Misconceptions: Healing the Divide Within the African Diaspora
Can we do away of these misconceptions and commentary?
Some of my favorite moments are when I'm a part of a group of African Americans and Africans who are meeting for the first time. It's always moving to witness the narrowing of the divide. And while it puts a smile on my face to see these exchanges, these and other conversations often reveal how much we still do not know each other. Then there are the general comments that we sometimes make to each other in person or on the Internet, that can just be downright hurtful, offensive and divisive.
I'd like to share some of the common misconceptions and destructive commentary that many continental Africans and African Americans have about each other.
This post is written out of love.
To continental Africans
- Your perceptions of African Americans may be severely skewed due to television and other forms of entertainment media. Many of us are trying to change this portrayal.
- We wish you wouldn't call us terms meaning “white person”. It’s incredibly offensive and hurtful. And as Jill Scott said, "there’s nothing wrong with being White, but I’m not."
- Many of us understand your frustrations with American foreign policy. Understand that we too are often frustrated with our government. Many African Americans are also anti-American. As people of African descent we are still fighting for justice in this land that our ancestors were forcibly brought to. You can be angry with the U.S. but don’t make the mistake of lumping the entire African American community into your gripes. We are not the enemy.
- Don’t make light or make fun of the fact that we don’t have a tribe to identify with. Understand that it would mean so much to us to know our lineage like you do. However, some of us have actually traced our lineage by having an African Ancestry DNA test done.
- Many African Americans want to visit and even move to Africa. Yet, we know the centuries apart have made us different in so many ways. So please be welcoming when we genuinely try to feel our way into a long lost home or adjust to life on the continent.
- A large number of African Americans do NOT use the N-word. And don't assume that it's okay to call someone that. This is due to it’s historical implications or it may just not be something we grew up hearing or using often.
- Not all African Americans grew up in the inner city. Many of us grew up in the suburbs, as I did. I can remember one day where an old blog post of mine was shared in a Namibian run Facebook group. The first thing some Namibians who disagreed with my post said was that I was probably from 'the hood'. I didn't consider that an insult - my best friend has lived in the Bronx all her life and my mother was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. But why was the automatic assumption that me, the African American, just must be from the inner city?
- Many African Americans enjoy music from around the African continent and are excited to discover it! Thank god for Youtube and you all for uploading.
- Many African Americans are not fans of hip hop or popular culture. Black music in the States is also extremely diverse. Many of us enjoy classics from decades ago, or newer, less mainstream artists. Or old school soca from the Caribbean. Some of us don’t even enjoy the music of... (gasps) Beyonce, Rihanna or Drake. Please don’t judge all African Americans through the lens of hip hop and mainstream pop culture.
- There are so many African Americans who are not ignorant about the African continent. In the U.S. you can actually get a bachelors, masters or PhD in subjects like African studies at Howard University (my alma mater) for example. And many of us choose to do this despite the limited job opportunities in this field. So many African Americans do not believe what the western media portrays about the continent.
- I'm willing to bet a large portion of Africans Americans know Africa is not a country. It’s cute to keep pushing this commentary but seriously - we get it.
- Stop speaking about 'Americans’ as if we are a monolith. We’re just as disgusted by George W. Bush and the lack of repercussions as you are. Many African Americans are even disappointed in President Obama. Many of us were supporters of Gaddafi.
- African Americans are a very proud people. We have crafted a rich culture and history from what was ripped from us in the face of continued adversity.
- There are many African Americans who have never and would never make fun of your accent or culture. They actually want to learn all about your culture and would love for you to take them back home for a visit! Any of u who make jokes were likely children, and roasting culture is real in Black America. Please don't hold this over the entire Black American community.
To African Americans
- No, not all Africans grew up in rural areas. There is nothing wrong with rural areas, but many didn’t grow up there.
- Many Africans wish you wouldn’t make fun of their mastery of the English language. Remember, it’s often their third and fourth language.
- But even if English is the third or fourth language for someone, don’t be surprised if their mastery of the English language is better than yours.
- There are many African women who revel in their complexion and hair texture. Millions of African women would never dream of using skin lightening products. And did you know that there are natural hair movements growing all over the continent? Like this one held in Ivory Coast last year.
- Don’t assume that all African females are marginalized. I constantly come across many strong and empowered African women.
- There are beautiful African families all over the continent. There are men actively being fathers and yes, being faithful to their spouses.
- Don’t automatically associate the continent’s leaders with corruption. At least do some research outside of the mainstream western media.
- Don’t underestimate or automatically feel pity for children who currently live or grew up in rural areas. Media imagery might make you think these children are wanting for so much, but that’s not necessarily the case. The brilliance and contentedness of Namibian village children that I’ve met will slap any stereotypes you’ve had out the window.
- There is an assumption that all Africans want to live in the U.S. This simply isn't true. Many are happy with staying right in their home country or would rather emigrate to somewhere other that the States.
- Don't get caught up in Internet commentary about how Africans supposedly hate African Americans and vice versa. I’m willing to bet that if you visit an African country you’ll be overwhelmingly warmly welcomed on the continent.
- Don’t be frightened into not visiting the continent by the western media spins. I know of Americans who were afraid to visit Namibia because of the Ebola crisis in parts of WEST Africa. Some people cite terrorism in portions of Nigeria as a reason not to visit the entire country. All I can say is that you will truly miss out on the greatness this vast continent has to offer.