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Reading through Demetria Lucas’ ‘Not African Enough for Africa,’ prompted a few questions for me as an African woman. What exactly does being African mean? Is it a cultural thing? A color thing? Why do African Americans believe they would feel at home in Africa despite having no tangible link to the continent?

As I read through the comments it was obvious, that to a lot of African Americans, Africa is a vital piece of the identity puzzle. And I get it.

Think about it for a minute. Many Black Americans have often identified as African first and an American later. So, it makes sense that they would expect acceptance in Africa, especially since their existence in America has been difficult.

African Americans were not willing visitors to America. You were torn away from what you knew to help grow a foreign economy and were never compensated for your labor. Even now, despite your contributions, you are not really welcome, and everyday there is another reminder that you are not the same.

Add to that the fact that Marcus Garvey’s Back to Africa movement made returning to the continent seem like the solution to the problems affecting Blacks in the Diaspora. In Africa, you would never be ‘the other’.  You would be fully accepted and embraced for you were once again the majority. And while things did not go quite as planned, many African Americans passed that idea down through generations. Africa became a place where you would not be the other, not a minority. It became a place where nearly everyone looked like you. You would not have to be stopped because you were black, get tagged with the Angry Black woman stereotype because no one would notice….seeing as everyone was just as black as you.

Unfortunately, the reality—as Lucas pointed out—is very different. Skin color is not enough to make you fit in, and when selling the African dream someone forgot to tell you a couple of things.

Culture trumps color. The ability to speak local languages is just one aspect. Honestly, even if you made the effort to learn the language, there are still the social cues and the slang that many would probably miss. Unfortunately, a white African would be seen as more authenticly “African” than an Black American in many instances, because in the space of two generations, the term ‘White African’ has become acceptable. In my grandparents’ days, if you were white, you were either a missionary or a colonizer. You were a stranger, never African.

The fact that African-born Whites can now claim Africa as their home is proof that culture is dynamic. In less than a hundred years, White Africans are a legitimate part of the continent. So, if such a huge change has occurred in that short span of time, how could African Americans–who are separated by hundreds of years of differences–think they will just immediately mesh into one of Africa’s many cultures? It is almost impossible.

As a child, my father had a friend–a former Black Panther–who moved to Tanzania in the late seventies. During that time, Tanzania was practicing African Socialism and he was very excited to live and farm among his people. Over 30 years later, he is still seen as a foreigner, even though he speaks Kiswahili with great fluency and has assimilated as best as he knows how.

I sympathize with wanting to know who you are, with being a child of two worlds who doesn’t quite fit into either one. I know Blacks in the Diaspora want a place where they can just be themselves, but sadly, Africa isn’t it.

Here, you are American; you have been away for five hundred years. We do not have the same experiences to bond us, the same languages to help us bridge the gap, the same memories of how things were.

Please come visit and walk the paths your ancestors walked. But that is all we can give you.

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  • mike4ty4

    Why could “whites” be accepted but not African-Americans?

  • Jade Martin

    I am South African and while reading this article I believe that Africans from all over the world, not just America would be welcome in Africa as long as they showed respect for all the diverse cultures and traditions of not only black Africans but everyone else as well. I urge you all not to forget that there are other groups in Africa to consider and not to overlook them as not being ”African” or ”African enough” We are all African it does not just mean the colour of your skin.