Ever since I wrote about Amy ‘Tiger Mom’ Chua’s new book The Triple Package, I’ve been feeling some type of way about the comments. While I expected readers to either agree or disagree with Chua’s premise that some cultures are just better and more successful than others, I didn’t anticipate the conversation would descend into a painful debate about Africans vs. African-Americans.

I am unabashedly pro-Black, and my pro-Blackness extends to the entire Diaspora. So when I see my people—from both sides of the Atlantic—hurling stereotypes, slurs, and jabs at each other like we ain’t even skinfolk, it makes me sad. And depressed. And downright disheartened.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to discuss the comments, our history as Black folks, and our shared pain (and triumph), but I just could not seem to find the words (nor did I want to read through pages of more divisive comments). Thankfully, friend and fellow writer Luvvie Ajayi did it for me.

After someone asked her to explain what the slur “akata” meant, Ajayi, who was born in Nigeria and immigrated to the U.S. when she was nine, schooled us all on the complicated relationship between Africans* and African-Americans—one tweet at a time.

Read Ajayi’s brilliant response below (and check out her blog):

Photo via Hayley Catt

*Note: We realize that Africa is not one country with a solitary culture or experience. However, the term ‘Africans’ is used in general to describe all people from the continent.

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  • @Keepingitreal

    I understand it goes both ways. I didn’t watch that catch all after my experience .

  • GeekMommaRants

    Clutch, thank you very much for an excellent article and discussion. This is why Clutch is my favorite site!

  • WhatIThink

    Africans and most people outside of Europe do not have a system which identifies with a “racial” category. Europe is the only place on earth that has used the concept of “race” to achieve cohesion among different ethnic groups even though there are still conflicts. Before the 1500s (and after) white folks were as tribal and divided as any other group of people on earth. Northern Europeans were seen as savages and brutes by the Romans and Greeks while the Southern Europeans were seen as fags and thugs. Only after the process of global colonization and conquest started did this idea of “white people” as a unit come into the equation and most of this applied primarily to European populations migrating to colonies established outside of Europe. America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa along with Central America, South America and the Pacific were all colonized by Europeans who played up their identity as “white people”. Now there is and was still ethnic divisions between various European populations, but primarily as a whole white skin has allowed them to create an exclusive club in the world that only they can enter and they are down with it.

    On the other hand, most other people on earth don’t have such a concept and this is one of the main reasons why they have been conquered. Asian folks don’t see themselves as “Asians” as you have many ethnic divisions among them, often in the same countries. India was and is the same way. This also applies in the Americas before conquest, along with the pacific. Africans also do not have this identity as “blacks” or “Africans” as most descendants of slaves in America think they do. Why? Because there has never been a system similar to white supremacy to create and enforce such an identity as “blacks” in Africa over and above their ethnic identity. And the current system that does exist is based upon the colonial system which will play up the ethnic divisions versus trying to unify anyone. So of course this system isn’t going to teach you about your shared history and identity as black Africans. It doesn’t benefit the system to do so. But most black folks in America (and everywhere) think that because of the colonialism in Africa and the slavery in the Americas, we all should automatically identify with each other. That is true, but the sad fact is that if Aficans had such unity there would never have been colonization and the transatlantic slave trade to begin with or at least whatever did occur would have been diminished through unified resistance.

    Europeans first learned of divide and conquer by watching the Muslims in Spain fragment into warring fiefdoms that would have otherwise been invincible if they stayed united. From that the Europeans learned the game of playing one sect against another in order to conquer. They then went on to use this along with their notions of white superiority and ruthlessness to conquer the world. And this is the same system they use to keep the world in line.

    • Jane Smith

      I don’t remember ever hearing African-Americans say they thought all Africans were united as one group.

  • This was a very helpful article in that it provided much needed context for the derision I often felt from Africans while attending Howard U. Even now as an adult, when I tell Caribbean-Americans or second generation African-Americans that I went to an HBCU, I hear condescension. One Nigerian friend also told me that while she was the “default” in Nigeria, many Nigerians (and Sierra Leonians) aspired to be like Western Europeans and looked down on Americans in general.

    Thank you for this; it will help to make me more patient.

  • Dara Crawley

    This article is great, but it forgets that being African or seen as foreign means you aren’t treated like black americans. You are treated as exceptional as well