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sp003084Two siblings are living together in harmony – or not. But they’re living in the same house nonetheless. The roots of sibling rivalry often brood within individuals without personal acknowledgement. There is nothing new under the sun. Cain killing Abel is the most extreme historical example of sibling rivalry run amok. Joseph being sold into slavery by his 11 older brothers is another instance in which enmity can exist among bloodlines.

So what exactly is this love-hate relationship between Africans and African-Americans about anyway?

To the outside eye, the relationship is copasetic. Same complexion, same lineage. Check. Same anger towards British colonial forces. Two checks. Same opportunity to be discriminated against due to hue. Trifecta. If one was to examine no further the linkage between the two cultures, then all would be well with the world. But this simply doesn’t hold water. If slavery is the tie that binds Black people together, it can also be the knot that strangles.

Animosity between the “African” slave traders and the traded still lingers. Yet, it is rarely overt. Originally faced with the need for advanced weaponry (read: guns) in their intertribal battles, Africans in the Western region (Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Angola, Tanzania, et. al) shipped their captive “slaves” into nascent North America and South America.

Fast-forward 200 plus years. Blacks are still resentful of whites today. No mystery there, but the other question remains. (Channeling my inner Confucius): Is the friend of your enemy your enemy?

Surely the first wave of American slaves were more resentful of those who traded them than the malevolent slave master. If African-Americans can still loathe white supremacy, they can still hold a twinge of contempt for the Africans left behind, if only because of residue bitterness and misinformation.

Many would laugh at the thought of this, dismissing it as the folly of the immature and unenlightened mind. It would be funny if it wasn’t true.

“What we’ve got here is… a failure to communicate”

In an article entitled “Africans vs. African-Americans” by Tracie Reddick, Kofi Glover, a Ghanaian political science professor at the University of South Florida, further bolstered this point.

“A lot of African-Americans were taught that Africa was nothing more than just a primitive, backward jungle from whence they came,” Glover said. “Our perception of African-Americans is that they are a race of people who carry guns and are very, very violent.” A snippet of this viewpoint was enunciated by Soulja Boy Tell Em last October. Asked by Toure of which historical figure he most loathed, the Mississippi native ended up espousing the “benevolence” of slave masters, stating that “without them we’d still be in Africa”. He uttered this as if Africa was an undesirable place to live. If this is a common notion among Americans, then there is no wonder as to why the chasm between Africans and African-Americans exists.

A common complaint about Africans from African-Americans is the air of superiority held: They just think they are better than us. This, of course, is a misnomer. This “arrogance” is nothing more than one group’s insecurity combined with another group’s sense of purpose. I have a few close friends who are first-generation American (parents came from Africa)… and they are not lacking on assurance. It’s a different mindset over there. One of my Nigerian friends routinely tell me:

1) That “native” Blacks in America play the race card too much.
2) That we don’t take advantage of the many opportunities over here.
3) That we feel sorry for ourselves way more than we should.

Different world views… who is to say which is right? One sees the opportunities in the U.S. as chicken salad. The other see it chicken manure. But the chicken salad group wasn’t around to experience what the chicken manure crowd did (which is another point of contention between the two siblings).

Familial systems, which invariably affect attitudes about work and family, are also completely different between the two groups. African societies did function in egalitarian systems, but in a totally divergent manner in which African-Americans do in the States. Families in Africa raise their children to sharpen their wits, go to America or Europe, receive your education and then come back to help your family. To them, there is no better paradise to cure social ills and status than to “steal” the knowledge of the best training grounds in the world. Education is the cure-all in their world (Nigerians, for instance, are the highest educated ethnic group in the nation. According to the Census Bureau, 37% of the Nigerians in the U.S. hold a Bachelor’s degree, compared with 17% for other groups).

And therein lies the major difference between the two sects: The application of one’s effort toward success in higher academia. The Immigration and Nationality Act made it easier for Africans to enter the United States, but mainly as students or highly skilled professionals (Think Barack H. Obama Sr.). The culture of many African nations place a premium on education because it provides a level playing field. To them, academia is the elixir that propels social ascension.

Among many African-Americans, an elixir to life’s problems tend to center on more primitive talents. The value of education is replaced by the ephemeral careers of entertainment and athletics, much to the ire of Africans, who undoubtedly see a pool of squandered potential through this single-minded pursuit. The accretion of riches is very high on the priority list of both groups, but one group has better examples of scholarly excellence than the other group. (But even among African-American families with erudite scholars, offspring tend to follow in their academic footsteps. So it’s not an innate predisposition; the lack of focus on education is a learned trait.)

Many African-Americans are brought up in environs that denigrate education as uncool: The better you do in school, the more white you act and the more undesirable you are to be around. Speaking correct grammar, participating in debate clubs and class discussions and studiousness is seen as social suicide. Nobody wants to be ostracized in their formative years so therefore, the majority complies. This is the culture in which people like yours truly had to fight against. This is a culture that greatly exacerbates the gap between African-Americans and Africans, as well as achievement.

However, in recent years there have been signs of tremendous improvement within the siblings’ relationship, the recent presidential election being an example. Barack Obama’s lineage went unacknowledged by African-Americans because he is still one of us. It didn’t matter than his father was Kenyan. Looking further back, the police-inflicted murder of Guinea native Amadou Diallo provoked outrage from Africans and Americans alike. But who voiced it their dissent the loudest? African-Americans.

Current experiences of discrimination in the United States and abroad can often serve as a bridge between the two groups because racial inequality is a problem that all black people face. What was once two worlds divided by bodies of water and customs has now become more merged through globalization and time. If there was massive beef between the two groups – the slave merchants and the slaves – then now is prime opportunity for a reunion. Though the world is far from Pangaea, immigration over the years has certainly made pushed blacks more closer to oneness.

Brothers are brothers, even if one sold the other into years of physical and psychological bondage eons ago. Just as historical examples of sibling betrayal are rampant, forgiveness and understanding is too. The power of blood is transcendent and a Kenyan-blooded U.S. president recently provided a discussion point for that. Hopefully that won’t be where the discussions end, because in some respects, the conversation is just now getting started.

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  • Africans v African Americans has been sorta a taboo topic for years. Though all my relationships are healthy and loving with my friends who are African. All I can say is this article needs to be published all over the web where this conversation is going on.

    Zet, this has got to be one of my favorite top three Zettler articles!

  • Great attempt at bridging the gaps, beginning the conversations,and setting the stage for the much needed reunion!

    Excellent piece-

  • ceecee

    You’ve essentially hit the nail on the head – failure to communicate. And believing stereotypes about each other, it is so divisive.