A Divide We Can Conquer
There was a time when I used to get so upset and highly offended each time someone called me an akata. It pained because it came from people that looked like me, whom I shared so much with, but I did not exactly come in the package they expected. I felt I needed to be defensive and prove how “Nigerian” I was because my African American identity was seen as a blight. On the flip side, African Americans made me feel like I shouldn’t be too “African”—the food I ate, the clothes I wore, and the music I listened to were different and were target objects of ridicule.
The divide between Continental Africans and African Americans is an age-old conversation that to my excitement and dismay is still a hot topic. When I first started my platform, Akata Girl Chronicles, I was nervous because I was one, being purposefully salacious with the name and knew people would count me out for “reclaiming” it. Secondly, I knew neither side of the conversation was going to like what I had to say. In spite of this nervousness, what I am about to say needs to be said-- Everyone is being ignorant to some degree.
The divide between African and African Americans comes from one direct source— White Supremacy. If this is not the basis of the conversation, then quite frankly we should not be having it. And to be very clear, I am not talking about the stereotypical redneck racist or the “blame it on the man” mentality. I am speaking of the historical effects which the European colonizers have had on both Africans and African Americans alike. Colonialism, Imperialism, and Chattel Slavery have had the same effects on us across the board; stolen culture, enforced foreign languages and have put many of us (diaspora and continental) in a position of relying on western traditions and religions to adapt and assimilate to for protection and resources.
Images and stereotypes have been created about both sides and carried out intentionally and unintentionally by both. African Americans have teased me about my African roots, made references to living in huts, and insulted my heritage and culture. And prior to Black Panther, it was something to be ashamed of and/or diluted. Typically, only celebrated at home and shared amongst the communities which black immigrants created for themselves. I used to be so offended until I realized the imagery/narrative that had been pushed in American media and society. It is the image that Africa is dirty, disease-ridden, stricken with poverty and “third worldly”. Meanwhile, Africans and black immigrants alike pick up on the stereotypes that African Americans are lazy, mostly criminal, wild with little or no morals, “ratchet”—again stereotypes that have been generated from white-controlled mass media with no context of institutional or systemic racism that creates and upholds these narratives. Yes, we are different, our cultures, though manipulated to a degree, should be respected and honored.
Growing up hearing a confusing mix of the two from both sides from my family and peers has inspired me to delve into the historical context of these warring narratives. How did we come to think this way about each other, and why is it so hard to let it go? I have summarized below at least 3 solutions to bringing us closer and creating a stronger black united front on the issue:
Read and study African and African American scholars: They say that the easiest way to enslave a people is to stripe them of their knowledge of themselves and dilute their culture. Reading and watching lectures help us reconnect to who we ALL are. Suggestions would be to either read the works of or listen to lectures from Amos Wilson, Ibram x. Kendi, John Henrik Clarke, and other prominent Pan-Africanist, African American scholars.
Join/donate to/volunteer with a black organization: Volunteering yourself and joining an organization that is doing the work that you want to see in your community is the best start to understanding both sides of our culture. I have been volunteering with the National Black United Front for about a year now, and I have gained relationships, lessons and insightful perspectives on not only African American culture but also African culture that is often forgotten among us and principles which we ought to stand by. Human connection is a core solution because it is innate to us as humans. It brings us together, thereby affording us the opportunities of understanding one another, respecting our culture and connecting the missing dots.
Cut out the comparison; it is unnecessary: Understand that there is no need for this divide and comparison. We all know the atrocities and continued African countries have been ravished by colonialism and imperialism to the point of civil wars, uncontrolled resources, and corruption. Coming to the US and gaining degrees, accolades and wealth are great, but it’s unfortunate that these opportunities are not available in the very countries we are so proud to come from. So if you think you come from a stance that racism hasn’t touched us because of our African heritage, I implore you to think again. Leave emotions at the door and focus on understanding, learning, and ultimately uniting.
On a final note: addressing white supremacy and calling it out does not make anyone a “victim” or “weak” or “stuck in the past”. It is not about hating white people or non-black poc; it is simply telling the truth. It is being conscious of that truth and making the decision to speak it. The truth about what happened and what continues to happen if we do not say it plain. I am grateful for platforms like Stuck in the Middle for opening the floor. I hope to continue the conversation and so much more on upcoming podcast episodes of Akata Girl Chronicles.