When Did We Stop Being African?

The fact that people who attach race, people who disregard other people’s race and disregard ethnicity, strictly for nationality when they see a black person and say, “That person’s not black, he’s Cuban.” By that logic, I mean that’s like me saying, “I’m not black, I’m American.” ...It just doesn’t make any sense
— Carlos Williamson, Black American/Afro-Brazilian

Black Americans have had an undeniable influence on American and International culture. Despite our influence, it seems there is a break within the diaspora: Africans and other members of the diaspora seem to look down on us and our culture because of how the white media portrays it on television. We may be portrayed as stereotypes or seen as a minstrel show to boost ratings. When I hear Black brothers and sisters throughout the diaspora speak of Black Americans, I hear the words “ghetto,” “ignorant” or “cultureless.” These opinions are based on media depictions and a lack of knowledge about Black American history and our struggle to recreate and maintain our culture in the face of oppression and purposeful efforts to strip it from us.

This is not meant to reprimand Africans or other members of the diaspora, but I think there needs to be a conversation about this disconnect.  Perceiving our positions in the diaspora differently could mean that Africans simply don’t view Black Americans as authentically African. But this poses the question: When did we stop being African?

Sometimes when interacting with other members of the diaspora, I feel like I’m at home. There is a feeling of shared history.  At other times, I can be made to feel inadequate because Diasporans bring up the argument that Black Americans don’t have a culture. Just the other day I was asked “Are you Caribbean?” and when I responded “no”, the person said “Oh, you’re just American? Never mind.

I think we can unify by not singling out who is who and who is what. It’s okay to know that, but don’t say, “No, I’m not black, I’m Afro-Caribbean.” Just be like, I know who you are, I know what your background is, but we’re still all the same. We all look the same, we all talk the same, and we’re going to get treated the same way. There’s no reason for you to try to single each other out amongst ourselves.
— Marcea Lewis, Black American/of Bahamian Ancestry

When discussing the differences between our cultures, I have heard the argument that unlike Black people from the continent and the Caribbean, Black Americans don’t know from whence they come. This argument doesn’t make sense because Caribbean Blacks also have derive from a slave history -- a history that also stripped them of some knowledge of their pre-slave culture(s) in Africa. Others just define them as only having strictly a Caribbean culture.

And just like Black Americans, other members of the Diaspora manufactured a culture culled from their distinctly African ancestry in an effort to define themselves. It’s okay to have pride in your nationality, but the problem comes when a hierarchy is created. 

The divide in our relationship is not solely attributable to other members of the Diaspora. Black Americans also need to educate ourselves about Africa and the diaspora. We also stereotype and judge Africans and other Black people based on a lack of understanding and education about the diaspora. A false image is upheld of the continent as a desolate land. Derogatory names, such as African booty scratcher, have been thrown around because some people reject what they don’t know.

There are many times throughout history where members of the Diaspora put aside national differences and came together to collectively battle local oppressors. Such international efforts as the Pan-African movement, the Civil Rights Movement, and fight against apartheid in South Africa knew no borders. Without the benefit of social media, members of the Diaspora were once united in struggles around the globe. It is odd that at a time when technology makes it easier than ever to connect, we find ourselves rent asunder by geography and misplaced feelings of cultural superiority. The truth is, in the midst of the modern day Civil Rights Movement, we need each other more than ever.

Posted on November 18, 2015 .