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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  • Mary mary

    Actually, my experience has found that color trumps culture. I am first generation west African American, but when I lived in Rwanda with 4 white Americans, I felt more comfortable and aligned with my Rwandan friends and colleagues than with my 4 white American roommates. These girls came from different parts of American than I did and had different interests. In fact, I was better friends with the white Australian friend I made than with my roomies. I was never identified as rwandan by my Rwandan friends, but I never tried too and I was open to learning about the country and culture. But our shared experience of being black in the world and our similar attitude about was something strong we could relate too.

  • lala

    Correction, many White Africans (Afrikaners in South Africa of Cutch heritage) have been in Africa over 2 centuries and cannot relate with Europe (Netherlands specifically) so its the same parallel as African Americans who have been in America over 2 centuries as well.

    Saying White Africans became so over few decades is quite incorrect. Some white people migrated to Cape of Good Hope since the 1600s. That’s why they were able to even have apartheid.

    I am black African fyi. Just a history major and wanted to point this out to you.

  • justanerd

    So while I was in undergrad this conversation always came up between Africans and African-Americans (some prefer the term Black American) and occasionally West Indians. At the end of the day native born Africans have a narrow view of African Americans and African Americans have a narrow view of Africans…..this is all because of the media and different personal experiences. To each his/her own.

    Also, once you’ve been long removed from a particular place, being ‘accepted’ or ‘welcomed’ will always be difficult. There are plenty of White people in America that have direct lineage to England, France, Germany; however I’m very sure that their experiences are similar. Because this is land of the “melting pot” whenever Americans travel abroad, we will always be branded American first, despite our race and even name. Luckily for us the world is globalizing and cultures and ethnicities are continuously being mixed. As globalization progresses, I think our opinions and views will also change over time about each other.

  • I think it’s past time for African Americans to stop wandering off to Africa like a band of homeless refugees. This is one of the most disturbing aspects of the Black Nationalist movements. By telling us that we’re not Americans these leaders took away a crucial aspect if who and what we are. If we’re not Americans, and we sure as hell aren’t. Africans, what are we? This loss of home, this rootlessness has led to a sense of loss many of us can’t serm to overcome. You can’t tell a people that they have no place to call home and expect them to thrive. We are Americans. First and foremost. It’s not a perfect relationship and many times it’s not comfortable, but it is ours, and nobody can take it from us. It is birthright. Our ancestors fought and died to build this country. Our music is its soundtrack. Our literature tells the only truth of America. How could we be other than what we are?

    • Pseudonym

      [right hand up]

      I second this motion.

    • Tamani

      #amazing. Nail on the head as usual.

  • ary

    i do not completely understand the usefulness of these recent articles. i think they are very reductive by assuming ALL parts of africa and ALL people in those places will react to black americans in the same way. i am speaking as a first-generation american, aware of the privilege of us citizenship. but anyway, i agree that folks in the us can romanticize africa and sometimes are more into the aesthetics (ie the textiles everywhere in fashion these days, jewelry, etc) than the history or current realities. but i think there is potential to BRIDGE black people throughout the diaspora and to do that we all need to be a little more open-minded and understanding of each other. and to understand that all these identifiers – ie african-american, black american, black, african – can mean different things and carry different histories to different people that claim them. and other people have told us what we are or should be for so long that i for one am not going to tell another black person who or what they are. africa (her branches worldwide) unite!