture, ideologies, and arguably – systematic racism. There is a multitude of reasons why both cultures feel the other is inferior, but in my opinion, we are all one. It is our human duty to love one another and work toward helping one another reach our greatest potential set forth by God. In his prolific “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King proclaimed, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” and in this same manner, I hope that one day all people from the diaspora can live in a world where we are not judged by our cultural backgrounds, but by the content of our characters.

Watch Will Anyu Speak on "THe African & African American Experience, Charlottesville, Racism & More on SitMpodcast. 

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