AFRICANS on both sides of the Atlantic, that is Africans in Africa and African Americans who as
a people of African descent are also Africans, equally inspired this study. So did African immigrants and students in the
United States. I myself went to school in the United States and have lived and interacted with African Americans for more
than 30 years.
Although African Americans are also Africans in the genealogical sense, I have used the term Africans
in the book almost exclusively to mean those born in the motherland for identification purposes to distinguish them from African
Americans in my study of relations between the two. Professor Ali Mazrui, a Kenyan who has taught at universities in the United
States since the early seventies, has coined a term to identify African immigrants in America and calls them American Africans
as opposed to African Americans.
The idea for this book has been in my mind for quite some time, although I cannot say for sure exactly
when I first thought about writing it. It probably goes back to the eighties when I was in my thirties, although my interest
in the subject goes back further than that, at least to the early seventies when I was a student in Detroit, Michigan, and
wrote an article in a student newspaper about relations between Africans and African Americans.
I wrote the article in 1973 and it was published in Open Door, a student newspaper of Wayne County Community
College which I briefly attended before transferring to Wayne State University in the same city where I graduated in 1975.
Part of my article was reproduced in The Michigan Chronicle, a black weekly newspaper published in Detroit, and the state's largest black newspaper and
one of the most influential black papers in the country for years.
I remember the editor of the school newspaper asked me to write an article on the subject.
One factor that played a role in his decision to ask me to write the article was my background. He knew
that I once was a news reporter in Tanzania.
He was a black student from Detroit, a city with a long history of black activism, also known as the
birthplace of black nationalist organizations such as the Nation of Islam founded in the early thirties; the Shrine of Black
Madonna (Black Christian Nationalism), in 1967 by Reverend Albert Cleage; the Republic of New Afrika in 1968; and the Pan-African
Congress-USA, founded in 1970, and which sponsored me as a student. It is also a city to which Malcolm X had strong ties,
personal and family. Many people who knew him or about him or followed his political career also remember him by his nickname,
When I wrote the article in the student newspaper, Open Door, I was free to address the subject the way
I wanted to.
But the focus of my article was undoubtedly influenced and dictated by my interest in attempting to answer
one perennial question Africans from Africa are often asked by black people in the United States: "Is it true that they don't
want us over there?" Or something along those lines.
And later on, towards the end of 2004 when I started writing this book, I stumbled upon an article by
a Nigerian student at the University of North Carolina in the student newspaper addressing the same subject, although from
a perspective different from mine in this inquiry.
There were, however, no fundamental differences, if any, between what he said in his
article and what I say in this book in terms of the nature of relations between Africans and African Americans, and on why
there are some misunderstandings between the two groups. The difference may have been on the focus.
And I am sure others have tackled the same subject from different angles and perspectives, agreeing and
disagreeing on a number of issues critical to an understanding of what is at the heart of some of this misunderstanding between
Africans and African Americans, and what binds us together.
Therefore, in a very direct way, it is African Americans who have had a profound impact on my decision
to write this book probably more than Africans from the motherland have. And I am grateful to them for being the source of
It is African Americans, at least from my experience and I am sure of many others, who have shown great
interest in the relations between the two groups probably more than Africans have. It is they who ask questions about Africa,
whether or not it is true that they are not welcome over there.
And it is they who see all of us, black people in Africa and in the United States, as one people, although
there are also many among them who don't want to have anything to do with Africa because they are ashamed of their African
heritage rooted in a "backward, primitive" continent.
But even they, the hostile ones, helped to inspire this study, focusing my attention on some of the myths
propagated in the United States and elsewhere about Africa, the so-called Dark Continent.
Many of our white conquerors believe that because we have a dark skin, our continent is also dark, living
in darkness, and we also have a dark mind. And some of our people are ashamed of their African roots, and of themselves, because
of this. It is a myth that has inspired me to write this book as much as positive attributes of Africa have.
Therefore, in acknowledging the interest of African Americans in Africa as an inspiration in my pursuit
of this study, I must also admit that our detractors have been an equally powerful motivation in my decision to undertake
the project even if such motivation has sometimes been out of anger because of the way many people look at us as the most
backward, and most primitive human beings, in the world.
Fellow Africans born and raised in Africa like I was, also inspired me in a very special way to write
this book. I am a part of them as much as they are a part of me in terms of common experience as a people born and brought
up in Africa. Therefore we share common perspectives on a number of issues.
They are also the focus of this study as much as African Americans are. Many of them are also genuinely
interested in the subject and in the well-being of our brethren, African Americans. And probably just as many are equally
interested in the improvement of relations between the two, a subject that continues to be of paramount importance to both
groups, especially to those individuals who sincerely believe that we all have one destiny as children of Africa.
THIS work looks at relations between Africans and African Americans from the perspective of an
African, and of shared perceptions on both sides of the Atlantic.
Incorporated into the analysis are stories of individuals who have interacted, worked and lived
with members of both groups in Africa and in the United States, including myself.
Stereotypes and misunderstandings of each other constitute an integral part of this study, explained
from both perspectives, African and African-American.
As a former journalist in Tanzania, I have drawn upon my experience as a news
reporter to write this book, with fairness and a passion for truth even if some of the things I say may offend some people.
But my interest is not please anyone.
I am interested in only one thing: to tell the truth as I know it. And having lived in the United
States, mostly in the black community, for more than 30 years, I have first-hand knowledge of African Americans I have used
to complement my analysis.
I also articulate my position from the vantage point of someone who has lived on both sides of
the Atlantic, focusing on a subject that has generated a lot of interest among Africans and African Americans through the
years. And it continues to be one of great misunderstanding between the two sides, in spite of increased contacts and communication
between Africa and Black America, and between individual Africans and African Americans in the United States and in Africa.
Although some people such as Professor Harold Cruse of the University of Michigan in contemporary
times, and others such as Professor E. Franklin Frazier of Howard University in the past, contend that after more than 300
years of physical separation since the slave trade, virtually all cultural ties between Africa and black America have been
severed, I believe that there are still some elements in African-American culture which can be traced back to Africa.
You find that in music, foods, and life styles; and may be even in linguistic patterns of African
Americans as Professor Geneva Smitherman at Michigan State University – formerly Wayne State University when I was a
student there - and others argue. Therefore, it was more than just hair braids that survived the middle passage across the
Other people have made the same arguments in the past. One of them was Kwame Nkrumah when he was
a student in the United States.
He once debated Professor Frazier at Howard University on this subject, contending that there were
still vestiges of African culture among African Americans, proving that slavery and centuries of physical separation had not
erased all cultural ties to Africa.
Nkrumah won the debate, partly because of his oratorical skills which served him well years later
when he became a leader of the African independence movement and president of Ghana, but mainly because of his factual presentation.
However, Frazier maintained his position and the two agreed to disagree.
Many Africans and African Americans may also disagree with me and others who contend that some
elements of African culture survived slavery. And probably just as many will agree with this position. But whatever the case,
it is one of the subjects I address in this book but in a much wider context with an emphasis on the ties that have existed
between Africa and black America for centuries.
I have also included in the book some information about African immigrants in the United States
because, together with foreign students from Africa, they constitute the largest number of continental Africans who interact
with African Americans on daily basis.
A number of other subjects are also covered in this book. The image of Africa among Americans of
all races, the attitude of Africans and African Americans towards each other, misunderstandings, myths and realities which
characterize their relationship, and the role African Americans played in the liberation struggle in Africa are some of those
And their role in this struggle cannot be underestimated, especially by some Africans who may be
inclined to minimize the contribution of our brethren in the United States.
Because of their strategic position within the United States as American citizens, African Americans
kept the struggle in the spotlight with marches, demonstrations and contributions, with the support of other Americans and
remained a constant reminder to the American government and racist forces supporting the apartheid regime in South Africa
and other white racist governments on the African continent that nothing was going to stop them from supporting the independence
struggle in Africa until the white minority regimes were swept out of power.
Black people in the United States also pushed economic sanctions against the apartheid regime and
exposed the hypocritical nature of the American leaders who supported white minority regimes in Africa while professing democracy
at home and abroad.
There is no question that African Americans played a bigger role in supporting the liberation struggle
in Africa than Africans did in supporting the civil rights movement. But it was also for understandable reasons. African countries
were still under colonial rule or had just won independence and could not have supported the civil rights struggle in the
United States through international forums as much as they would have liked to.
Other subjects I have covered in the book include the treatment of African Americans by Africans
in Africa, especially those who have returned to the motherland after centuries of separation, seeing Africa for the first
Have they been well-received? Do they have any regrets? Do they wish they had never gone back to
Africa? These are some of the questions I try to answer, citing disgruntled and satisfied African Americans who have lived
in Africa as the primary source of information.
Some of them lived in my home country, Tanzania. There were those who stayed, and there were those
who left. Some of those who stayed include a well-known Black Panther leader, Pete O'Neal, who has lived in Tanzania since
the early seventies and whose life became the subject of a documentary film shown in the United States, Tanzania and other
countries. His life in Tanzania and as a former Black Panther leader is one of the subjects I also address in this book.
He was later joined in Tanzania by Geronimo Pratt, former deputy defense minister of the Black
Panther Party under Huey P. Newton. Pratt served 27 years in prison, on death row, after he was falsely accused and convicted
of killing a white woman hundreds of miles away from where he actually was.
A former FBI agent later admitted Pratt was framed. He won his freedom with the help of Johnnie
Cochran, the famous African American lawyer, and later went to live in Tanzania where he and his wife built a house next to
Pete O'Neal's, as we will learn more about that later on in the book.
I have also addressed the treatment of African Americans by the white majority in the United States,
and how Africans see the United States especially in terms of her relations with Africa and as a predominantly white nation
in whose bosom are millions of people of African descent who ended up where they are by "accident."
It was this "accident" of history that has also been a subject of utmost importance in trying to
understand what the United States is all about, as nation that portrayed itself to the whole world as the embodiment of the
ideals of liberty and equality while at the same time upholding the institution of slavery.
Even today, the subject of slavery inflames passions across the racial divide. And the demand for
reparations by African Americans, which I also discuss in the book, has only fueled intense debate on the legacy and relevance
of slavery in contemporary America.
Coincidentally, it is a subject on which many Africans and African Americans agree,
even if they disagree on other things, because people in Africa are also demanding reparations from the European powers who
played the biggest role in the enslavement of Africans. They also also colonized us, which is another case for reparations.
As Ed Vaughn, one of the leaders of the Detroit-based Pan-African Congress-USA who later served as assistant to Detroit Mayor
Coleman Young and as a state representative in the Michigan state legislature, said about reparations: they have paid everybody
else except us.
And as Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian writer, also said, others have been paid reparations. So why
not African Americans? He also supports the claim for reparations by African countries but has made it clear that if we are
going to demand that from Europeans, we should also claim reparations from the Arabs who also enslaved us.
But that is a subject that is beyond the scope of this work in terms of comprehensive analysis.
I have restricted myself to the case for reparations presented by African Americans in the American context. And even here
I may not have done justice to the subject, although I have tried my best to do so.
I have concluded my study on an optimistic note in the quest for greater cooperation and understanding
between our two peoples who have always been one in spite of centuries of physical separation resulting from slavery whose
devastating impact is still felt across Africa and Black America today
It is also encouraging to note that in acknowledgment of our common ties, the African diaspora
which includes Black America is represented in the African Union (AU) as an integral part of Africa and the African world.
Enduring Ties Between Africa and the Diaspora
AFRICA has always been in the consciousness of black Americans as their ancestral homeland even
if some of them have not positively identified with it. And there are those who still don't. But even when they became Americans
after they ended up in the United States in chains, they never ceased to be African whether some of them like it or not.
Even those who have a negative attitude towards Africa know where they came from. They know Africa
is their motherland. They also know they were taken away in chains to a country that claims to have been founded on the twin
ideals of liberty and equality while denying Africans freedom on its soil. Instead, it kept them in chains as slaves for centuries,
a factor that helps to keep alive memories of Africa among millions of black Americans, and sustain a longing for their motherland.
Black people in the United States have ties to Africa that can never be broken even if those ties
are just historical and psychological because of the physical separation from the motherland. But they have bonds that are
even deeper than that. They are biological ties.
All blacks in the United States, including those who are racially mixed and have some European
and other blood, have blood ties to Africa. In fact, every black person in the United States has relatives in Africa. All
of them were not enslaved and shipped to America; all of them did not die during slave raids or perish in the Atlantic, thrown
overboard. Most of the relatives remained in the motherland.
Even people with very little African blood have relatives in Africa. This can go on and on, of
course, in terms of biological and genealogical roots. But it is a fact that, however little it may be, you could not have
been born without that blood. You cannot flush it out of your veins or change your genes. If there is some African blood in
you, even just one drop, you have ties to Africa, and have relatives in Africa still living today as you read this book.
In fact, it is estimated that between 70 million and 100 million whites in the United States have
some African blood. And I wouldn't be surprised if it's more than that. This does not mean that they are Africans, like African
Americans are, any more than black people who have some European blood are European. But it means that denying this biological
fact does not change your roots, or at least a part of what you are. You were born that way, and you will die that way, with
all your genes intact.
But besides the genetic link to Africa, and the cultural and historical ties that have maintained
the identity of black Americans as an African people, the oppression and discrimination they have suffered in the United States
through the centuries at the hands of the white majority has also been a powerful motive in their strong identification with
Africa. However, it is also important to remember that even after blacks won the civil rights struggle, at least in the courts
and in the legislative chambers, a very large number of them have always identified with Africa and have shown great interest
in their African heritage.
Therefore, it is not only during hard times that black Americans have shown great interest in Africa,
and a longing for their motherland from which they were forcibly removed. They have also shown great interest in the continent
and in things African even when they are prosperous. And that includes a large number of middle- and upper-class blacks who
have strongly identified with Africa and African causes as an African people themselves. But even those who identify themselves
as Americans only, also have shown great interest in Africa.
We should, however, not forget that there is also a significant number of blacks of all classes
who don't want to identify themselves with Africa even if they don't say so publicly but instead profess their love for Africa
and pride in their African roots. Privately, they resent that or feel ashamed.
Yet, from the slave songs on the plantations and the establishment of the African Methodist Church
(AME) and other African-oriented institutions and organizations by blacks throughout their history in the United States, to
the founding of Liberia, there is strong evidence that interest in Africa among blacks Americans has always been there, even
if it has not been one of enduring obsession of the nationalist kind in all cases.
Sometimes, there have been conflicting responses to African events from the black American community,
showing that not only as a people blacks in the United States are not a monolithic whole but also that there are those who
are not concerned about Africa as might be expected. For example, during the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, some leading
black Americans said Ethiopians should not expect help from blacks in the United States because black people in America had
never been given any help by Africans during their struggle against racial oppression; and that they had their own problems
to contend with. Africans should therefore do the same over there: help themselves.
However, this attitude cannot be said to have been typical of the majority of black Americans during
that time, or of even a large number of them, although there was no way to accurately or even approximately gauge such sentiment.
Still, the mere fact that there were some influential blacks, as well as others, who felt this way shows that relations between
Africa and black America have had some serious problems through the years.
It is also worth remembering that it was during the same time that a number of black American pilots
and soldiers volunteered to go to Ethiopia to help the Ethiopians fight Mussolini and his forces, even when it was felt that
Ethiopians in general did not want to identify themselves with black Africa, as black people, as Rupert Emerson and Martin
Kilson, professors at Harvard University, stated in an essay they wrote in the sixties. The essay was entitled “The
American Dilemma in a Changing World: The Rise of Africa and the Negro American,” published in a volume of essays on
black America, The Negro American:
The Italian attack on Ethiopia
in 1935, it has been said, had the effect of giving large numbers of Negroes a sense of involvement in world events for the
first time, even though the Ethiopians were then by no means sure that they wanted to counted among the black Africans. -
(The Negro American, p. 642).
Others made the same observation which has some credibility even today, as it does in the case
of Somalis, as well, who also in general don't want to identify themselves with black Africans and think they are better than
other Africans, clearly shown by the brutal mistreatment of members of Bantu tribes from Tanzania and Mozambique who were
taken to Somalia by the Arabs as slaves more than 300 years ago. Their descendants are still mistreated in Somalia today.
Some of them, for example, members of the Zigua tribe from Tanga region in northeastern Tanzania,
returned to their ancestral homeland in the late 1990s with the help of the Tanzanian government and were given some land
and some help to settle in Tanzania permanently.
They told of the persecution they suffered in Somalia at the hands of the Somalis who considered
them to be inferior and fit only for slave labor. And more than ten thousand other Bantus from Somalia were allowed to emigrate
to the United States with the help of the American government and the United Nations in the late nineties and beyond, fleeing
And during the civil war when American troops were sent to Somalia in the early nineties to help
capture one of the warlords and restore order, black American soldiers complained about insults by Somalis when they tried
to identify with them. They made fun of their "Negro" features - kinky hair, thick lips, black skin, and wide noses - and
made it clear that they had nothing to do with them.
However, one cannot generalize and argue that all Somalis and Ethiopians feel that they are better
than other Africans and don't even consider themselves to be black. There are those who do and those who don't.
But even from my own experience, I have noticed that quite a few of them don't want to mingle with
other Africans the way members of different African tribes do, identifying themselves as one people: black Africans. I have
roots of northeast African origin myself, on my mother's side, and a number of my family members and relatives are easily
identified by those features, including my mother. And I know Ethiopians and Somalis who don't have a problem identifying
themselves with other Africans. But there is a problem with some of them.
And it is a problem other Africans have noticed, including some Nigerians and Liberians as well
as Kenyans I knew when I was a student in the United States, as Rupert Emerson and Martin Kilson did back in the sixties when
they wrote an article about black America and the newly independent states of Africa and how blacks in the United States identified
with them. That is how Ethiopia and the Italian invasion of Ethiopia came into the picture. Ethiopia was seen as symbol of
African dignity, being the oldest independent country in Africa that was never colonized until it was briefly occupied by
Ethiopia's long history of independence, unprecedented anywhere else in Africa, was one of the
main factors in the decision by African leaders in 1963 when they chose Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, to be the headquarters
of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now of the African Union (AU). The choice also was in deference to Emperor Haile
Selassie, the Lion of Judah, King of Kings, and descendant of King Solomon, although some dispute his lineage as Solomon's
But whatever the case, a number of black Americans paid attention to all that, especially the humiliation
of Ethiopia and Emperor Haile Selassie by the Italian invaders. Some of them were deeply offended by the invasion, prompting
them to volunteer as soldiers and as pilots to go to Ethiopia and fight the Italians, not only as brothers in the struggle
for justice which they themselves were waging in the United States, but mainly as fellow Africans or members of the same black
Unfortunately, their feelings were probably not reciprocated, to the extent that they should have
been, by the Ethiopians who were expected to fully embrace black Americans as their kith-and-kin, although there were those
who appreciated the help.
And in terms of race, Ethiopians in general are not "Negro" like black Americans or the majority
of black Africans are. They also have their own physical features of Semitic - or some other “non-Negro” - origin
just like the Somalis do. Even some of their languages, for example Amharic which is the main and official language, and Tigrinya,
have Semitic roots.
Those are some of the examples, Ethiopia and Somalia, that help to demonstrate the complex nature
of the relations between Africans and African Americans, and between Africans themselves, but which also should be viewed
in their proper context instead of making sweeping generalizations that don't have validity in all cases.
Compounding the problem is the way some black Americans have treated Africans in Africa through
the years. There were a number of American blacks who went to Africa as missionaries in the nineteenth century, and others
even in the twentieth century after the continent had already been "saturated" with missionaries from Europe. While their
migration to Africa demonstrated an enduring interest in the continent among them and other black Americans, there was also
a paternalistic attitude towards the "natives" in Africa as a "primitive," "backward" people who needed to be "civilized."
So, they went to Africa not only to propagate the gospel among these "heathens"; they returned
to the motherland to "civilize" them, whatever the term entails in terms of Western civilization in the African context.
There may have been some black American missionaries who saw African "natives" as their equal,
especially as members of the same black race. But a higher percentage of them obviously saw Africans as inferior to them,
in terms of education and civilization, along the same lines Albert Schweitzer did; that great humanitarian and missionary
doctor who, while working in Gabon in French Equatorial Africa, bluntly proclaimed to whole world: "The Negro is a child,
and with children nothing can be done without authority. We must, therefore, so arrange the circumstances of daily life that
my natural authority can find expression. With regard to the Negroes, then, I have coined the formula: 'I am your brother,
it is true, but your elder brother.'"
Then came the founding of Liberia around the same time some black American missionaries were thinking
about spreading the gospel in Africa. And their kinship with Africans was a critical factor in their decision to embark on
this mission. Even some American whites who wanted to spread the gospel in Africa felt that black American missionaries were
better equipped to do that than they were.
Although the black American missionaries knew that as Christians they were supposed to spread Christianity
to all peoples regardless of race, they felt they had a special obligation to do so first in Africa for a number of reasons.
They believed that they would be more welcome than their white counterparts because of their biological ties to their ancestral
homeland as blacks themselves.
They also, together with whites, believed that they were better equipped, physically, to survive
in tropical Africa than white missionaries would because of their genetic adaptation to this environment; that is why American
blacks die from sickle cell anemia. They can no longer fight malaria in their new environment in a totally different climate
in North America. What was a weapon in their system in the African tropical climate to fight malaria has now been turned against
them in the alien environment of America.
Racism also was a critical factor. Very often, whites directed their attention to other parts of
the world to spread the gospel, ignoring Africa. And when they did go to Africa and other parts such as the Caribbean, inhabited
by blacks, their racist attitude and practices alienated many would-be converts and even those who had already been converted.
That was also the case with white missionaries from Europe. For example, in Nyasaland, now Malawi,
just across the border from my home district on the Tanzania-Malawi border, Scottish missionaries did not even allow blacks
to wear shoes and refused to share the same quarters with black missionary workers. And it happened in other parts of Africa,
including my country Tanzania even in contemporary times.
I remember Professor Henry Louis Gates, chairman of the African American studies center at Harvard
University, explaining what he experienced when he worked in Tanzania as a young student. He said in one of his books, Great Zimbabwe to Kilimatinde published in 1996, that when he was a student at Yale University, he went to Tanzania and stayed
there for one year from 1970 to 1971, the entire academic year, working at a hospital in Kilimatinde in the central region.
He lived in an ujamaa village and was trained to deliver general anesthesia at an Anglican Missionary
Hospital. He said the hospital was run by white Australian missionaries, and their racism towards black patients and other
Africans working there was clearly evident.
This is one of the main reasons why many Africans did not trust white missionaries working on the
continent. We also remember very well that missionaries helped pave the way for the colonization of Africa. As Jomo Kenyatta
said, "When the white man came, he said 'Shut your eyes, let us pray.' When we opened our eyes it was too late. Our land was
Chinua Achebe, in his classic work Things
Fall Apart, articulates the same sentiment when,
towards the end of his book, Obierika, in a conversation with Okonkwo, laments: "The white man is very clever. He came quietly
and peaceably with his religion and...put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart."
This kind of sentiment was obviously still strong among many Africans in the nineteenth century
when American missionaries, especially of the Baptist church, were making plans to spread Christianity in Africa. The slave
trade was still fresh in the minds of Africans, having ended only recently, and it would have been hard for many of them to
trust the people, whites, who not too long ago had been busy shipping their kith-and-kin across the Atlantic into slavery
in America. The only people who could have been well-received, also as brothers and sisters returning home after being freed
as slaves, were black American missionaries.
Black Baptists were among the first Christians to launch missionary campaigns in Africa and elsewhere.
For example, David George and other American blacks went to Sierra Leone in 1792 and established the first Baptist church
on the continent. They also settled there permanently.
In 1815, Lott Carey and Hilary Teague together with a white deacon, William Crane, of Richmond,
Virginia, formed the Richmond African Baptist Foreign Missionary Society to spread Christianity in Africa. In 1821, Carey
and his wife went to Sierra Leone and established a mission among members of the Mandingo tribe. He was killed in 1828 in
a battle with some of the indigenous people in Liberia and is acclaimed as the first American missionary to Africa.
Together with the Southern Baptist Convention and the American Colonization Society, the Richmond
African Baptist Foreign Missionary Society, founded by Lott Carey who was the pastor of the African Baptist Church in Richmond,
sent missionary workers to West Africa from 1845 and continued its activities on the continent in the following years. Liberia
was one of the main targets. Even before then, Lott Carey and Hilary Teague were, in the early 1820s, among the first missionaries
to work in an area that later became the Republic of Liberia. They settled there permanently, spreading the gospel among the
indigenous tribes in the region.
After the Civil War, other black Christian groups also sent missionaries to Africa. They included
the Virginia Baptists who continued to send missionaries overseas well into the twentieth century; the Baptist Foreign Mission
Convention organized in 1880; the National Baptist Convention established in 1895; the Lott Carey Baptist Convention launched
in 1897, and other Baptist and non-Baptist missionary groups.
Other black missionaries who spread the gospel in Africa included Robert Hill who was sent to Liberia
by the Southern Baptist Convention; Alexander Crummell who settled in Liberia and encouraged other African Americans to move
to Africa; John Bryant Small who established a mission station in the Gold Coast, what is Ghana today; William Colley who
was sent to Nigeria; William Henry Shepherd who went to Congo; Mary Tearing, and Joseph Phipps, also to Congo. And other black
American missionaries went to other parts of Africa including South Africa.
Especially since the mid- and late 1800s, black American missionaries continued, together with other
Christians including Presbyterians, to spread the gospel well into the twentieth century and beyond, especially in West Africa,
the ancestral homeland of the majority of black Americans, although not all; a significant number of them came from East Africa,
especially from what is Mozambique and Tanzania today, mainly after the slave trade was officially abolished and the slave
traders turned their attention to East Africa as anti-slavery patrols intensified on the West African coast. For example,
I remember reading an article in The New York Times in 1998 which contained excerpts of old slave records showing that some of the
slaves who arrived and were sold in Louisiana were members of the Makua tribe who had been captured in what is southern Tanzania
One of the West African regions which attracted the largest number of black missionaries from the
United States was, of course, Liberia. Founded by freed black American slaves in 1822, at the behest of the American Colonization
Society some of whose members wanted all blacks kicked out of the United States and sent back to Africa or to some other place
including Venezuela, Liberia became a haven of peace for these former slaves, away from the persecution and lynchings in the
United States. Yet, for the "natives" it became, in a very tragic way, living hell.
Black Americans who settled in the area expropriated land owned by the "natives," launched wars
against them to forcibly acquire more land, and established a country in which the indigenous people were denied equal rights
and virtually became slaves in their own native land; ironically, at the hands of former slaves and fellow blacks. As late
as the 1930s, native Liberians were also being sold as slaves to work in Panama, ostensibly sent there on labor contracts
negotiated on their behalf by the Liberian government dominated by descendants of the freed American slaves who came to be
known as Americo-Liberians as they still are today.
Even within Liberia itself, members of the local tribes were treated as second-class citizens and
had no political rights comparable to those enjoyed by Americo-Liberians. House servants and others working for Americo-Liberian
families were treated as virtual slaves. Native Liberian leaders such as Didwho Tweh tried to fight for their rights as equal
citizens, to no avail. Their plea for help from the League of Nations in the 1930s fell on deaf ears.
It was not until 1980 when members of the indigenous tribes in the army launched a military coup
against the government that domination by Americo-Liberians came to an end after 150 years of hegemonic control of the territory
and the indigenous population. It had been a long time since the country was founded in 1822 and became a republic in 1847,
but with the total exclusion of the indigenous people from power.
The plight of the native Liberians, at the hands of the settler community known as Americo-Liberians,
was unique in one fundamental respect: They were the only blacks on the continent who were colonized by fellow blacks. And
the people who colonized them were fellow citizens who, ironically, proclaimed to the whole world when they first arrived
there to found the colony: "The love of liberty brought us here." To which the indigenous people could have responded: "We
have known nothing but misery and oppression since you came here." And it was a sentiment that was expressed in various ways
by members of the native tribes some of whom attended school in the United States during the same time I did.
When I was a student in Detroit, Michigan, in the early and mid-seventies, I remember some of them
confronting their fellow countrymen, Americo-Liberians who were also students, with ominous warnings such as: "You Americo-Liberians
are going to pay for this one day." Their prediction was fulfilled in one of the bloodiest military coups in African post-colonial
history when 17 members of the Liberian army led by a 28-year sergeant, Samuel Doe, a member of the Krahn tribe, stormed the
Executive Mansion, the president's official residence, in April 1980 and killed President William Tolbert. They also disemboweled
him, and his body was displayed in public.
He was the last Americo-Liberian president in the dynasty of the True Whig Party that had ruled
Liberia for 150 years. Like his predecessor, William Tubman, his family members had emigrated from South Carolina and became
some of the most prominent members of the Americo-Liberian settler community which dominated politics and the economy. And
like Tubman, Tolbert was also born in Liberia.
But although the mistreatment of the indigenous tribes by Americo-Liberians had some negative impact
on relations between Africans and African-Americans, it was only in a limited way. The wrath was directed against the oppressive
Americo-Liberian settler community, and not against African Americans in the United States, although Americo-Liberians were
descended from freed American slaves.
And most of this wrath and anger came from members of the indigenous tribes within Liberia itself,
and not from other African countries, although there were people in other African countries who sympathized with them.
There was not much response from the people in other African countries to the plight of the members
of the native tribes in Liberia at the hands of Americo-Liberians partly because many of them did not know what was going
on in that country, and partly because they had their own problems to contend with in their own countries.
But even if many of them had known what was going on in Liberia, they may not have responded as
forcefully as they did against racial oppression in South Africa under apartheid because they would not have seen Americo-Liberians
as outsiders, like whites in South Africa. They were fellow blacks, and racial solidarity was paramount in the struggle against
the apartheid regime and other white minority regimes on the continent. The Americo-Liberian dynasty in Liberia certainly
did not fit that category as a foreign institution created by and belonging to whites. It was black. Apartheid was white.
The difference was clear as day and night. And it was obvious who the real enemy was.
It should also be remembered that Liberia was only one of two independent countries in black Africa.
The other one was Ethiopia. And both, in international forums, spoke on behalf of the rest of the African countries that were
still under colonial and white minority rule. And when Ethiopia was invaded by Mussolini, Liberia was the only independent
African country during that time that spoke out against the invasion.
Therefore, in spite of the oppressive rule imposed by the Americo-Liberian community on the indigenous
people of Liberia, the Americo-Liberian rulers still had some credibility among other Africans as champions of African rights
and independence in the international arena, especially at a time when African colonial subjects across the continent had
no spokesmen to speak for them in international forums. Only Liberia and Ethiopia did.
And while Liberia has served as a bridge between Africa and black America, it has also facilitated
dialogue in a wider context internationally. As the oldest republic in black Africa, it was seen as a beacon of hope for the
rest of the continent south of the Sahara during the struggle for independence and inspired those still under colonial rule
to fight for their freedom. Liberia also was a source of inspiration to African Americans in their struggle for racial equality
which gained momentum in the fifties and sixties.
Together with Liberia were other black African countries which were among the first to win independence:
Ghana in 1957, Guinea in 1958, and many others in 1960 which came to be known as Africa's Year and was declared as such by
the United Nations because of what happened that year. It was the year in which the largest number of African countries, 17
of them, won independence. And the feat was not duplicated in any of the following years; by 1968, most African countries
had won independence.
Coincidentally, it was also during this period that the civil rights movement in the United States
gained full momentum. By 1964 when the Civil Rights Bill was passed, more than 30 black African countries had won independence
in less than 10 years, beginning with Ghana in 1957. Thus, where some American blacks had been ashamed of Africa, there was
now pride, by the same people, of their African heritage. They, and many other blacks, looked to Africa for vindication. If
blacks in Africa could prove their worth and rise to towering heights to be equal to the best among the best in governance
and other achievements including education, black people in the United States could do no less. That was the rationale.
Even before independence, Africans in Africa had profound influence on black America in terms of
inspiration in the struggle for racial equality. The civil rights movement, which simply came to be known as the Movement,
started to gain momentum in the 1950s, especially after Dr. Martin Luther King was thrust into the international spotlight
by the Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama in December 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the city bus to a
white man. She came to be known as the "Mother of the Civil Rights Movement," although she had been preceded by Claudette
Colvin, a 15-year old black girl, who refused to give up her seat on the city bus to a white man many months earlier in March
the same year.
But black civil rights leaders in Montgomery decided not to use her as a test case and rallying
point because she was very dark, a liability even among blacks in those days, unlike Rosa Parks who was light-complexioned.
Claudette was also pregnant and not married, while Rosa Parks was married. And she was already active in the struggle for
racial equality as a member of the NAACP and did some work for the organization.
The bus boycott would probably have taken place, anyway, even if nothing had taken place in Africa
in terms of struggle for racial equality. But a precedent had been set earlier, in South Africa, when black people and a few
whites and Indians as well as Coloureds launched the Defiance Campaign in 1952 led by the African National Congress (ANC)
which was multiracial but predominantly black.
They employed non-violent tactics to protest against racial injustice, the same tactics Dr. Martin
Luther King and others used in their struggle for racial equality during the civil rights movement. There is no question that
the spirit of this campaign in South Africa inspired blacks in the United States during the Montgomery bus boycott and in
their struggle for justice. Defiance against injustice was one of the main characteristics of both campaigns. As Rosa Parks
said in an interview with Scholastic years later when she was asked, "What made you decide on December 1, 1955, not
to get up from your seat?":
"That particular day that I decided was not the first time I had trouble with that particular driver.
He evicted me before, because I would not go around to the back door after I was already onto the bus.
The evening that I boarded the bus, and noticed that he was the same driver, I decided to get on
anyway. I did not sit at the very front of the bus; I took a seat with a man who was next to the window - the first seat that
was allowed for 'colored' people to sit in. We were not disturbed until we reached the third stop after I boarded the bus.
At this point, a few white people boarded the bus, and one white man was left standing. When the
driver noticed him standing, he spoke to us (the man and two women across the aisle) and told us to let the man have the seat.
The other three all stood up. But the driver saw me still sitting there. He said would I stand up, and I said, 'No, I will
not.' Then he said, 'I'll have you arrested.' And I told him he could do that. So he didn't move the bus any farther. Several
black people left the bus.
Two policemen got on the bus in a couple of minutes. The driver told the police that I would not
stand up. The policeman walked down and asked me why I didn't stand up, and I said I didn't think I should stand up. 'Why
do you push us around?' I asked him. And he said, 'I don't know. But the law is the law and you are under arrest.' As soon
as he said that, I stood up, and the rest of us left the bus together.
One of them picked up my purse, the other picked up my shopping bag. And we left the bus together.
It was the first time I'd had that particular thing happen. I was determined that I let it be known that I did not want to
be treated in this manner. The policemen had their squad car waiting, they gave me my purse and bag, and they opened the back
door of the police car for me to enter."
It was defiance against injustice at its best. And as the campaigns for freedom and equality went
on around the same time in Africa and in the United States, they also reinforced each other and strengthened ties that had
always existed between blacks on both sides of the Atlantic.
Apart from the non-violent struggle for freedom that went on in Africa against the colonial authorities
and which encouraged the civil rights campaign among blacks in the United States, was the more militant struggle waged by
Mau Mau in Kenya. Coincidentally, the launching of the Defiance Campaign in South Africa in 1952 coincided with the arrest
of Jomo Kenyatta who was accused of leading Mau Mau. He was arrested in the same year, 1952, together with 182 other African
leaders. In 1953, he was sentenced to seven years in prison, with hard labor, and was sent to the barren region of northwestern
Kenya to serve his sentence. He was released in 1961.
His release in 1961 was another important milestone in the struggle for freedom and justice for
black people on both sides of the Atlantic. It took place only about three years before passage of the Civil Rights Bill in
the United States in 1964, and there is no doubt that Kenyatta's release from prison further inspired blacks in America in
their struggle for racial justice. If blacks in Kenya could win, there was also some hope that blacks in the United States
would win one day. As the civil rights movement anthem went: "Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome someday."
The militancy of Mau Mau in Kenya, involving armed struggle by the Kikuyu against the British,
also inspired pride among many blacks in the United States including those who may not have used violence themselves to win
freedom. But they saw in the Kikuyu the same burning desire to be free they saw among themselves in the United States. Black
militants even endorsed Mau Mau tactics. And the father of the black militant movement in the United States, Malcolm X, spoke
proudly of Mau Mau, as much as he did about the liberation war in Algeria which drove the French out after seven years of
bitter conflict in which about one million Algerians were killed. And as he said about the Mau Mau in one of his speeches:
"It was Mau Mau that brought independence to Kenya."
Malcolm X also worked diligently to forge new and strengthen existing ties between Africa and black
America. In 1964, he went to Africa and visited a number of countries where he met with different leaders. He also addressed
the OAU summit of the African heads of state and government in Cairo, Egypt, in July 1964 where he almost died when his food
was poisoned in a hotel. He was followed by CIA agents throughout his African trip and the American intelligence agency may
have been behind the attempt on his life. As he stated in his speech at the OAU summit in Cairo:
"The Organization of Afro-American Unity has sent me to attend this historic African Summit Conference
as an observer to represent the interests of 22 million African-Americans whose human rights are being violated daily by the
racism of American imperialists.
The Organization of Afro-American Unity has been formed by a cross section of America's African-American
community, and is patterned after the letter and spirit of the Organization of African Unity.
Just as the Organization of African Unity has called upon all African leaders to submerge their
differences and unite on common objectives for the common good of all Africans, in America the Organization of Afro-American
Unity has called upon Afro-American leaders to submerge their differences and find areas of agreement wherein we can work
in unity for the good of the entire 22 million African Americans.
Since the 22 million of us were originally Africans, who are now in America, not by choice but
only by a cruel accident in our history, we strongly believe that African problems are our problems and our problems are African
We also believe that as heads of the independent African states you are the shepherds of all African
peoples everywhere, whether they are still at home here on the mother continent or have been scattered abroad.
Some African leaders at this conference have implied that they have enough problems here on the
mother continent without adding the Afro-American problem.
With all due respect to your esteemed positions, I must remind all of you that the Good Shepherd
will leave ninety-nine sheep who are safe at home to go to the aid of the one who is lost and has fallen into the clutches
of the imperialist wolf.
We in America are your long-lost brothers and sisters, and I am here only to remind you that our
problems are your problems. As the African-Americans 'awaken' today, we find ourselves in a strange land that has rejected
us, and, like the prodigal son, we are turning to our elder brothers for help. We pray our pleas will not fall upon deaf ears.
We were taken forcibly in chains from this mother continent and have now spent over three hundred
years in America, suffering the most inhuman forms of physical and psychological tortures imaginable.
During the past ten years the entire world has witnessed our men, women, and children being attacked
and bitten by vicious police dogs, brutally beaten by police clubs, and washed down the sewers by high-pressure water hoses
that would rip the clothes from our bodies and the flesh from our limbs.
And all of these inhuman atrocities have been inflicted upon us by the American governmental authorities,
the police themselves, for no reason other than that we seek the recognition and respect granted other human beings in America.
The American Government is either unable or unwilling to protect the lives and property of your
22 million African-American brothers and sisters.
We stand defenseless, at the mercy of American racists who murder us at will for no reason other
than we are black and of African descent.
Last week an unarmed African-American educator was murdered in cold blood in Georgia; a few days
before that three civil rights workers disappeared completely, perhaps murdered also, only because they were teaching our
people in Mississippi how to vote and how to secure their political rights.
Our problems are your problems. We have lived for over three hundred years in that American den
of racist wolves in constant fear of losing life and limb. Recently, three students from Kenya were mistaken for American
Negroes and were brutally beaten by the New York police. Shortly after that two diplomats from Uganda were also beaten by
the New York City police, who mistook them for American Negroes.
If Africans are brutally beaten while only visiting in America, imagine the physical and psychological
suffering received by your brothers and sisters who have lived there for over three hundred years.
Our problem is your problem. No matter how much independence Africans get here on the mother continent,
unless you wear your national dress at all time when you visit America, you may be mistaken for one of us and suffer the same
psychological and physical mutilation that is an everyday occurrence in our lives.
Your problems will never be fully solved until and unless ours are solved. You will never be fully
respected until and unless we are also respected. You will never be recognized as free human beings until and unless we are
also recognized and treated as human beings.
Our problem is your problem. It is not a Negro problem, nor an American problem. This is a world
problem, a problem for humanity. It is not a problem of civil rights, it is a problem of human rights.
We pray that our African brothers have not freed themselves of European colonialism only to be
overcome and held in check now by American dollarism. Don't let American racism be 'legalized' by American dollarism.
America is worse than South Africa, because not only is America racist, but she is also deceitful
and hypocritical. South Africa preaches segregation and practices segregation. She, at least, practices what she preaches.
America preaches integration and practices segregation. She preaches one thing while deceitfully practicing another.
South Africa is like a vicious wolf, openly hostile toward black humanity. But America is cunning
like a fox, friendly and smiling, but even more vicious and deadly than the wolf.
The wolf and the fox are both enemies of humanity, both are canine, both humiliate and mutilate
their victims. Both have the same objectives, but differ only in methods.
If South Africa is guilty of violating the human rights of Africans here on the mother continent,
then America is guilty of worse violations of the 22 million Africans on the American continent. And if South African racism
is not a domestic issue, then American racism also is not a domestic issue.
We beseech independent African states to help us bring our problem before the United Nations, on
the grounds that the United States Government is morally incapable of protecting the lives and the property of 22 million
African-Americans. And on the grounds that our deteriorating plight is definitely becoming a threat to world peace.
Out of frustration and hopelessness our young people have reached the point of no return. We no
longer endorse patience and turning the other cheek. We assert the right of self-defense by whatever means necessary, and
reserve the right of maximum retaliation against our racist oppressors, no matter what the odds against us are.
We are well aware that our future efforts to defend ourselves by retaliating- by meeting violence
with violence, eye for eye and tooth for tooth-could create the type of racial conflict in America that could easily escalate
into a violent, worldwide, bloody race war.
In the interests of world peace and security, we beseech the heads of the independent African states
to recommend an immediate investigation into our problem by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
One last word, my beloved brothers at this African Summit: 'No one knows the master better than
his servant.' We have been servants in America for over three hundred years. We have a thorough inside knowledge of this man
who calls himself 'Uncle Sam.' Therefore, you must heed our warning. Don't escape from European colonialism only to become
even more enslaved by deceitful,'friendly' American dollarism.
May Allah's blessings of good health and wisdom be upon you all”.
His speech to the Organization of African Unity (OAU) conference of African leaders was a plea
for help. He believed African countries would be able to help African Americans in their struggle for racial equality in the
United States by bringing up their case before the United Nations. And a number of African countries agreed to do so. Among
the leaders he talked to about the plight of African Americans were Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Presidents Jomo Kenyatta
of Kenya, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. And he was well-received wherever
he went in Africa. Tanzania was one of the countries he visited, and he mentions this trip in one of his speeches.
When I was working on the second edition of my book, Nyerere and Africa: End of an Era, in 2004, I was in regular contact with Andrew Nyerere, President Nyerere's eldest son who was my high schoolmate
in Tanzania, and who said he remembered when Malcolm X visited them at their house in Dar es Salaam in July 1964. As he said
in a letter to me: "When he came to Msasani (on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam where President Nyerere and his family lived
in a simple house instead of living in the official residence, the State House), he gave Mwalimu the record of 'Message to
the Grassroots,' a speech by Malcolm X."
President Nyerere, popularly known as Mwalimu which means teacher in Kiswahili
since he was once a teacher, understood the plight of African Americans even before he talked to Malcolm X and was one of
the African leaders, together with others such as Nkrumah, who strongly identified with the struggle for racial equality in
the United States. And he believed there was an imperative need to strengthen ties between the nations of Africa and black
America which black American sociologist E. Franklin Frazier defined as a nation, even if a captive one. In his book, Black Bourgeoisie published in 1957, Professor Frazier argued that black people in the United States constituted "a nation within
a nation." And it is a thesis that has some validity and credibility beyond black nationalist circles. Their isolation, because
of segregation, helped to solidify this identity. And they looked to Africa for inspiration and spiritual sustenance in their
struggle for racial equality in a country that was supposed to be the citadel of democracy.
Therefore, the success of the independence struggles in different African countries in the fifties
and sixties served as a great source of inspiration to African Americans during the civil rights movement as much as the civil
rights struggle in the United States was a source of great encouragement to many Africans still groaning under white minority
rule, especially in South Africa. The situation of black people under apartheid was similar to that of black Americans. And
both were being oppressed by a power that was an integral of their country. It was a colonial power within, not a foreign
power like in the rest of the African countries ruled by the British, the French and the Portuguese. They were fighting for
freedom from fellow citizens who were going nowhere, unlike the British, the French and the Portuguse who left their African
colonies and returned to Europe after the colonies won independence. Black Americans were also "colonized" within.
It is also critical to remember that even during the darkest hour in the history of our continent
when we were under colonial rule and did not even have political parties fighting for independence, Africans in the diaspora
played a major role in championing the cause of African freedom going as back as the early 1900s. Sylvester Williams from
Trinidad, and W.E.B. DuBois from the United States, were the most prominent, followed later by George Padmore and CLR James
also from Trinidad. They were joined by Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Nnamdi Azikiwe and other African leaders in the 1940s,
carrying on a tradition that went back to the early years of the twentieth century when the first Pan-African Congress was
held in London in 1900.
The second Pan-African Congress was held in Paris in 1919. It coincided with the Paris Peace Conference
by the Allied Powers ending World War I and demanded the right to self-determination in the African colonies. It was also
in the same year that there were widespread protests against the exclusion of racial equality from the Covenant of the League
of Nations, and delegates from the Pan-African Congress presented resolutions to the League of Nations demanding freedom and
independence for Africans. A few years earlier, the African National Congress (ANC) was founded in January 1912 in Bloemfontein,
South Africa, and more than 80 years later won the struggle against apartheid.
Dr. DuBois played a critical role in organizing these conferences. It was he, together with Blaise
Diagne, a Senegalese and highest-ranking African in French politics and deputy to the French parliament, who organized the
Pan-African Congress in Paris in 1919. It was attended by at least 57 delegates representing 15 countries and colonies, including
Liberia, Haiti, the British West Indies, West African British and French colonies, and the United States. At least 19 delegates
came from Africa.
The 1919 conference is often referred to as the First Pan-African Congress. But it was actually
patterned after the Pan-African Conference, which was really the first Pan-African Congress, convened by Henry Sylvester Williams
in London in 1919. DuBois also attended this conference as a delegate. The London conference petitioned the Allied Nations
to take specific steps to end oppressive political and economic conditions in predominantly black colonies in Africa and the
The Second (or third) Pan-African Congress was held in 1921 in the three main colonial centers
- London, Paris, and Brussels - and was attended by 113 delegates. Again, Africans in the diaspora, with DuBois being the
most prominent among them, played a major role in organizing this conference. The NAACP was also represented at the conference
and provided financial support. The Third Pan-African Congress was held in 1923 in London, and in Lisbon, Portugal, pursuing
the same goals as those pursued at the previous conferences. The main goal was independence for black countries in Africa
and in the Caribbean.
The Fourth Pan-African Congress was held in Harlem, New York, in 1927 and was funded by an organization
of black women, the Circle of Peace and Foreign Relations, long interested in improving the lives of black people in Africa
and in the diaspora, including attainment of independence for the African colonies. The conference was chaired by Dr. W.E.B.
DuBois and attended by 208 delegates. And about 5000 people participated in the conference. Several sessions were also held
in black churches in Harlem. African countries represented included Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast (later renamed Ghana), Nigeria,
and Liberia. There were also representatives from the United States and the West Indies.
Dr. DuBois tried to make arrangements for the Fifth Pan-African Congress to be held on African
soil, in Tunis, Tunisia. He chose Tunis because it was accessible by shipping lines and was somewhat centrally located to
enable many delegates from Africa and Europe to attend the conference. But the French government feared that such a conference
held on African soil would lead to unrest in the colonies on the continent, and denied the organizers permission to hold the
conference in its colony of Tunisia.
The French told DuBois and other organizers that they could hold the conference in Paris, but the
Depression, which came in 1929, the same year the conference was planned, precluded any possibility that the conference would
be held anytime soon. Financial problems were one of the main reasons why other conferences could not be held sooner. There
were also ideological divisions among the organizers.
There were those who supported the ideology of Marcus Garvey which was strictly racial and excluded
anybody who was not black or considered black enough including racially mixed people such as Dr. DuBois himself. And there
were those who supported Dr. DuBois and his colleagues whose philosophy was inclusive.
It was not until 16 years later, in 1945, that the Fifth Pan-African Congress was held. It was
held in Manchester, England, and was attended by Dr. DuBois, George Padmore, CLR James, Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Nnamdi
Azikiwe, Ras Makonnen, and others. Nkrumah and Kenyatta served as secretaries and played a critical role in organizing the
It was also in the same year that Nkrumah left the United States for Britain after attending school
in America for 10 years. When he was still a student in the United States, he met CLR James. CLR James said Nkrumah used to
talk a lot and "he talked a lot of nonsense in those days," as he said in an article he wrote. But he said he was very much
impressed by him because of his determination to achieve his goals. Other people who met Nkrumah were also very much impressed
by his personality. He was charismatic. He was dynamic. I remember Professor Ali Mazrui, a Kenyan, saying when he first met
Nkrumah, he was impressed by his charisma right away.
CLR James went on to say that when Nkrumah was getting ready to go to Britain to study at the London
School of Economics, he wrote George Padmore introducing Nkrumah to him. Padmore lived in London. CLR James said he told Padmore
to help Nkrumah, and went on to say: "He's not very bright. But he's determined to throw the white man out of Africa."
Nkrumah also read Karl Marx when he was a student in the United States. CLR James, who was a Marxist,
didn't think that Nkrumah understood Marxism well. But he gave him credit saying that he studied further, and when Nkrumah
gave a speech at the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester, CLR James said "it was an absolute masterpiece."
Nkrumah never looked back. He returned to the Gold Coast in 1947 and, ten years later, led his
country to independence, earning it distinction as the first black African country to emerge from colonial rule.
When the Gold Coast won independence as Ghana on March 6, 1957, representatives from the African
diaspora were invited to Accra, Ghana's capital, to celebrate. Nkrumah also invited people of African descent to go to Ghana
and other parts of Africa to help build the continent.
The people invited by Nkrumah to celebrate Ghana's attainment of independence included Dr. Martin
Luther King, Ralph Bunche, A. Philip Randolph, Adam Clayton Powell, Andrew Young, Ralph Abernathy, and Richard Wright. There
were also common citizens from the diaspora, such as Lucille Davis, an African American who was working in Los Angeles when
the Gold Coast won independence and became Ghana. She wrote Nkrumah directly asking him to intervene on her behalf when the
British embassy in Washington tried to stop her from going to Ghana to attend the independence celebrations. As Mary Ellen
Ray who has lived in Ghana for almost 20 years stated in her article, "Ghana: 'Home' For African Americans":
"Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first president, sent out a call to skilled and talented African Americans
to come to Ghana to help with the building of a new independent African nation. Many came; some left and some stayed. Today,
it's estimated there are between 1,500 and 2,000 residing permanently in the country. This count isn't entirely accurate because
many settled outside the larger towns and cities preferring to stay in villages and/or not registering with the U.S. Embassy.
African Americans residing in Ghana represent almost every state in the U.S., even Hawaii. A large
number came as the wives of Ghanaians they met in the States. And each year more retirees arrive. Though inflation has hit
Ghana and the "bargain" prices are not as much of a bargain anymore, water and electricity and telephone services continue
to 'come and go' without notice, and cultural differences can get sticky at times, many of us African Americans 'hang in thar'.
Several have been here for fifty years. Dr. Robert Lee, a classmate of Kwame Nkrumah at Lincoln
University, and his wife, Dr. Sara Lee (now deceased) were among Ghana's pioneering dentists. Sara Lee started the nation's
first school dental clinic. After five decades of dental practice, Dr. Lee retired in 2002.
When Lucille Davis heard about the upcoming independence of Ghana in 1957 she was working in Los
Angeles, an Upper State New Yorker, and decided she wanted to attend this historic event. The British Consulate discouraged
her from making the trip. Undeterred, she went home, sat down and wrote a letter directly to Kwame Nkrumah, the president-to-be,
explaining her desire and her plight. Within two weeks the British Consulate called Mrs. Davis saying Kwame Nkrumah was inviting
her to the independence celebration as an honored guest. She now owns and operates the Beachcomber Guest House facing the
Guinea Sea in Teshie Nunga, a suburb of Accra."
Dr. DuBois was one of the African Americans who moved to Ghana and renounced his American citizenship.
In 1961, Nkrumah invited Dr. DuBois to spend his last days in Ghana. DuBois was then in conflict with the American government
for his opposition to America's Cold War and imperial policies. He left the United States and became a citizen of Ghana and
died on August 27, 1963, in Accra, the day before the March on Washington when Dr. Martin Luther King gave his famous "I Have
A Dream" speech on August 28. He was 95 and died shortly after becoming a Ghanaian citizen.
The involvement of Dr. DuBois and others in the African independence struggle, and the participation
in Pan-African conferences by Africans from Africa together with those from the United States, the Caribbean and Europe, demonstrates
the indissoluble bonds that have always existed between Africa and the diaspora. Black people in the Americas and elsewhere
have always known that the well-being of Africa is inextricably linked with their destiny because whatever affects one, affects
the other. No black person is free until all blacks are free.
And until Africa is free and united, there is no hope for the black race. If there is dignity in
numbers, there is also humiliation in numbers. If more than 600 million black people in Africa - more than 200 million Africans
in Africa are not black - cannot do anything to uplift the black race, 35 million blacks in the United States, or others elsewhere
in the diaspora, cannot do it alone. Therefore the destiny of the black race lies with Africa. That is where the numbers and
the resources are. And the bonds that have always existed between Africa and the diaspora should be strengthened to help Africans,
at home and abroad, achieve their goals to be among the best among men.
When the Sixth Pan-African Congress was held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1974, under the stewardship
of President Julius Nyerere almost 35 years after the Fifth Pan-African Congress was held in Manchester in England in 1945,
it was the first of its kind to be held on African soil. It was held in Nkrumah Hall at the University of Dar es Salaam. The
hall was named after Nkrumah in memory of his dedication and achievements as a Pan-Africanist and Pan-African leader, one
of the greatest leaders Africa has ever produced. In a survey of Africans in 2000, as reported by the BBC, the majority of
the people voted for Nkrumah as the most influential African leader.
And in a Pan-African context, he probably had the strongest links to black America among all African
leaders. And the years he spent as a student in the United States helped to strengthen those ties. But it was the depth of
his Pan-African commitment, his ability to fully embrace the people in the diaspora as fellow Africans, as well as his colorful
style as a leader, which was the biggest attraction to him among African Americans.
When he was a student, he was also attracted to Marcus Garvey and said in his autobiography that it
was the teachings of Garvey which had the biggest influence on him. As he stated: "Of all the literature that I studied, the
book that did more than any other to fire my enthusiasm was Philosophy
and Opinions of Marcus Garvey. Garvey, with his
philosophy of 'Africa for Africans' and his 'Back to Africa' movement, did much to inspire the Negroes of America in the 1920's."
Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1914
at the age of 28. After he moved to Harlem in 1916, New York became the new headquarters of the movement. It was the largest
black movement in American history, attracting millions of followers and admirers with its mission to uplift the black race.
Marcus Garvey wanted to unite blacks worldwide and build a strong empire in Africa. Thus, the UNIA
also became a back-to-Africa movement. As Garvey stated when he developed his vision for the Universal Negro Improvement Association:
"Where is the black man's government? Where is his King and his kingdom? Where is his President, his ambassador, his country,
his men of big affairs? I could not find them, and then I declared, 'I will help to make them.'" And the place where he was
going to achieve his goal was Africa.
Garvey's vision undoubtedly had a profound impact on Nkrumah when he was a student in the United
States and after he became president of Ghana as he sought to unite Africa. He became the most forceful exponent of immediate
continental unification with his slogan, "Africa Must Unite." It was also the title of his book published to coincide with
the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in May 1963.
Nyerere had the same kind of Pan-African commitment like Nkrumah. He embraced the African diaspora
as much as Nkrumah did but did not have a flamboyant style like Nkrumah's. His style was simple, deceptively simple. Underneath
lay a deep commitment to Pan-African causes transcending continental boundaries, without parallel among his contemporaries
since Nkrumah whose political career was abruptly cut short by a military coup engineered by the CIA in February 1966.
And while Nkrumah, together with Jomo Kenyatta, played a key role in organizing the Fifth Pan-African
Congress which was attended by a number of future African leaders including future presidents such as Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr.
Hastings Kamuzu Banda, and Nkrumah and Kenyatta themselves; Nyerere presided over the Sixth Pan-African Congress during a
period when the liberation struggle in southern Africa was most intense.
It was also during this critical phase that African Americans launched a sustained campaign to
influence American policy towards Africa, especially southern Africa. Leaders such Reverend Leo Sullivan who drew up the Sullivan
principles with which American companies doing business in apartheid South Africa were required to comply to advance the cause
of racial justice in that country; black members of the United States Congress who formed the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC);
and groups such as TransAfrica led by Randall Robinson, played a critical role in this campaign and in helping to advance
the cause of liberation in southern Africa. It was Pan-African unity at its best.
In Africa, Nyerere was, among all African leaders since Nkrumah, the most relentless supporter of
the African liberation movements and their most articulate exponent in international forums. And he believed, until his last
days, that the destiny of Africans in Africa was inextricably linked with the destiny of black people in the diaspora whom
he considered to be Africans like Nkrumah and other African leaders did. As he said in one of his last interviews with the
New Internationalist in December 1998 almost one year before he died in October 1999:
"After independence, the wider African community became clear to me. I was concerned about education;
the work of Booker T. Washington resonated with me. There were skills we needed and black people outside Africa had them.
I gave our US ambassador the specific job of recruiting skilled Africans from the US Diaspora. A few came, like you (the interviewer,
Ikaweba Bunting). Some stayed; others left.
We should try to revive it (Pan-Africanism). We should look to our brothers and sisters in the
West. We should build a broader Pan-Africansim. There is still room - and the need."
Misconceptions About Each Other
RELATIONS between Africans and African Americans have been reinforced and impaired by a number
of factors through the years.
On the positive side, natural bonds between the two "peoples" - who are really one people - have
been the most critical factor in maintaining and strengthening this "tempestuous" relationship. On the negative side, misconceptions
about each other have been some of the most damaging, sometimes even impairing the credibility of those who are genuinely
interested in fostering and maintaining a strong relationship between Africans and African Americans on both sides of the
One of the biggest misconceptions is that we don't care about each other or even like let alone
love each other.
I asked one of the African Americans who moved to Ghana a few questions on this subject. She was
living in Ghana when I asked her these questions towards the end of November 2004, the same month I started writing this book
and when I was working on this chapter and she was more than willing to answer any questions I had.
Her name was Imahkus Okofu, author of Returning Home Ain't Easy, But It Sure Is A Blessing, about her return to her ancestral homeland Africa. She was born and raised in the Bronx, New York,
and lived in Jamaica before moving to Ghana in 1990, permanently, with her husband. These are her answers to my questions:
Q: "What are some of the challenges have you met?"
A: "Language, culture, historical differences and the perception that all Africans from the diaspora,
especially Americans, are rich. Getting over the romanticized notion about Africa. It's a hard crash into reality."
Q: "What is the general attitude of Africans on the mainland towards African Americans, especially
when they return to the motherland?"
A: "Some are very happy to see us, are proud and want to help us adjust. But many are angry and
confused because (1)They say we were fortunate as our ancestors were taken as slaves and as a result we got to be born in
America. (2) They don't understand why we left the land of golden opportunity (America) to come to Ghana where they are suffering.
(3) Many want to go to America and can't."
Q: "What do yout think about Gregg Pascal Zachary's article, "Tangled Roots: For African Americans
in Ghana, The Grass Isn't Always Greener," in The
Wall Street Journal, March 14, 2001? It caused
quite a stir. But I don't know if all the people quoted in the article, besides Victoria Cooper, disputed what was said or
denied saying what the writer said they did."
A: "Several people mentioned in that article responded to The Wall Street Journal and to date have received no response. This so-called journalist with his warped mentality to the degree that he
should be put into the category of agent provocateur in trying to discourage Afrikans of the diaspora from looking towards
Afrika with the thoughts of returning and re-uniting this Afrikan family.
As a couple of individuals (my husband and I) that this 'white boy' wrote about, we can honestly
say that a lot of what he said was unfounded, untrue and terribly distorted. He also failed to mention in his article how
he had been treated and accepted as a journalist in our community. Nor did he expound on his vocal discourse of 'wishing he
had been born black.' And let us not fail to mention his sneaky, underhanded affinity towards Afrikan sisters. He has been
banned from our community and all others should take careful notice of this snake."
Q: "Is it true that some African Americans are disgusted with Africa - the cold reception, etc.
- and have decided to return to the United States?"
A: "Our reception has been anything but cold. Extremely friendly, even with underlying motives.
Afrika is not for every Afrikan descendant born in the diaspora. As the title of my book states, 'Returning Home Ain't Easy.'
There are a few, and I do mean a
few, who have returned to the diaspora. But for
the most part, those who have repatriated have stood the test of time, dating as far back as 1956 when The Honorable Osagefyo
Kwame Nkrumah first invited brothers and sisters to come home to motherland Afrika/Ghana; and also keeping in mind the affirmation
of The Honorable Marcus Garvey 'Africa for Africans, those at home and those abroad.' Those descendants who visited Afrika
and chose to return to America are the Africans 'abroad.'
The networking between the continent and the diaspora is extremely important. so, those Afrikans
'abroad' must support those of us repatriated Afrikans on the continent as much as possible, for we are here to make a way
for those who desire to come.
Those Afrikans born in America as a result of the Trans-Atlantic Arab-European slave trade, descendants
of kidnapped Afrikans, are the ones that are working to be a part of the re-building of Mother Afrika and the uniting of the
Black Afrikan family globally.
There are those of us kidnapped Afrikans born in the diaspora who also hear the message from The
Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey that we have to reclaim and redeem Mother Afrika. Of course, there are those who do not want
this to happen, but 'Up You Mighty Race You Can Accomplish What You Will' (as Marcus Garvey said)."
Q: "What happened to the citizenship bill for African Americans President Jerry Rawlings talked
about at a press conference with President Bill Clinton in Washington in 1998? Is it true that it's dead?"
A: "For all intents and purposes, it is unconscious. It is up to us to re-awaken the sleeping giant.
Dual citizenship was only given to Ghanaians. We received something called Right of Abode and it is not citizenship. We will
have to fight hard for this one. Sorry, Jerry let us down, I'm afraid.
Stay strong. The Struggle Continues But Victory Is Ours!
One Love, One God, One Heart, One Blessed Afrikan Family.
Seestah Imahkus and Nana Okofo Iture Kwaku I Ababio."
Although she tried to clear up some of the misconceptions Africans and African Americans have about
each other, a commendable effort, there is no question that some of the African Americans who lived in Ghana - as well as
in other parts of Africa - and returned to the United States disagree with her assessment of the situation on the continent,
especially in terms of relations between Africans and black Americans.
There are Africans who don't want to be bothered, just as black Americans don't; there are those
who are genuinely friendly and interested in helping our brethren from the diaspora to settle in Africa; there are Africans
who pretend to be nice to African Americans, calling them "my brother," "my sister," just to raid their pockets or use them
to get to the United States in order to escape "hell" in Africa; and there are some who are outright hostile, just as some
African Americans are, especially those who don't want to be identified with "primitive savages" on the "Dark Continent" as
And there are many factors we have to take into account in order to understand why we have misconceptions
of each other and why relations between Africans and African Americans are sometimes not as good as they should be.
We have to be brutally frank that our perceptions of each other are quite often refracted through
the prism of prejudice. There are many Africans in Africa and in the United States who simply don't want to bothered or be
indentified with African Americans because they don't see them as fellow Africans. They see them as just Americans, nothing
else, not even as distant cousins. As one African American woman in Detroit stated in her message posted on the internet on
a Nigerian discussion forum, Mobile Nigeria Forum, in March 2005:
"For years even after traveling to Africa, I have watched strange relationships between native
Africans and other Africans living all over the world.
A few years back, I had the opportunity to travel to West Africa: Ghana. While visiting in a local
cafe, I desired to strike up an conversation, and I was told by a gentleman there, 'Listen I don't care who you say you are,
you are American and go back home.' I walked off confused.
Yet again, someone else had the same attitude towards me, but this time I replied, "do not be mad
at me because my great grandmother made the the trip through unthinkable atrocities across the Atlantic". It wasn't until
after this statement, that I was offered a seat.
It has always bothered me as an American what should I call myself. I believe my heritage is in
the West African area, but what am I to do? But this I do know: I refuse to let anyone tell me that I am not African - for
My question to you is: What must we all do to improve relations between native Africans and others
descendants living in other countries?"
Some Africans cite cultural differences as the main reason why they don't accept American blacks
as fellow Africans. And it is true that black Americans have been exposed to the full radiation of a predominantly European
culture and therefore, through no fault of theirs, their culture is more European or Euro-American than African.
Then there are those who say black Americans lost their African identity a long time ago through slavery
and racial intermingling, creating a new identity of their own which is neither European nor African; an argument Dr. Martin
Luther King also made in one of his speeches and published in his book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? As he unequivocally stated, "The Negro is not an African." He went on to say that "the Negro" is neither African
nor European but a hybrid of both.
I remember when I was a student in Detroit in the early and mid-seventies, some African students
used to say black Americans were not African. One of them, a West African student, went even further and bluntly stated: "You
know we don't like them." Another one, a Nigerian student who had just arrived in the United States said: "They are not African.
I don't accept them and will never accept them as Africans."
There were others who shared those sentiments. But there were also those who didn't. And that is
still the case today across the United States and in many parts of Africa. Many black Americans, of course, don't care about
Africans anymore than Africans do about them.
There are also realities which are ignored when people ask why relations between Africans and African
Americans are sometimes not very good. One of those realities is the misconception many blacks in the United have about Africa.
Even those who should know better seem to ignore the fact that Africa is not a monolithic whole, and that Africans are not
one people in several fundamental respects.
Africa is not one country. It is a continent, huge and diverse, with about 800 million people who
belong to more than 1,000 different ethnic groups and also to different races. To say, for example, that Ethiopians and Somalis
in East Africa and Fulanis in West Africa (who probably originated from Ethiopia as the Somalis did as linguistic evidence
shows; so do common physical features Fulanis share with Ethiopians) belong to the same race as the Ashanti in Ghana or the
Yoruba and the Igbo in Nigeria or the Zulu and the Xhosa in South Africa is to ignore reality.
Somalis and Ethiopians and Fulanis are African, it is true, but they are not "Negro." Nor are the
Moors or Berbers with curly straight hair. They belong to different races and some of them, typical Berbers for example, look
white. Their languages also are very different. Amharic, for example, the main Ethiopian language is related to Hebrew. Other
Ethiopian languages, in Tigre and other parts of Ethiopia, also have Semitic roots or elements.
Even just the way most Ethiopians look - many with curly straight hair, thin faces and pointed
noses, others with light complexion, what have been described as black "Caucasian" features - should be enough to raise questions
regarding the claim that they have the same racial identity as Bantus and "Negroes." No, they don't! Emperor Haile Selassie
himself looked like a Jew. So do many other Ethiopians.
Yet many, if not most, African Americans lump all Africans together and in fact insist that Ethiopians
and Somalis are the same as Zulus or Ewes or Ashantis, members of the same race! And in their determined attempt to identify
with Africa, some African Americans point to their own features saying they look like Ethiopians and Somalis, ignoring the
fact that they look that way because of their Caucasian heritage; they have European genes, and not just African, since slavery
and from voluntary racial intermarriage between blacks and whites in the United States through the years.
And when they are not fully accepted as black people or as Africans by blacks in Africa or from
Africa, they say Africans just don't like them or just don't want to identify with them or with black people in or from the
United States. And many of them don't. They don't even see them as black people but as a product of mixed races; which is
an indisputable biological fact even according to mixed blacks themselves except that they choose to identify with only their
African heritage even if they are mostly of European ancestry.
And there are such people even in Africa itself, in fact many of them, born and raised in Africa
who are a product of mixed races, African and European, African and Arab and other races or all combined. And they are Africans
just like the rest of the Africans on the continent and elsewhere because they are citizens of African countries. Many of
them have black African blood in varying degrees just like black Americans or African Americans do; although there may be
some black Americans who are even more African in terms of genes than some of the black Africans themselves who say none of
the American blacks are African like black Africans.
Still, none of them - racially mixed black Americans and racially mixed black Africans - can be
denied their African heritage.
If a black African has a sister who has children with a white man, he cannot honestly say that
those children are not his nephews and nieces like those born to another sister whose husband is a black African. They are
all his nephews and nieces, and not half-nieces and half-nephews simply because they are half-black or simply because their
father is white.
And that is analogous to the African identity of racially mixed black Americans. They have African
heritage, and they are entitled to it as much as their brethren are. And they have relatives in Africa just like other black
Americans do, relatives their ancestors left behind when they were captured and sold into slavery.
But even racially mixed Africans are not considered just black, for obvious reasons, because of their
mixed parentage. In East Africa, especially in Kenya and Tanzania where we have a very large number of people of mixed races,
they are called chotara in Kiswahili, which means half-caste, a British term we learned from the British
who taught us English since the two countries were British colonies.
The term chotara is not a derogatory term. It is used only for identification purposes even if
it has some derogatory connotations in the minds of some people. In South Africa, such people are called Coloureds and like
to identify themselves as such, in many cases to deliberately maintain distance from blacks whom they consider to be inferior
even if they don't say so, especially after the end of apartheid. But during the apartheid era, they were classified as superior
to black people. Many of them still feel the same way today.
Now, when African Americans whose features distinctly show that they are racially mixed find out
that they are not accepted as black people when they go to Africa, unlike in the United States where they are identified as
such, they assume that black Africans just don't want to accept them. They have the same experience with a number of Africans
even within the United States itself who don't see them as really black.
But they forget that even within Africa itself, people of mixed races are not considered black
as I have just explained, although they are accepted as fellow Africans. For example in South Africa, they wouldn't be calling
themselves Coloureds if they thought they were black. And many of them don't even want to be called black just like many light-skinned
blacks in the United States did not want to identify themselves with blacks, until the civil rights movement started to gain
momentum in the fifties and sixties and they started to drift with the current for their own interest since they saw that
blacks were then making progress in the struggle for racial equality. So they had to identify with the only group which would
accept them because of their common African heritage in spite of the fact that mixed blacks also had a lot of European blood
in their veins.
Therefore it is not rejection but different perceptions of who and what people are which keeps
some African Americans and Africans apart, although we can't deny that there are those who simply don't want to accept black
Americans - racially mixed or not - as fellow Africans just as there are black Americans who don't want to identify themselves
with Africans as the same people.
The problem of racial identity manifests itself even in subtler forms in Africa among the elite.
Unlike the uneducated, many educated Africans claim to have transcended racial and tribal loyalties for the sake of national
unity. Jerry Rawlings, the former president of Ghana whose father is Scottish and his mother a member of the indigenous Ewe
ethnic group found mostly in eastern Ghana and across the border in Togo, was elected on this platform. Many people, the elite
and laymen alike, supported him eschewing racial solidarity and ethnic loyalties. But there were still those who did not accept
him as a fellow black African. The phenomenon is not unique to Ghana or any of the other African countries.
In South Africa, Walter Sisulu, one of the most prominent leaders in the anti-apartheid struggle
who was also very close to Nelson Mandela, was not just black. His mother was a Xhosa and his father British. Yet he was fully
accepted by most black Africans as a fellow African and was revered as a leader with the same stature as Nelson Mandela, Oliver
Tambo, and Govan Mbeki - some of the most the most prominent black African leaders in South African history.
In Tanzania, my country, Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim lost the presidential nomination in 2005 as the
candidate of the ruling party CCM (Chama Cha Mapinduzi which means The Party of the Revolution or The Revolutionary Party),
which was guaranteed to win the election as has always been the case since independence, mainly because he was an Arab.
His racial identity became a subject of discussion even in the media, with some people raising
concerns about his "eligibility" as an Arab to be president of a predominantly black country. As Professor Teddy Maliyamkono,
a black, at the University of Dar es Salaam said about Dr. Salim's quest for the presidency, many people in Tanzania - meaning
black people - were “not ready for an Arab-looking person” to be president.
Even Dr. Salim's explanation at press conferences and other meetings that he was also partly of
black African origin, Nyamwezi and Manyema, two tribes in western Tanzania with the Manyema also straddling the Tanzanian-Congolese
border, did not help his candidacy.
Yet he was highly popular among many people and was one of the three finalists, coming in second,
although a distant second, in the number of votes cast by the ruling party's delegates at the nominating convention, ahead
of a black African candidate, Professor Mark Mwandosya, who came in third.
The nomination went to the country's highly popular minister of foreign affairs, Jakaya Kikwete,
a black African whose election as president was a virtual certainty. Yet, through the years since Julius Nyerere, the country's
first president, stepped down in 1985, it was generally accepted that Dr. Salim would be the next president of Tanzania and
was in fact even endorsed by Nyerere to be his successor.
Salim himself said Nyerere asked him to run for president in 1985 but he declined because there
was so much opposition to his candidacy. He also said he declined again to seek the presidency in 1995 because he felt that
it was the turn of someone from Tanzania mainland to lead the country; Salim comes from the former island nation of Zanzibar,
Pemba island in particular.
But it was his identity as an Arab, probably more than anything else, which derailed his candidacy.
Even delegates of the ruling party from Zanzibar, the isles where he came from, were resolutely opposed to his candidacy for
the same reason, contrary to what the founding father of the nation, Mwalimu Nyerere, taught about racial tolerance and equality.
Therefore much as racial identity plays a major role in the acceptance and non-acceptance of many
African Americans as fellow Africans or as fellow blacks by many black Africans in Africa and in the United States where many
of them live as immigrants or as students, it plays an equally major role within Africa itself among Africans themselves of
different racial backgrounds.
One example of how many Africans see black Americans differently involved a female African American
student who went to the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania in the 1990s on an exchange program as I explain elsewhere
in this book. She said when she walking in the streets of Dar es Salaam, the nation's former capital and now its commercial
center with more than 3 million people, some people stared at her and even children called her "half-caste"; in spite of the
fact that there are many people of mixed races in Tanzania, between Africans and Europeans, and between Africans and Arabs
for an even longer period of time spanning centuries.
There is another divisive element among black Africans themselves: tribalism. And it is a potent
force. Tribalism in African countries is probably an even bigger problem since it involves more people, tens of millions of
Africans, interacting with each other or in conflict with each other sometimes on daily basis.
The Hutu-Tutsi conflict which cost about 1 million lives in Rwanda in 1994, and about 500,000 in
more than 10 years in neighboring Burundi since 1993, is just one example. In Nigeria in the sixties, about 2 million Igbos
perished in a civil war led mostly by the Hausa-Fulani.
The civil war in southern Sudan which ended in 2005 claimed more than 3 million lives, mostly black
since 1983, at the hands of the Arabs and was therefore mostly racial. But even among black ethnic groups themselves in southern
Sudan, there have been conflicts through the years costing untold numbers of lives in spite of the fact that they were at
the same time fighting a common enemy, their Arab oppressors, the same ones who have committed genocide against members of
black tribes in Darfur region in western Sudan.
The ethnic and cultural diversity itself of this vast continent is enough to boggle the mind. And
many African Americans are disappointed when they find out they can't fit anywhere in Africa in terms of ethnic and cultural
identity. When they get there, they realize that Africa is not one, but many in one. They also have a distorted and romantic
view of Africa and automatically expect to be embraced, even with hugs and kisses, by Africans as their kith-and-kin finally
returning home after centuries of separation since the slave trade.
Some Africans accept them, and even embrace them with hugs and kisses, while some don't. Africans
experience the same thing when they go to the United States, although they probably fit in easier when they move into black
communities because blacks in America constitute a single ethnic group and are not fragmented along tribal lines the way we
are in Africa. And many of them see African immigrants and students in the United States just as fellow blacks.
But even when they settle in black communities in the United States for obvious reasons, including
acceptance by black Americans as fellow blacks and avoiding white neighborhoods because of racial hostility, many Africans
still don't easily mingle with African Americans. And there are several reasons for that.
One is non-acceptance or indifference by some black Americans. They don't want to mingle or associate
with Africans. They don't see them as a part of them; they don't want to be identified with "primitive" people; they think
that Africans don't like them or accept them as their people with the same African origin and heritage; they are not sure
how Africans are going to respond to their overtures; some say Africans are arrogant and think they are better than American
blacks; and some of them don't like Africans because they say they sold them into slavery.
Another reason why many Africans don't mingle with black Americans is that they are perfectly comfortable
within their own world even when they are far away from home and live in the United States. They are a part of the black community
in the United States, yet so far apart in terms of social interaction in many cases.
They like to socialize with fellow Africans because they are more comfortable to be with "their
own kind"; they have their own groups they identify with, fellow African immigrants and students in general or people from
their own countries including their own ethnic groups - for example there are many Igbos and Yorubas in many parts of the
United States, including large numbers of them within the same cities where some of them have even formed organizations. Many
Africans also have state and national organizations.
Africans in the United States also don't mingle or associate with black Americns because they don't
consider them to be African.
They also see them as "lazy" and "prone to crime" instead of doing something constructive with
their lives and always complaining about racism in a country which has so many opportunities almost for anybody to succeed
in life as long as one is willing to sacrifice and work hard and save money, even if it's a dollar at a time - it adds up
The work ethic is strong among Africans, as it is among other immigrant groups, while it's lacking
in the black community among many black Americans. That is the erroneous assumption many Africans have about black America,
ignoring the fact most black Americans have jobs and work hard; with the shiftless and the riff-raff among them being only
But that is the belief they have, and it is prevalent among a large number of Africans in the United
States, although not all, I should emphasize. I have dealt with fellow Africans, many of them, for many years in the United
States, and those are some of the observations I have been able to make in my dealings with them.
And many of them have been frank about it in the company of fellow Africans. There are even those
who tell American blacks how they feel about them, however rude and cruel this may be. Therefore there is no question that
many Africans have a negative attitude towards black Americans. As Chike Okafor, a Nigerian immigrant in the United States,
stated in his article (posted on the internet), "Dilemma of Nigerian Kids in the Diaspora":
"I read an article not too long ago about African stereotypes toward African Americans. The article
contended that Africans regarded African Americans as inferior, poor, uneducated, lethargic, crime prone, poor English, and
the list goes on. In fact, the last stigma resonates with the thesis of this article.
I have also been in a number of discussions with our resident brothers and sisters in the United
States of America who perceived Africans as arrogant, selfish, pompous, crass, and the most troubling, looking down on them
I have often tried to reconcile the prejudice held by these two communities. In one instance, I
reasoned with an acquaintance that these stereotypes were a result of lack of understanding and knowledge of each other.
I have argued that the elite western media takes to heart and adore its role in preventing African
Americans from knowing their heritage by continuously planting the seed of discord among the two communities. The elite western
media were able to do the damage through selective content reporting on Africa. I have argued that the western media is not
friendly to Africans or African-oriented issues. For instance, it is a common knowledge that about 90 percent of the western
media reports on Africa were negative, five percent were on safari (animal watching) and the remaining five percent can be
apportioned to other issues.
It is no secret that the bulk of the information that African Americans read or see were presented
through the eyes of others; in this case the western European dominated media. As mentioned previously, remember that at least
90 percent of the reporting on Africa are negative. An example of such reporting are ethnic warfare and killings (Sierra Leone,
Liberia, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Sudan, Burundi), famine (Ethiopia), corruption (Nigeria), and Aids (Kenya, South African president’s
position on the issue) and the list goes on. So it is easy for one to see how negative opinions can be easily formed about
Alternatively, if one wants to know the truth, one has to travel to Africa. Unfortunately, to do
so is very expensive and not too many African Americans can afford the cost of such trip. To compound the situation, African
leaders have not made any serious effort to encourage such trips especially through real tourism.
Those African Americans who have been to the African continent have a different perception about
Africa and its people. They tend to be more susceptible to a rational opinion in discussion of African affairs. Moreover,
I have equally held that Africans in the Diaspora have not done enough to bridge the gap. What they did was to incorporate
the existing stereotypes held against African Americans into one word - Akata.
What is Akata? In Yoruba language of southwest Nigeria where it originated, it meant black Americans
of African descent. Fair enough. However, the Africans in the Diaspora have turned the term to mean something more negative
They have used it derogatorily to imply all the symptoms embodied in negativity such as lethargic,
penury, unmotivated, kleptomania, drug head, welfare queen, drunkard, uneducated, killers, broken homes, illiterates and rapists.
However, what they have missed in the process is that they, the Africans in the Diaspora have contributed
to the growing population of the Akatas, a phenomenon that occurred through childbirth. Most of the new generations of Diaspora
kids are more confused than the African American that have been subjected to unfounded scorn and derogatory remarks."
And that is a fairly objective assessment I share with this fellow African from Nigeria. Yet, little
has been done to dispel the myths we have about each other. Both groups, African and African American, continue to fuel misperceptions
of each other to the detriment of both, and as many people from both sides continue to maintain distance from each other.
Africans in the United States are no less inhibited in all this, as I have explained earlier, and are probably further encouraged
to do so because they are far away from home and see themselves as "isolated," and as strangers, in a foreign country - which
is thousands of miles away from Africa.
There are other reasons why Africans maintain distance from African Americans. Like most immigrants
and foreign students, they came to the United States to succeed in life and have little time for anything else including forging
strong ties with black Americans simply because they are fellow blacks or people of the same African origin. They are busy
with their own lives just like most black Americans are busy with theirs and don't care who has moved nextdoor or has come
from Africa and moved into their neighborhoods. Each to his own.
Africans also see black Americans as arrogant who don't want to have anything to do with them or
with Africa and therefore maintain discreet silence when they are around them or when they live in the same neighborhood where
they also maintain distance from them. This is not true in all cases but in many of them. Both sides can testify to that,
while others will dispute this, sometimes out of racial solidarity which, from my observation in many cases, is more apparent
And the fact that many Africans don't seem to be bothered by the legacy of slavery in the United
States, since their ancestors in Africa never experienced it and memories of the slave trade are in the distant past, only
compounds the problem of this "tempestuous" relationship between Africans and African Americans.
And, tragically, neither side has taken strong initiatives to bridge the communication gap or improve
relations between the two groups.
In all the years I lived in the United States, mostly in black communities, I was not aware of
any concerted efforts by groups of Africans or African Americans to improve relations between them, although now and then
meetings have been held by some people and a few groups through the years, even if only sporadically, to discuss issues of
Still, those who may contend that this has been going on across the the United States, on sustained
basis for years, will be hard-pressed to come up with empirical evidence to support their argument. Ask them where those groups
are in Michigan, where I lived for many years, doing this on regular basis. Where are they? I knew one, the Pan-African Congress-USA,
which sponsored me and other African students in Detroit in the seventies but it was eventually dissolved, with members going
their separate ways.
Go anywhere in the United States where Africans have settled in significant numbers, and come up
with some evidence to show that they and black Americans in those places work together on regular basis to establish strong
ties between them, help each other, and pursue a common agenda to achieve common goals. You'll probably come up empty-handed
besides a handful of speeches here and there made by some Africans and black Americans, "full of sound and fury, signifying
nothing." In many cases, it's all rhetoric without substance.
Even black churches, which should be some of the leading institutions in forging strong ties between
black Americans and African communities in the United States, don't seem to be doing much in this area. I lived in Detroit,
a predominantly black city with many black churches, large and small, and I didn't see any evidence of this.
And one of the biggest reasons for this failure is that the primary interest of black churches and
other black institutions including social and civic organizations, and of the black American community itself, is black America.
And it is understandable. That is their constituency, not Africa or African immigrants. And that is because black Americans
are Americans more than anything else in the practical sense.
Still, they and the Africans in their midst or around them can work together on the basis of racial
solidarity to pursue common goals in a country, and in a world, which does not make a distinction between them but sees them
simply as one people and as children of Africa.
While it seems that efforts are being made at the international level, with African-American groups
establishing ties with and working in African countries, not much is being done at the local and national levels between Africans
and African Americans within the United States even in pursuit of racial solidarity without which achievement of any other
common goals is virtually impossible. Even African and African-American student groups on college campuses don't always work
together, if at all in most cases.
So, whose fault is it? Both sides.
But there are somethings which have been done, even if on a limited scale, in pursuit of common
objectives. Even those who are genuinely interested in the well-being of each other still don't know some of the things which
both sides have done to foster racial solidarity and support the struggle for justice we as people, black people, have been
denied probably more than anybody else.
I remember, for example, reading about an African American graduate student at an American university
who wanted to know if Africans in the United States and those in the motherland had ever been concerned or played any role
in supporting African Americans in their struggle against racial injustice including lynchings. He asked this question obviously
because most black Americans don't know or don't believe that Africans have ever shown any interest in their plight or helped
them in the struggle for racial justice and equality. Although it is a misconception, it is accepted as truth.
Most people may not know about this, and there may not be much documentation on the subject, but
it is a fact, a documented historical fact, that Africans have supported their kith-and-kin in the United States for decades
and in the best way they could, given the constraints under which they have had to operate. There are, and there have been
through the decades, operational limits beyond which, as foreigners, Africans on American soil and in Africa cannot go in
their support for the black American struggle for equality and justice.
During the civil rights movement, African governments took strong interest in the struggle for
racial equality in the United States and issued a formal statement condemning racial injustice against people of African descent
in the United States. The statement was in the form of a resolution linking racial discrimination in the United States with
apartheid in South Africa and was issued by the African heads of state and government who met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in
May 1963, to form the Organization of African Unity. And it was incorporated into the OAU Charter:
"The Summit Conference of Independent African States meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 22
May to 25 May 1963; having considered all aspects of the questions of apartheid and racial discriminations; unanimously convinced
of the imperious and urgent necessity of co-ordinating and intensifying their efforts to put an end to the South African Government's
criminal policy of apartheid and wipe out racial discrimination in all its forms,...(also) expresses the deep concern aroused
in all African peoples and governments by the measures of racial discrimination taken against communities of African origin
living outside the continent and particularly in the United States of America,...intolerable mal-practices which are likely
seriously to deteriorate relations between the African peoples and governments on the one hand and the people and Government
of the United States of America on the other."
And in the following year, after the OAU summit of African heads of state and government met in
Cairo, Egypt, in July (1964), African leaders addressed the subject of racial discrimination in the United States. This was
after Malcolm X spoke at the conference and appealed to African leaders to raise the matter at the United Nations. If apartheid
in South Africa could be addressed by the UN, he saw no reason why racial discrimination against people of African descent
in the United States could not be accorded the same treatment.
About nine African countries including Ghana, Guinea, Tanzania and Egypt agreed to take up the
matter and bring it before the UN General Assembly but did not do so for a number of reasons including diplomatic and political
problems and strong opposition from the United States government.
When Malcolm X went on a trip to several African countries in July 1964, State Department officials
in Washington complained about his activities, saying he was causing a lot of trouble for the United States in Africa where
he also strongly condemned American involvement in the Congo and in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba. And the assassination
of Malcolm X himself several months later on February 21, 1965, after his African trip, sealed the fate of this subject since
he was the only major African American leader who consistently worked to have it brought before the UN.
But even before then, and even much earlier, Africans had been involved in varying degrees in the
struggle for racial equality in the United States just like African Americans had been in the independence struggle and liberation
movements in Africa.
In the late 1950s, the leaders Ghana and Guinea, the first two black African countries to win independence
- Ghana from Britainin 1957 and Guinea from France in 1958 - addressed the issue of racial discrimination in the United States.
The diplomats from these two countries raised the issue at the UN at least once.
And not long after Tanganyika (renamed Tanzania in 1964 after uniting with Zanzibar) won independence,
the Tanganyikan ambassador to the UN, and other diplomats at the Tanganyika Mission, worked with African Americans including
Malcolm X who, after his African trip in July 1964, was picked up from the airport and taken in a car with diplomatic plates
that were traced to the Tanganyika Mission to the UN. This is contained in a memo written by the FBI who had been watching
Malcolm X all the time and had agents at the airport waiting for him to follow his movements.
The FBI also said after Malcolm X arrived in New York, he was taken to the residence of Tanganyika's
ambassador to the UN. And in a photograph on one of Malcolm X's speech albums, one of the people shown is Muhammad Ali Foum,
a Tanzanian diplomat to the UN. At this writing, Foum was still a high ranking Tanzanian and also an African diplomat representing
the African Union (AU) in different forums including peace missons on the continent.
In another photo, Malcolm X is seen talking to Abdulrahman Mohammed Babu, a leading Tanzanian cabinet
member and one of the most influential African and Third World leaders who worked closely with President Julius Nyerere for
many years. The picture was taken when the two met in Harlem. Babu died in 1996. He remained a formidable political figure
and renowned academic intellectual in international circles until his death even after he felt out with Nyerere and left Tanzania
to go into exile in the United States where he became a professor.
All that is more than just anecdotal evidence of African support to black Americans in their quest
for racial justice in the United States. It is enough proof showing that a number of African countries have been actively
involved in the struggle for racial justice in the United States and have always strongly identified with African Americans
as an African people themselves; although their support has been limited for a number of reasons including threats and strong
opposition by the United States, and also due to the fact that it is not easy for outsiders to play a major role in the domestic
arena of other countries.
Yet, in spite of all this, some Africans in Africa devised various means to support their brethren
in the United States in their quest for racial justice. For example, trade unionists in Ghana in the fifties, aware of what
was going on in the United States in terms of race relations, periodically sent letters to America's largest labor organization,
the AFL-CIO, condemning racial injustices including lynchings and other travesties of justice.
And even further back in the forties, many Africans in Africa closely followed what was going on
in the United States. Nigerian newspapers under Nnamdi Azikiwe - who later became Nigeria's first president after independence
in 1960 - and black American papers worked together, covering events on both sides of the Atlantic, especially in the mid-late
forties. For example, there was extensive coverage of the Nigerian general strike of 1945 and the Enugu coal miners' strike
of 1949 in black American newspapers which prompted black American organizations to ask the US State Department to intervene
on behalf of the Nigerian workers whose rights were being violated by the British colonial government.
Even US federal intervention in the southern states was largely motivated by foreign policy considerations
to win the friendship of African countries in the super-power rivalry with the Soviet Union and rob the Soviets of a powerful
propaganda weapon they used against the United States to portray it as hypocritical nation which professed democracy while
denying racial equality to people of African descent on its soil for no reason other than that they were black and African.
Concerns about America's image at home and abroad was a much more powerful motivation than the quest for justice and concerns
about the plight of American blacks as victims of racial injustice.
As African countries emerged from colonial rule in the late fifties and sixties, African leaders paid
close attention to what the United States was doing in terms of advancing the cause for racial equality. And the Daily Graphic in Ghana reported extensively on what went on in the United States during the civil rights movement; an interest
motivated by racial considerations and racial solidarity between Africans and African Americans.
The paper, which was the organ of the ruling Convention People's Party (CPP) led by President Kwame
Nkrumah, even sent a correspondent to Little Rock, Arkansas, to cover the school desegregation case, and the accompanying
violence, all of which attracted international attention. The Daily Graphic correspondent was also
assigned to cover race relations across the United States in general.
I also remember when I was a news reporter in Tanzania in the early seventies, our newspapers, especially
The Nationalist owned by the ruling party TANU (Tanganyika African National Union), had many stories about the struggle
for racial justice in the United States, including the plight of the Black Panthers such as Angela Davis and George Jackson.
The editor of The Nationalist was Benjamin Mkapa, simply known as Ben Mkapa, who also wrote strong editorials
on the subject. He later became my editor at the government-owned Daily News in Dar es Salaam, the
nation's capital, and helped me to go to school in the United States. In 1995 he was elected president of Tanzania. He was
re-elected in 2000 for a second five-year term which was also his last as stipulated by the constitution.
And like the founding father of the nation Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Mkapa was also a committed Pan-Africanist
who was fully aware of the imperative need for unity of all African people including those in the diaspora.
This should help to dispel the myth that Africans don't want to have anything to do with African
But there is another dimension to this problem, the misconception that Africans don't want to identify
themselves as black, or that they don't want to call themselves black, especially when they are in the United States, in order
to maintain distance from black Americans who are collectively known as blacks in the American context. And there is some
truth to this, also arising from a misconception on the part of many Africans - by no means all - that black Americans are
low-class and lack positive values including values conducive to achievement, an image reinforced by the media and the predominantly
white racist society.
But it persists, nonetheless, and is taken for granted as a fact of life by many Africans including
those who should know better after living in the United States for many years. As Charles Mudede, the son of African immigrants
from Zimbabwe, stated in his article, "Out of Africa: Young African immigrants Must Choose Between Being African or African
American" published in TheStranger.com in 2001: "Black Americans represent an underclass and to adopt their ways - and be
their color at the same time - is to adopt their terrible fate."
That's a pretty loaded statement. And to understand what he is saying, it is important that it
should not be taken out of context, as the author himself explains in his article reproduced here in its entirety so that
we don't lose perspective on the subject:
"Young African immigrants must choose between being African or African American. Their parents
pull in one direction and their peers pull in another.
The bus that runs up and down Rainier Avenue carries two types of East African youths. The first
type is distinguished by their traditional clothes and Islamic politeness and diffidence. They never speak loudly, and are
always found near the front of the bus for either safety or propriety's sake. Then there's the second, newer type of East
African youth. This type always sits deep in the back of the bus, decked out in FUBU, Johnny Blaze, Ecko, and Mecca with sneakers
as thick as Neil Armstrong's moon shoes.
In the winter they wear puffy space jackets, their ears sealed in bulging Sony headphones. In the
summer, they wear NBA vests and long, baggy shorts or white undershirts with polka-dot boxer shorts puffing out of their sagging
'raw denim' pants. If they are girls, they have colorful nails done up at Hollywood Nails; if they are boys, they have tight
braids or do-rags, and no amount of scrutiny can separate them from African Americans. Only when they speak is the truth revealed.
'I can always tell the difference between the two right away,' Dinknesh says to me in the library
of her high school. She came to Seattle in 1999 from Ethiopia, and though her accent is thick, she has a steady command of
English. 'If I go to the mall,' Dinknesh says confidently, 'I can tell who is African American and who is African. For some
people it's not easy, but I know the difference.'
I explain to her that I can never tell them apart, especially with the East African youth. If they
come from Nigeria or Zimbabwe or Zaire, I know right away they are African, and not because their features are more recognizable
(more Bantu, as an ethnologist might bluntly put it), but because they always get the codes wrong or messed up. They are either
a year behind the trends or their pants aren't sagging in the proper, lackadaisical manner, or worse still, and I have seen
this several times, they are wearing a generic version of Tommy Hilfiger--a brand name that's already a thing of the past
for African American youth.
'I can understand how you might not tell the difference with the [Ethiopian] boys;
they are harder [to distinguish]. But the African girls, you can tell right away,' Dinknesh says.
Dinknesh is a case in point: She is East African, but in terms of appearance, clothes, bright jewelry,
and fancy fingernails, she's all African American. And though she doesn't say it directly, she's proud of the fact that in
just under three years, she has managed to blend into the American foliage. 'Many African Americans are surprised when they
hear me speak,' says Dinknesh. '[Before I speak] they think I'm an American or even someone they know. But I'm Ethiopian,
and proud of who I am, and of my African heritage.'
A hard line runs between Dinknesh's appearance, which is connected with her American future, and
her internal life, which is still connected with her African past. The surface and the center do not hold well in Dinknesh
and others like her; they speak two separate social languages, which they have yet to reconcile or make sense of. For many
young East African immigrants, this conflict has produced a crisis. Dinknesh's successful assimilation of black American clothes
and style will, according to popular and academic reasoning, probably be more detrimental than beneficial to her future in
America. Black Americans represent the American underclass, and to adopt their ways (and be their color at the same time)
is to adopt their terrible fate.
All East African youths who look like African Americans are conscious of this; it's frequently
emphasized by their parents. To look like African Americans, who are the very definition of limited opportunity in this society,
is to reject the grand myths of success that obsess the immigrant parent. Dinknesh and other East African immigrants like
her are making a choice that will relegate them to the bottom of this oppressive society.
The old model of assimilation--the classic assimilation model--goes something like this: Immigrant
arrives in a big, northern industrial city like New York City, with a leather suitcase in hand. The immigrant then moves into
a ghetto, gets a low-paying job, works long hours for his/her kids, who do their homework in a tiny kitchen smelling of Old
World foods. The kids, the second generation, then go to college, graduate with honors, and become doctors, lawyers, and presidents
of the United States of America.
As Kathryn Harker writes in her invaluable study, 'Immigrant Generation, Assimilation, and Adolescent
Psychological Well-Being' (Social Forces): 'According to this model, first-generation immigrants, who are foreign-born and
socialized in another country, should rarely be expected to achieve social and economic parity with the native-born American
population because they must often overcome barriers such as discrimination, a new culture, and a new language. However, the
second generation, U.S.-born children of immigrants, [or] foreign-born immigrants who migrated to the U.S. while very young…
[are] expected to narrow the gap between themselves and the native population in terms of social outcomes.'
The classic model of assimilation, however, applies only to European immigrants, who can lose their
ethnic identity and become white, and thereby identify themselves with the ruling class. 'Life is easier for you if you assimilate,
and become more white American, that is true,' says Mimi Rosinski, who is 19 and came to America from Poland 14 years ago.
Like the Polish immigrants who arrived in this country in the early part of the 20th century, Mimi has gone through the first
phase of the transformation from European to white American; her son will complete the transformation and become all-American.
'You get shit for being different in school, and so you become like them. It also makes it easier
for you to get a job if you're American, and to get to places you want to be in this society,' says Mimi. 'But then there
is the whole other problem of becoming Americanized, even if it is white American. In the end, parents don't like it. At least
my parents didn't like it. They now say I'm too Americanized and liberated, and I've lost touch with my Polish roots. But
they are the ones who let me become American. They didn't teach me anything about being Polish. I think they first thought
it was good and were even excited about it, then [later] they thought it was bad and ruined the unity of the family.'
Despite its currency in the popular imagination, the classic assimilation model has been in sharp
decline since the passage of the Hart-Cellar Immigration Reform Act in 1965. That law abolished 'national origins' quotas
that favored European immigrants above all others, and channeled immigrant flows through more democratic processes. Today,
90 percent of immigrants come from Asia, Latin America, and Africa, and they've invented a plethora of new assimilation and
adaptation models to meet their specific needs.
For blacks in particular, the classic assimilation model is nothing more than
a bad joke. Unlike Latin Americans and even some Asians, blacks don't stand a chance of becoming white and benefiting from
the institutions and connections available to white people. In fact, all they can become is another type of traditional American:
black American. But this form of assimilation doesn't offer the same opportunities that white assimilation offers European
So to succeed in the United States, modern African immigrants have to adopt the very opposite of
the classic assimilation model. To survive in this country, they work hard to preserve their cultural distinctions rather
than blend in with African Americans. To blend with African Americans is to engage in downward assimilation, as sociologists
call it, a process by which new immigrants are absorbed into 'impoverished, generally nonwhite, urban groups whose members
display adversarial stances toward mainstream behaviors, including the devaluation of education and diminished expectations.'
(Center for Migration Studies of New York.)
In New York City, for example, the retention of foreign accents and culture has helped West Indian
blacks get jobs. 'Given the strong negative stereotypes attached to black Americans, maintaining their distinctiveness [is]
particularly important for West Indian blacks,' writes sociologist Kyle D. Crowder. 'Recent research indicates that West Indian
immigrants are well aware of the stigma attached to being black in America, and, especially among first generation West Indians,
there is a strong motivation to maintain their distinction as West Indian ethnics.'
This was certainly the case for me. I'm the son of Zimbabwean immigrants, and when my family lived
in a black community near Sharptown, Maryland, my mother took extraordinary measures to keep my sister and me separated from
local black Americans. My mother allowed only the children of whites, other Africans, and upper-class African Americans of
the sort to be found in Ebony magazine to hang out in our rooms. But most of the African American boys and
girls I knew--and conducted secret friendships with under my mother's radar--were like Kicky, who lived across the street
from us. Kicky's mother was a part-time server in a cafeteria at a special school, and his father was somewhere in Tennessee
serving time. My mother not only banned Kicky from our house, but also from the sidewalk in front of our house.
'Where have I heard that before?' laughs Hali Mah-Mohamed, after I tell her the things my mother
used to say about African Americans. 'I hear that all of the time. Even the little bad things that happen, she blames them
on African Americans. She is always saying they are drug dealers, they don't want to work, they do nothing but bad things.'
Like Dinknesh, Hali, who is 18 years old and moved here from Uganda six years ago, looks more African
American than African. Her friend, Tirzah Ngaga, who is 19 years old and moved here from Kenya four years ago, also looks
American, though a part of her makeup--the penciled eyebrows; her long, pulled-back hair--recalls Nairobi's 'high life' culture.
We're sitting in the Rosebud, and the girls seem to forget me for a moment, locked, as it were, in a conversation about their
'Remember when you braided Makoni's hair at my house, and he was there with three of his friends?'
Hali asks Tirzah.
'Yeah, I remember that,' Tirzah responds, sipping her cappuccino.
'My mother just freaked out when she saw the boys, because they looked African American,' says
Hali. "'Who are those African Americans?' she asked me. I told her that they were not even African American but from Ethiopia,
and they were my friends. But she still freaked out, saying I should stay away from African Americans 'cause they are bad
people, and a bad influence. They do drugs, and go to jail.' Hali shakes her head as she recounts her mother's impossible
'Even if they were African American, what does it matter anyway?' Tirzah adds, raising her voice
in protest. 'My sister does the same thing. In fact, she is always judging African Americans. She never stops saying that
they are not good people and I will get into trouble if I hang out with them. But how can you judge something you don't understand?
She does not know any African Americans, so how can she call them all bad?'
'Parents are always like that. They just label everyone as the same and that is it,' concludes
A few days before meeting Tirzah and Hali, I met again with Dinknesh, who has been in the United
States for two years, and a handsome young student named Hayat Yemer, who has been in the United States for four years. Seventeen
years old and from Ethiopia, Hayat's face has the noble air of basketball superstar Kobe Bryant. Whispering in the library
of Chief Sealth High School in West Seattle, we discussed their parents' attitudes toward their appearance, which is black
'Our parents have problems with [it], but this is the way we must look because
we are now in a new country,' Hayat says confidently. 'When I play basketball with my friends we speak English, and I like
to speak English. It is the professional thing to do.'
'I don't feel whites. You know,' says Dinknesh, laughing, '[whites] don't like me and my skin color,
and I don't like them. So why should I try to look and act like them?' I ask her if she gets along with African Americans,
seeing as she has rejected white Americans. 'My people have a problem understanding them,' she says. 'That is why we don't
get along. They talk too fast, and pronounce words like 'ask' like 'axes.' So we don't know what they are talking about. Plus
they don't like us. And they also think we don't like them.
'When I was at the mall the other day, some African American guys who thought I was American came
up to me and started talking. [But] when they heard me speak they backed away, saying African women don't like African Americans.
But I said it's black Americans who don't like Africans, especially black American girls. The girls don't like us because
they are jealous of us--at least that is what I heard. They are jealous because of the hair and they recognize our beauty.
So they are worried that their men will chase us instead of them.'
'All you have to do is work hard and everyone will respect you,' Hayat says, feeling that Dinknesh
has gone off the deep end, and is now in private territory. 'I know African Americans have problems working and also with
family [life]. Their fathers are never around, and drugs are everywhere. But if you work hard, get a job, and don't abuse
the freedom we have in America, then everything will be okay.'
Most immigrants avoid thinking too deeply about what's really going on in America. The whole weird
and complex structure of their new society is broken down into basic parts: parts that work and improve their lot, and parts
that don't work and don't improve their lot. All other possibilities are thrown out the window. Immigrants can't help but
be so blunt because their world is a panicked world. They arrive in America fleeing desperate circumstances--war, famine,
Once they arrive, deportation always seems a phone call away. They are usually forced into poor
neighborhoods riddled with crime and bad cops, and if they have a job it's rarely stable or meaningful. This is why so many
black immigrants hold such low opinions of African Americans, the very people they should identify with. Immigrants want to
improve their lives as fast as possible, and they don't see many black Americans living the lives they want to live in America.
Indeed, most black immigrants are as suspicious and critical of whites as black Americans, but
they don't have the luxury of voicing their grievances. For example, my mother's criticism of black Americans was equally
matched by her criticism of white Americans, particularly Republicans. She hated Ronald Reagan with a passion, and thought
that Republicans were the cruelest, most selfish people on Earth. The day Reagan was shot was not a dark day in the Mudede
home. But my mother would never express this harsh criticism in public, because she didn't want to jeopardize her already
shaky status as an American.
What mattered to her first was achieving some sort of security, and not the larger problems of
the racism and capitalism in America. (When we were back in Africa, many years later, she let everyone know how much she despised
Ronald Reagan. Even the daughter of the American ambassador to Zimbabwe, who visited my sister regularly, was told that her
father's employer was a very bad man. My mother's brother, who was educated in the middle of Idaho, spoke about Europeans
in terms that would have pleased Louis Farrakhan after he returned to Africa.)
The Real Future
East African youths like Dinknesh are in transition; they may look black American, but their core
is still African. Their children, however, will be African American in the deepest sense. Because America is the way it is,
these African American children will experience the full brunt of America's brand of racism. The happy life their grandparents
dreamed about when they arrived here from 'war-torn Africa' will become, for them, a nightmare of police harassment, job discrimination,
and limited social and economic prospects. Dinknesh's parents are trying to block the path to this bleak future by sustaining
and imposing their Africanness.
As for my own mother, she succeeded. Despite my absorption of black American culture from hiphop
to black literature, I maintained my African/British identity, and never became an African American. But now I have two kids,
who, despite being mixed (white/black), are considered black in this society--the sad legacy of the 'one drop rule' (during
slavery days, it was held that one drop of black blood made you 100 percent black). Will I react like my mother if my son
comes home from school in sagging pants, saying nigger this and nigger that? At present, I really don't know. And maybe I
don't want to contemplate such a terrible question."
So, in a very strange way, though not totally inexplicable, this blackness, this black identity
of ours, attracts and repels at the same time. It draws many Africans towards black Americans because of the natural ties
they share as people of African origin; yet it repels them from their brethren precisely because they have the same identity
as blacks, not because they are fundamentally different in terms of origin. But it is reciprocal. Many black Americans feel
the same way. It is the fear of admitting "I am what you are" because of the negative image they have of each other.
But there is still another dimension to this, at least in the American context, which explains
why some Africans don't want to be called black. "Are you black?" "No, I am African. I come from Africa, not from the United
States." That is because the term black in the American context is generally used to mean black American as opposed to foreign-born
Therefore many Africans don't want to be called black or be identified as black because they don't
want to be confused with American blacks. But there is also an underlying motive, powerful, and even if not necessarily sinister.
They don't want to forge links with them. They just want to remain and to be known as Africans, with their own distinct identity
or identities solidly anchored in their African heritage. That is the line of reasoning, convincing or not, rational or irrational.
It is a powerful motive, nonetheless, among a significant number of Africans in the United States.
But while some of that is true, it is not true that Africans don't want
to identify themselves as black people or don't accept their black identity because they hate to be mistaken for black Americans;
there are, in fact, many who would like to be black Americans and even do their best to talk and sound like black Americans,
something they wouldn't be doing if they were ashamed of being identified as such.
Yet, there is no question that Africans usually don't call themselves black people. I myself remember
this very well when I was growing up in Tanganyika, later Tanzania, in the sixties. We simply called ourselves Africans. Even
during colonial rule, we did not have the equivalent of the Black
World, or Black News or any other
organ to articulate our nationalist sentiments and aspirations in racial terms in our quest for freedom and independence,
the way black Americans do, appealing to color (blackness) as a binding force in their struggle against white domination and
oppression. We had, instead, Mwafrika, a newspaper for Africans, black Africans yes, but African, not black, as our
common identity. We had the same paper in Tanganyika and in Kenya whose name in Kiswahili simply means an African - man or
And the main reason we Africans usually don't call ourselves black in Africa the way African Americans
do in the United States is that we have ethnic or tribal identities our brethren in the diaspora don't. They lost all that
Except in Tanzania and may be in Botswana, Africans in other African countries usually identify themselves
first on the basis of tribal identity, as Kikuyu, Ashanti, Ewe, Shona, Ndebele, Yoruba, Igbo, Zulu, Venda,
Xhosa, Toro or Luo before they say they are Kenyan or Nigerian next, or African, let alone black. As Mwashuma Nyatta, a Kenyan
student at Harvard University in the 1990s, bluntly put it when quoted in an article "Black Identity on Campus" on Africana.com:
"I am more Taita than I am Kenyan, and more Kenyan than I am black." His tribal identity, Taita, comes first.
That is one of the fundamental differences between Africans and African Americans who are bound together
by their blackness in a predominantly white society. Therefore, whereas, for example, Kamau is a Kikuyu first, or Olutola
or Adelabi is a Yoruba first, and next a Kenyan or a Nigerian before he even identifies himself as an African, a black American
is black first and last, or American next.
And when black Americans complain about racism that is being perpetrated against them by whites,
thus using or seeking refuge in their collective black identity in a predominantly white society in the American context,
Africans in Africa have to contend with tribalism by fellow Africans who belong to other tribes and whose members favor their
own people as much as whites do against blacks and other minorities.
Therefore, the tribe, or tribal identity, unites Africans in the same way skin color or race or blackness
unites black Americans. Skin color between rival or competing African tribes is irrelevant. It does not unite
Africans because tribes divide them and unite their own members. Africans know they are black. But they are
not united by their blackness, except in conflicts or confrontations with white racists; for example as
happened in apartheid South Africa. But even then, black people in South Africa identified themselves mainly as Africans,
not as blacks, as opposed to Europeans or people of European origin with their own non-African identity and whose domination
and oppression helped Africans to transcend their tribal loyalties and rivalries since they were facing a common enemy.
Yet, ethnic loyalties remained paramount in many cases in apartheid South Africa as they still
are today; for example, the Zulu and their Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) against the Xhosa who "dominate" the African National
Congress (ANC); some of their enemies and detractors even call the ruling party, La Xhosa Nostra.
In Nigeria also, ethnic divisions were a major problem even during the struggle for independence,
in spite of the fact that all Nigerians faced a common enemy: the British colonial rulers. The Hausa-Fulani of Northern Nigeria
had their own party, the Northern People's Congress (NPC); the Igbo dominated the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons
(NCNC); and the Yoruba, one of the country's three largest ethnic groups, led and dominated the Action Group (AG). However,
in many cases across Africa, Africans temporarily submerged their ethnic and regional differences to form a united front in
their struggle for independence.
After Europeans left at the end of colonial rule, different tribes or ethnic groups started to
compete for power along tribal and ethnoregional lines, plunging a number of countries into chaos and even civil war, the
kind of turmoil and virtual anarchy unheard of among black Americans who constitute a single ethnic group, black, in Black
America - if it was a separate nation - as opposed to the Igbo, Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba and the rest of the ethnic groups, 250
altogether, which make up Nigeria as one nation.
Yet, many African Americans including college students have not come to grips with this fundamental
reality or been able to comprehend its complexity because they see all blacks just as one people; overlooking the ethnic diversity
that is so typical of Africa, and ignoring the big role tribes or tribal identities play in African lives.
Some Africans have transcended that. However, they are only a minority. The vast majority appeal
to ethnic loyalties and capitalize on ethnic allegiance to promote their own interests to the detriment of national unity.
But even those who have transcended tribalism simply identify themselves as Africans, whether they
are in Africa or in America, because that is their collective identity. It is a misconception for American blacks to say assertion
of this African identity is a rejection of black identity black Americans share with black Africans.
All these misconceptions will continue to keep Africans and African Americans divided, or confused,
unless the two "peoples" sort them out and try to understand exactly what they mean, bearing in mind that they can build a
strong relationship by focusing on what they have in common and not on what divides them.
But they must also seek unity in diversity because of the fundamental cultural differences between
the two, thereby respecting each other's identity instead of trying to submerge both identities to create a monolithic whole
which is unsustainable because of the differences that exist: in outlook, in our backgrounds and other ways.
They must also realize that they have more similarities than differences, and far more than they
realize. But they have not capitalized on what they have in common and on what unites them, thus fuelling suspicion that they
don't care about each other.
And that is tragic, especially in a world where Africans and people of African origin will remain
on the periphery of the mainstream if they don't unite and work together to protect and promote their common interests and
What Africans and African Americans
Think About Their Relations:
Voices From Within
Black Identity on Campus
Harvard University sophomores Chartey Quarcoo and Harrel Conner share the same taste in music,
have the same friends and even live in the same residential suite. But the roommates remain miles apart when it comes to the
notions they hold about black identity in America.
Quarcoo grew up in Brooklyn and has a Ghanaian father and Panamanian mother. And although he considers
himself African American, he also self-identifies as African and Latino. "Both my parents are immigrants," he said. "I do
not have the same culture as another black person from Memphis, for example."
Conner, on the other hand, is from Memphis. And while he and his roommate have a lot in common,
he feels that as a black American, his outlook is different from that of his black classmates of non-American origin. Because
black Americans are often ambivalent about their American citizenship and cannot trace their roots to a single country in
Africa, Conner feels that African Americans contend with unique "feelings of homelessness."
"Unlike other black groups that have been displaced, we can only claim a continent," he said. "We
cannot claim a specific country."
The clash between Quarcoo and Conner's perspectives on identity are emblematic of a growing trend
at universities such as Harvard, where the percentage of black students hailing from immigrant communities in the U.S. is
growing. As the university admits more and more black students who think of themselves as "African" or "West Indian" rather
than as "African American" or even "black," some African American students are beginning to feel underrepresented in the university's
diverse black community. And the changing makeup of the black student community at Harvard and other prestigious institutions
has led to debates about the changing nature of "blackness" in America.
"I feel that the percentage of African Americans in the student body should reflect the percentage
of African Americans in American society," said Woody McClellan, a senior from New Jersey. His opinion is shared by many of
Harvard's African American undergraduate students, who say that it often seems as though black Americans are becoming a minority
within a minority on campus.The Harvard University admissions office reports that approximately 10 percent of the student
body is black, a slightly smaller percentage than in U.S. society at large, where blacks make up 12 percent of the population.
But the university does not compile statistics on the ethnic subdivisions among black students, a fact that seems central
to recent debates about black identity on campus, which set conceptions of an ethnic umbrella encompassing all "black" students
against more narrowly defined black sub-communities.
According to Conner, only 25 percent of the black students at Harvard can trace their family roots
to African American slaves. And that percentage includes biracial black Americans. "When you [exclude] the numbers of biracial
students, the number drops to less than 10 percent," he added.
The distinctions between the various black subgroups at Harvard are manifested in the variety of
separate campus organizations. As the Harvard African Students Association (HASA) tends to draw African students, the Black
Students Association (BSA) has traditionally been an African American organization. Similarly, the Caribbean Club gathers
students of West Indian ancestry, the Black Men's Forum (BMF) targets African American men, and groups like the Haitian Alliance
serve particular national communities. Although many students belong to more than one organization, most have little time
for multiple extra-curricular commitments.
Because African Americans at Harvard are increasingly outnumbered by the children of African and
West Indian immigrants, Conner, along with several other African American undergraduates, has been flirting with the idea
of establishing a club exclusively for American blacks. Tentatively titled the "Harvard Society for the Descendants of American
Slaves," the organization would reflect the particular perspective of blacks in the United States. If the group is organized,
Conner feels the BSA - which now comprises a mixture of American blacks, West Indians, and Africans - can become an overarching
alliance composed of students from all the black clubs at Harvard.
"The goal of an African American organization should be to promote black American culture but we
should be careful so that it does not become divisive," said Kira Tiana Freelon, a sophomore member of the BSA from Chicago.In
addition to segregating themselves in different organizations, black students from different parts of the world often tend
to be divided by their different conceptions of race and identity. Some African American students say they feel offended that
some African and Caribbean students do not primarily identify themselves as blacks. Many also feel that students from other
parts of the African diaspora do not understand the racial history of the United States.
"They look at slavery as distant and removed, but in my opinion, the legacy of slavery still affects
contemporary society," said Conner. Unlike some of his classmates, Conner is all too aware of the legacy of black inequality
in America; his mother was a sharecropper who eventually became the first person in his family to go to college, while his
grandfather spent most of his life sharecropping to pay off the financial debts owed by Conner's great grandfather, who was
also a sharecropper. While Conner acknowledges that non-Americans might be unfamiliar with black America's history of struggle,
he feels that African students at Harvard are less willing than African Americans to make efforts to understand the other's
Quarcoo, on the other hand, says that many African students are often disappointed by African American
attitudes towards Africa. "Some Africans feel that African Americans don't really view Africa as it really is, they're trying
to connect with a mythic motherland," he said. "When confronted with ‘real Africans', some African Americans are less
than welcoming." And because Africans tend to feel alienated from African Americans, they are sometimes accused of "not interacting
enough in a meaningful way."
Quarcoo also feels that Africans should not be expected to share American conceptions of race.
"At Harvard there are a lot of black students with roots outside the country where the notions of race are different." He
said many of them come from predominantly black countries where people generally relate their identity to their tribes or
nationalities. As co-president of HASA, which mainly comprises African students who were born in Africa or spent a portion
of their lives on the continent, he has met many Africans who were not used to thinking in American racial terms when they
arrived at Harvard.
"I am more Taita than I am Kenyan, and more Kenyan than I am black," said Mwashuma Nyatta, a sophomore
from Kenya, referring to his tribal identity. He said until he came to the United States, "black" was not a way he normally
identified himself. He is also reluctant to portray HASA as a "black" group because not all Harvard undergraduates from Africa
are black."Africans are not prepared for this notion of race as it exists here," said Quarcoo. "Economic and political struggles
are more central in Africa, but here race is more central to the struggle." He feels that American society defines people
too narrowly by race: in the United States, he said, "black" is an "all-encompassing" ethnic group.
Although different perspectives on race and identity are one of the main stumbling blocks confounding
relations between Africans and African Americans on campus, Quarcoo is optimistic that black students from different parts
of the world share enough to overcome their differences. He noted that many of the Africans in HASA came to the United States
armed with positive expectations of establishing close relationships with African Americans because of their own affinity
for black American music, fashion, magazines, TV shows and movies, and said that many African arrivals do forge lasting friendships
with American blacks.
Also, while most students agree that there are sometimes misunderstandings between the various
groups, most would also agree that there should be some sense of unity between black students on campus.
Charles Peter Bright, a sophomore from Brooklyn who will be traveling to Senegal this summer, celebrates
the diversity in Harvard's black community but feels that there should be more solidarity and cultural sharing. "One of the
biggest things I find unacceptable is that there was not a lot of black outrage and protest on campus after the Amadou Diallo
verdict," Bright said. He said he was especially surprised at the low turnout of students from Africa at rallies protesting
HASA president-elect Ama Karikari, a New Yorker of Ghanaian origin, said all black students need
to stress common goals that address the historical effects of racism and colonialism on all black people, and that understanding
between the groups should be spearheaded by students who are informed about the cultural perspectives of all Africans in the
diaspora. "Whether you're from the Caribbean and listen to reggae music every day, or if you're from Africa and eat fou fou
every day, all black people have a lot in common," she said.
Africans and African-Americans in Iowa City
University of Iowa
Rebecca Lueth was the only member from the African Student Association to attend a rally protesting
a racial insensitive cartoon published by the Daily
Iowan. The cartoon commented on the acquittal of
the young black men involved in the Reginald Denny beating in 1993, and tensions were high. Lueth hoped to address the hundred
or so who gathered on the chilly October afternoon to add her support to the other angry voices of African Americans leading
Lueth endured the cold wind for hours with the others, but she was never given a chance to speak.
A friend told her later that some of the African Americans at the rally felt she wasn't "black enough" to address the issue.
The incident reveals the tension which characterizes the relations between Africans and African
Americans who come to Iowa City to study. The often-strained relations more than anything can be attributed to a pattern of
cultural misunderstandings between the two groups.
Part of the problem is the assumption, often from both sides, that the two groups have more in
common than they do. There are similarities, at least on the surface. Both groups share a common African heritage, both groups
have parallel histories of oppression based on race, and both groups have to deal with many of the same negative stereotypes
of African Americans prevalent in the U.S.
However, even their common experience living here in Iowa City is filtered through two very different
cultures. Being African, and being American, have produced two perspectives of what it means to be a black woman or man in
society which have little similarity.
Rebecca Lueth, 22, is from the East African country of Sudan which borders Egypt. She explained
her perspective of the incident at the rally: "No African is 'black enough' because the cultures are so different," said Lueth
(pronounced lweth). Lueth has a unique cultural perspective because she moved to Ames from the Sudan when she was 16 years
old. Growing up in small-town Iowa has given her a deeper understanding of America than most Africans, though Lueth identifies
herself as African and not American.
Lueth said that being "black enough" is an American cultural term and has little to with race.
She explained her outsider's view of what it means to her: "If you don't have a lot of black friends, or have too many white
friends, or if you like Shakespeare or classical music, then you're not black enough," she said.
For Lueth, being "black enough" means how attuned an African American is to African American culture,
or in other words, how much an individual accepts and embraces the larger African-American cultural identity.
She said that Africans don't grow up with the social pressures which make the issue of black identity
a concern. Lueth said that these pressures trace back to the history of each group. The differences in their historical experiences
of oppression to some extent produces a distinct perspective of today's society.
Akua Brathwaite is from the West African country of Ghana and a third-year law student and master's
student in the African-American World Studies Program. She said that of the two historical experiences with oppression, colonization
in Africa and slavery in the U.S., slavery was by far the most destructive of the two. "African Americans were uprooted and
transported (from Africa) to America, where they were dehumanized in every single way. (White slave owners) tried systematically
to make them shed their identity as Africans and as human beings," she said.
Brathwaite said she feels that the aftermath of slavery, and the only gradual acceptance of African
Americans into a society of predominantly European descent, has left a greater residual anger among African Americans than
colonization left among most Africans.
"As Africans, we can't get angry at the white man because the white man came and the white man
left," Brathwaite said. She added that there is a sharp contrast between slavery and being ruled over by an unwanted government
yet still retaining your citizenship, your family, your village, and your cultural identity as was the case on most of Africa,
to some degree even in South Africa.
Drawing clear conclusions about individual's behavior today from history is impossible. However,
history sets the stage for the current state of affairs, and Africans grow up in black societies, in contrast to African Americans,
at least in terms of the country as a whole. In the U.S., being a person of color means that you are visibly different from
the majority of the population, the majority of the images in the media, and different from the majority of those who hold
positions of power.
Brathwaite relates a story which brought home to her this fundamental difference of perspective
between Africans and African Americans. Several years ago, she was speaking to a class of African American sixth and seventh
graders at a private school in New York State about life in Ghana. "When I told them about our president in Ghana, they asked
me what color is your president. They nearly fell out of their chairs when I told them he was black," she said. "It wasn't
part of their ideas. They could not conceive of a black man as president."
"Ghana is our country, and the decisions we make are ours," she said, speaking of her conviction
that she is an integral part of Ghanaian society, in both its problems and its successes. She contrasted that conviction with
her impression of many African Americans, who to this day do not feel that they are full members of American society. "It's
different if you're made to feel you have to fight the whole system. That creates a sense of despair," she said. "In Africa,
we don't have to deal with that. In every aspect of life, somebody just like you is in charge." She reflects for a moment.
Her voice softens, emphasizing her words: "It's different. It's just very different."
For most Africans, having a black skin is nothing more than having a skin. It is the norm, neither
positive nor negative. This is different for African Americans who are not Americans - they are African Americans or Black
Americans. They are part of the minority, and a visible minority in a society conscious of racial differences.
African Americans grow up in a society where they are subjected to various negative stereotypes
and racial prejudice based on the color of their skin. This fact puts solidarity between black people in the U.S. at a premium.
Africans, on the other hand, because they haven't grown up with the same pressures, have a hard time understanding the need
for connection between black people in America in the face of racial prejudice.
Lueth said that this is an important cultural difference between the two groups, because it often
leads to a hyper-sensitivity, and at times mistrust, in the relations between the two groups. Because in Africa there are
many tribes and ethnic groups which don't traditionally mix, or are even traditional enemies, it doesn't occur to Africans
to try to bridge cultural gaps on the basis of race, she said. "Not all black people can get along. There's nearly a billion
black Africans in the world, and to say that they have to get along because they are black is unrealistic. The concept just
doesn't make sense to Africans."
Africans who come to Iowa City to study experience at least some of the negative stereotypes directed
toward African Americans because they have the same skin color. Lueth said many Africans have experienced at least some racial
prejudice since coming to Iowa City.
However, Africans tend to take incidents of racism directed at them less personally because they
are visitors here, and their home is somewhere else, she said. "I don't feel so trapped by this society because I don't feel
like this is my home," Lueth said. "I can go back to my country and speak a different language which (Americans) won't understand."
"Besides," she added, "I know that this is not the only way it has to be."
Village Square: Diary of a Nigerian Immigrant: Nigerian Life in the Diaspora :A Common Ground
in African Heritage
"Little Ethiopia Event Aims to Bring Black Americans and Immigrants Together"
Ann M. Simmons, Los
Angeles Times Staff Writer
Growing up in Nigeria, Lillian Obiara and her peers idolized aspects of black America the vibrant
culture, the dynamic music, and the movie and sports personalities they saw on TV. Some of Obiara's girlfriends dreamed that
one day they might marry an African American.
But when Obiara finally came to the United States less than two months ago to pursue a nursing
degree, she was dismayed by the lack of knowledge about Africa, the insulting comments about the way Africans live, and the
hostility she encountered from some black Americans.
"Before I came, I thought that since they are black-skinned like us, they would be more open,"
said Obiara, 26 and a resident of Long Beach. "The reality here is very different. The whites are more receptive than the
Obiara's views are not uncommon among many of Southern California's 80,000-plus immigrants from
sub-Saharan Africa the majority from Ethiopia, Nigeria and Ghana.
Relations Between African Immigrants and African Americans Pose A Paradox
Many African Americans feel an emotional and spiritual attachment to Africa. Some give their children
African names Kwame, Kofi, Hakeem often employing elaborate African rituals. Weddings in which the bride and groom don ornate
traditional attire, often a melange of costumes from across the continent, have grown in popularity.
Ethnic arts and crafts gathered from a growing number of festivals and fairs celebrating Africa's
creative talent fill the homes of many African Americans, and trips to Africa by black Americans are becoming increasingly
On Sunday, scores of Africans joined by some African Americans celebrated the first anniversary
of the designation of one Los Angeles neighborhood a busy hub of businesses on a strip of Fairfax Avenue between Pico and
Olympic boulevards as "Little Ethiopia."
As restaurants, shops and stalls sold traditional Ethiopian food, hawked T-shirts with the country's
insignia and promoted trips to Africa, organizers said the celebration was designed to embrace black people from the diaspora
as well as promote local businesses.
"We are trying to reach out to all African nations and to African Americans, anyone of African
descent," said Anteneh Demelash, 24, a college student and one of the organizers.
Demelash, who emigrated from Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, nine years ago, said young people
were key to bridging the cultural divide between Africans and black Americans.
Lily Michael, 33, another event organizer and an Ethiopian immigrant whose husband is African American,
"My thing has not been to concentrate on ethnicity and nationality, but to concentrate on humanity,"
she said. "We are more similar than different."
Edith Gursel, an African American and a regular visitor to Little Ethiopia, dropped by the festivities
on her way to a local Buddhist center.
"I always come here for lunch, once a week," said Gursel, 61, an artist and Valley resident. "These
are my roots. I feel very comfortable here. It centers me. And I'd rather spend my money here, with my people."
And yet, even as black Americans such as Gursel embrace their African heritage, other American-born
blacks are separated from African immigrants by a chasm widened by cultural differences and mutual misconceptions.
Many Africans believe that black Americans either romanticize the continent or snub Africans as
Some African Americans, for their part, argue that many African immigrants do not make enough effort
to integrate into black America and fail to appreciate how profoundly the legacy of slavery and the civil rights struggle
has affected U.S.-born blacks.
"It goes back to misconceptions and, in large part, media images," said Ethiopian-born Azeb Tadesse,
senior assistant director of the James S. Coleman African Studies Center at UCLA. "The way Africa is portrayed in the media
and the way African Americans are portrayed feed into the stereotypes."
A clash of culture, language and class also plays a role, said Marcia Thomas, director of US for
Africa, a grant-making foundation based in Los Angeles.
When immigrants from other parts of the world arrive in America, they can integrate into existing
communities that share the same cultural perspective and typically speak the same language, she noted. Not so for Africans,
who speak scores of different vernaculars and have distinct tribal affiliations, none of which American-born blacks can automatically
"Just because you look alike, you don't necessarily have the cultural context and understanding
that relates to living in this country," said Thomas, 51.
Like many other immigrants, Africans typically come to the United States in search of education
and jobs. Others are fleeing political instability or persecution in their home countries. Many are too caught up in the fight
for everyday survival and for resources to support families back home to care about making an effort to get involved with
Black Americans who visit Africa "are trying to get back home and connect with something," said
James Burks, director of African Marketplace Inc., which serves as a showcase for black enterprise and creativity. "It is
the land, it is the spirit, it is the ancestors, it is family, and the idea of being able to identify with Africa."
By contrast, he said, for African immigrants, "The majority that I've engaged are here to strengthen
their own outlook for economic purposes. I don't think I have ever met an African who has told me that they are here to connect
with African Americans."
Many Africans "have one foot here and one foot back home," said Muadi Mukenge, an immigrant from
the Democratic Republic of Congo who works as program officer for Africa at the Pacific Institute for Women's Health, which
is based in Koreatown. "There is less of a priority to organize with African Americans. People are concentrating on helping
their families back home."
On arriving in the United States, many African immigrants have their first encounters with American
racial prejudice. They face discrimination in housing and, like other immigrants, are not eligible for many of the social
services for which U.S. citizens qualify.
Africans "come here and work two jobs, we don't get welfare," said Olawale Jimoh, vice president
of the United African Federation. "We try hard to make ends meet." Jimoh, 49, moved from Nigeria 12 years ago and owns a security
company and an agency that employs temporary health-care workers.
Being categorized by race stuns some Africans, who come from predominantly black societies where
ethnic affiliations and class override color.
Many are humbled by what sociologists describe as a "downward assimilation." Like members of other
immigrant groups, many Africans come to the United States as university graduates and professionals but find they must take
jobs as cleaners, janitors or taxi drivers.
"All of a sudden, you find yourself down, down, down," said Yaw Adutwum, 39, a teacher at Manual
Arts High School in Los Angeles who is a member of Ghana's Ashanti ethnic group, which comprises the country's royal elite.
"It's a shocking experience."
Mutual ignorance and stereotypes with which many Africans and African Americans regard each other
can make the initial encounter worse.
"To them, you come from a place where people don't wear clothes, where you play with a monkey,"
said Adutwum, remembering encounters from his early years as a substitute teacher in Los Angeles' Crenshaw district.
At the same time, he said, many African immigrants, even before they leave home, have adopted stereotypes
of black Americans as being good only at sports and music and crime.
"You generally were not thinking that African Americans were the professional type," he said, recalling
some of the media images he was exposed to in his home country.
From the images they see on television in Africa, Africans get a homogenous version of what our
life is like," said Thomas, who has traveled widely on the continent as part of her work for US for Africa. "If I were to
believe what I see on TV, I would believe that all black people do is stand on street corners, drive by and kill each other."
In an attempt to bridge the gap between the communities, several Southland residents and local
groups are arranging social gatherings and trips to Africa and forging organizational and business partnerships. Those activities
will become even more important as the number of African immigrants to Southern California continues to swell, the organizers
Members of Southern California's African business community are also making greater efforts to
collaborate with black Americans. African hair salons, boutiques, restaurants and churches have sprung up throughout Southern
California, with a high concentration in areas such as Crenshaw.
"Things are progressing slowly, but they are moving forward," said LaSandra Stratton of the Africa-U.S.
Chamber of Commerce. "We have much to learn from each other."....
NATIVE AFRICANS Vs AFRICAN AMERICANS:
THE BAD-BLOOD, THE BATTLE AND THE BENEDICTION
TWO HUNDRED YEARS FROM NOW, A NEW GENERATION OF BLACK men and women will inhabit the earth. They
will roam the streets of this world, from London to Lagos, from New York to Johannesburg, from Cairo to Rio de Janeiro. They
will look back at this generation of ours and most likely proclaim us as those who lived in dark ages.
Among the things they would find baffling is how Whites who constitute only 13 percent of the world
population control virtually all the continents of this earth. They will shudder at the reasons we the Black people of this
age give for our inability to come together and reclaim our rightful place in the family of humanity.
They will look with shame at the Central African country of Zaire, a country ten times the size
of Great Britain and five times that of France, with enough mineral resources to ground up to a third of the air power of
the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), were it to decide not to export cobalt.
They will look at African Americans of today - arguably the most privileged group of Blacks - and
wonder why in spite of living in the most powerful nation on earth they couldn’t chart the path for the rest of the
They will weigh the excuses we give today against the fact that there are twice as many African
Americans as there are Jews throughout the world. Yet, only a fraction of Jews, the American Jews, influence the United States
policy towards the Middle East. If American Jews could find enough reasons to make America to give over two billion dollars
in aid to Israel each year, African Americans could easily lay their hands on a million reasons why such favors should be
extended to Africa, if they tried hard enough.
They will look at Nigeria, the so-called giant of Africa, and cry. A country that has one in every
six blacks on earth, a country with enough crude oil reserve to dictate how much the price of a gallon of gas would cost anywhere
in the world. But, the giant is there, flat on its stomach. Also, they will check the records Blacks hold across the world,
the millions of untapped Black talents wasting away in several parts of the world, and wonder. The biggest question they will
find very difficult to answer is why it was so hard. Did anybody really try?
I don’t think we want the generations yet unborn to walk away asking, why couldn’t
our forefathers get along with their brothers around the world? Why did they keep to themselves while the rest of the world
exploit the labor and the resources of Blacks? Why was it so difficult for them to understand each other?
When I was in Africa, I was bewildered by the enormous problems confronting Africa and I found
no other viable solution but to look up to Africans in the Diaspora. Since I joined Africans in Diaspora I have come to appreciate
more the degree of the problem facing Blacks around the globe. Irrespective of the fancy theory that the intellectual class
proposes, there are visible cracks in the relationship between African Americans and native Africans, which is derailing very
effort to establish political, economic, and cultural ties among all Black people. Misunderstanding and mistrust continue
to thrive, despite wider exposure of people to other cultures and ways of life. A great proportion of the blame goes to the
media that tend to perpetuate myths and unsubstantiated innuendoes.
Meanwhile, a frightening development is taking root. As African Americans embrace Islam, Kwaanza
or any other concept associated with Africa, Africans in their romantic picture of the western world are letting themselves
become Americanized. These contradictory trend and the shameful exploitation of the vast material and intellectual resources
of Black people ought to be our concern. Instead, what we have is a myriad of characterizations promoted by some paranoids.
Some of these characterizations on both sides are insulting and unprintable. One thing is however
common: both sides mistrust and misunderstand each other. In public there is a blatant denial of this disgusting dichotomy.
So what shall we do about this? Talk, of course. Which was exactly what I did. I went out and walked to a cross section of
Black people in an effort to find out why we are so divided. Here are some of the responses I got.
I asked an African (he pleaded anonymous) to describe the state of the relationship between Africans
and African Americans. He answered, “There is no relationship. We have nothing in common with them except the color
of our skin. Whatever we had in common was wiped out during slavery.” When I confronted him with the fact that de-Africanization
of Black America is moving at the same speed with the Americanization of native Africa he said, ”They cannot be Africans
in America. They should accept their American heritage and stick with it.” When asked why some Africans feel so detached
from their African American brothers and sisters, he gave an unprintable answer.
Just when I thought that the African in question, a computer science senior at Norfolk State University,
has got a chronic misconception of African Americans, I met an African American who felt that anyone expecting anything good
to come out of Africa is wasting his or her time. “We, the African Americans are the best Africa has to offer. What
was left of Africa after slavery was the scum of the Black world. That is why two hundred years after the beginning of industrial
revolution Africans are yet to feed themselves have remained wretched of the earth.”
Kelly Willis, a Mass Communication major at Norfolk State University, who had met many Africans
in his native state of New York, had a moderate view of the problem. He perceived the relationship between native Africans
and African Americans to be good though he saw room for improvement. “I try not to look at the negative comments,”
he said. He however conceded that there are differences in attitude, which he attributed to the different political and economic
experiences both sides have had. Africans, he observed, should learn from African Americans the tact needed when one is dealing
with European Americans, “Only trust to a certain point.”
In the same vein, Dominique Lancry, a Texan of Panamanian origin, decried the attitude of Africans
whom she said carried themselves about like royalties and joined Whites to look down on African Americans. “I don’t
want them to judge us,” she stated. “I want them to learn our heritage before they judge us.” Hitting the
same note, Thaddeus Freeman, a business major at N.S.U lamented,” Everyone who comes to this country see the Black people
as the people to do the work… They don’t give us the respect we deserve.” Mr. Freeman specially abhorred
the attitude of some Africans whom, he alleged, had nicknamed African Americans “akata”. In his opinion, we all
should work together, “Unite Africa and take over the world.”
Victoria Mckoy, a hair stylist refused to be drawn into any feud. “I try very hard not to
judge people,” she pleaded. “We are not different from Africans. Even if I experience a negative my attitude is
to overcome it. I can’t judge people. If I’m constantly talking about Africans, Jamaicans, Asians, what does that
say about me?”
Such sentiments could not dissuade Dewitt Webster, a Norfolk based Public Health expert, who had
traveled extensively in Africa and had lived in Nigeria for more than five years. He described the relationship between Africans
and African Americans as “improving”.
He blamed miscommunication for lack of understanding being experienced in some quarters. He noted
that Africans who associate with only European Americans and let the biased media influence them, only experience one side
of the American life and tend to pick up the attitude of European Americans about African Americans.
“African Americans,” he said, “see Africans as arrogant but when I went to Africa
I understood that it is about having self confidence. Having an understanding of who you are and where you come from - they
are the key to having a strong personality.”
He called for a more realistic look at Africa, noting that there is strength in our diversity.
“We need to realize that in spite of how far away we may be, or how long ago we had left, there are so much of Africa
that are part of us and vice versa.”
Mr. Webster warned that Africans must be taught to hold on to their culture, while African Americans
on their part should learn perseverance, respect for elders, and collaboration with Africans. “These are things we used
to know,” he lamented. African Americans, he noted, are the wealthiest blacks in the world and should join the rest
of the world to explore the business opportunities in Africa. He advocated that African Americans should learn at least one
African language, put in extra effort to understand the politics and economics of Africa so that they will take the lead in
the area of transferring appropriate technology to Africa.
Irrespective of what differences exist between African Americans and Africans, and how Blacks all
over the world perceive each other, the destiny of all Black people are intertwined in their common African Heritage. There
is truly only one way to go - either for all Black people to unite and regain their rightful place, or to remain disconnected
and continue to be other peoples’ pawns in this game of life....
The Challenges Facing Diaspora Africans Who Return To Africa
Published in a Liberian publication, The
Perspective, Smyrna, Georgia, USA, July/September
F. Wafula Okumu
Today there is a debate on whether African Americans can survive in Africa once they return to
the Mother Continent. A question which is being asked is: If they returned to Africa, can they settle and make a difference,
like the diasporic Jews have done for Israel?
Keith Richburg, in his book, Out
of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa, profusely
thanks God for bringing his "nameless ancestor . . . across the ocean in chains and leg irons" and for being American. He
not only adamantly rejects his "African-ness" but forcefully disowns his relation to Africa: "I have been there, I have lived
there and seen Africa in all its horror. I know that I am a stranger (t)here. I am an American, a black American, and I feel
no connection to . . . (that) strange and violent place."
One wonders why some African Americans after reading, or hearing of, Richburg's excruciating and soul-wrenching
experience will even dream of going to Africa. Richburg's unpleasant experience and subsequent renunciation of his African
roots is not the first. Of course we are quite familiar with the realities most of our brothers and sisters had to face when
they made a beeline to Africa in the sixties and seventies. Quite a sizable number made a retreat. Reading Maya Angelou's
book In the Heart of a Woman, one can feel the deep resentment she brought back from her failed marriage to
an African freedom fighter living in Cairo and Accra.
In the sixties, many African-Americans "returned" to Africa with high hopes of a new life in their
ancestral homeland. Most of these returnees were active in the civil rights movement or escapees from the brutal police state
that had targeted the movement for destruction. We know of the well publicized fugitive days of Eldridge Cleaver in Algeria
and his subsequent return to the U.S. with deep resentment of Africa.
Another prominent civil right personality who went to Africa and spent quite a number of years
was Bob Moses, the spiritual leader of the "Summer Freedom Rides" and the campaign to register voters in the South.
If the movement back to Africa in the 1960s by African-Americans can be called the third wave,
the first and second waves having taken place in 1840s and 1930s respectively, we can call the nineties migration to Southern
Africa a fourth wave. Since the liberation of South Africa and Namibia from the apartheid rule we have seen a migration of
highly skilled African Americans to South Africa. These brothers and sisters have left for South Africa with hope of helping
a newly independent black-ruled nation that is experiencing a massive brain drain (of white South Africans).
Despite leaving with enthusiasm bordering on missionary zeal, some have been disappointed by the chill
reception from the South African blacks. Writing in the South African newspaper, The Sunday Independent,
Charles T. Moses, a former adviser to Governor Mario Cuomo lamented that "Many of us have been lied to, misled and abused
by our South African brothers and sisters, usually out of jealousy and ignorance."
Moses's article prompted Felicia Mabuza-Suttle, South Africa's Oprah Winfrey, to hold two one-hour
programs on the tension between African Americans and black South Africans. The South African panel, which consisted of President
Nelson Mandela's daughter, Makaziwe Mandela, openly accused African Americans of three things. First, the South Africans lambasted
the African Americans who go to South Africa with an attitude of patronizing Africans.
They said these African Americans feel that they are doing South Africa a favor of rescuing it
after the white brain drain. Secondly, the South Africans claimed, African Americans come to their country with a belief that
they are owed something by black South Africans for leading the anti-apartheid movement in the United States. And third, they
accused African Americans of socializing among themselves and being aloof from the black South Africans.
Many African Americans on reaching South Africa expect to be embraced as brothers and sisters who
have returned home. However, the hugs ends at the airport. After finding out that the only common thing they share is their
skin color, pronounced differences emerges based on culture, language, lifestyle and expectations. For example, most of the
African Americans have moved into the fanciest white neighborhoods where they live in palatial homes with maids and pools.
The emotional feeling that overwhelm African Americans when they land is sometimes misunderstood
by black South African who do not understand how one can claim "oh, I'm home. I'm home" in a land where one has no family
members. This misunderstanding is compounded by the fact that the new immigrants do not know anything about African cultures.
Worse, many do not make an effort to be absorbed into African cultures. Worst of all, some want to be accepted and respected
as they are- Americans.
Misconceptions, lack of understanding of each other, and hyped expectations have exacerbated the
tensions between the two groups. While some South African blacks resent African Americans for hijacking the jobs that are
created for them on the affirmative action basis, others suspect African Americans' commitment to the long-term interests
of South Africa. The former think the latter are using their color similarities to gain acceptance so that they can act as
local agents for American business interests. Indeed, 30 per cent of the African Americans in South Africa are representatives
of American businesses.
With the escalation of tensions, some African Americans are cutting their stay short and hastily
returning to America. It won't be long before we start reading or hearing more African tales like Richburg's.
But it will be disingenuous to assume that there are no African Americans who have returned to Africa,
loved it, settled down, and made a huge difference. Listen to, and take to heart, the story of Pete O'Neal and his wife Charlotte
Hill as told in the Kansas Star of February 20, 1993 and The New York Times of November 23,
"For more than a quarter of a century O'Neal has been living in the Tanzanian village of Imabaseni
as a respected elder, loving husband, doting father, a community activist, an exemplary farmer, a gourmet sausage maker, and
owner of a safari business. According to the Kansas Star, O'Neal "has helped bring electricity, running water and tourists
to his poor, remote village. He has taught his neighbors about electronics, carpentry and food preservation and has introduced
them to art, poetry, music and dance."
But in order to understand who O'Neal is today and why he is one of the elders of the Wameru ethnic
group one must go back to 1969 in Kansas City. Back then, O'Neal, as a member of the Black Panther Party, was a fire-brand
revolutionary who carried out public protests against the racist white establishment while engaged in community activism and
But on Oct. 30, 1969, the 29-year-old O'Neal was arrested and charged for violating the Gun Control
Act by taking a shotgun from Kansas to Missouri. One year later a jury found him guilty and sentenced him to four years in
prison. However, it was apparent to many then that O'Neal was being convicted for his revolutionary beliefs and activities.
While out on bond awaiting his appeal to be heard, O'Neal and Hill escaped and surfaced in December
1972 in Algiers, where several revolutionary organizations and groups, including the Black Panthers, had bases. But his stay
in Algiers was to be short-lived after the Algerian government became hostile and expelled him. From Algeria, O'Neal and his
family headed to Tanzania where he has since settled and prospered. O'Neal is said to be the only former Black Panther still
remaining in Africa.
Among their educational and cultural activities, O'Neal and Charlotte have built the "Malcolm X
Theater, where they entertain visitors with documentaries about the civil rights movement; and the United African American
Community Center, which enlists foreign students to build schools and clinics and sponsors training programs. The O'Neals
also run an exchange program for troubled African American youths from Kansas City. While in Tanzania these teenage Americans
learn the strength of the African family and African values of community and service.
Although still a fugitive from the U.S. laws, O'Neal has no intention of returning to the United
States. He says if he were not in Africa he would be dead by now. He also acknowledges what became a reality; that his efforts
as a Black Panther revolutionary would have failed. This sobering acknowledgment of the American reality is what endears Africa
to the O'Neals to and makes them Africa's solid link to the Africans in the diaspora.
From O'Neal's experience in Imbassani, we can prescribe a number of things for those African Americans
who really want to return to Africa without regretting their decision. One, they must prepare themselves culturally and emotionally.
They must learn the African cultures and languages. They cannot assume that their skin color alone will endear them to their
African brothers and sisters. Second, they should not expect to find another America in Africa without discrimination and
oppression. Although they will find an Africa without racial prejudice it will be one with its own unique problems which they
must be willing to help solve.
And, third, they should go to Africa with the intention of being Africanized. They cannot live
an American lifestyle in Africa. They cannot demand special treatment for being Americans. They should be prepared to suffer
alongside their African brothers and sisters. They should mingle, wiggle, and dissolve into Africa. This can easily be done
by adopting one of the 1700 vibrant cultures and becoming bona fide members of the respective ethnic groups.
While reflecting on Pete O'Neal's enriching and fulfilling experience, they should also pay keen
attention to the sagacious words of Charles T. Moses, who said: 'Where is the hope for us in America? We will never be in
charge. We will always be 10 percent. We will always be fighting to keep some cop from shooting us in the back. But here it's
worth the battle. You can win this here.”
Yes, African Americans can survive in Africa if they want to. And yes, they can make a difference,
like the diasporic Jews have made a difference in Israel, when they return to Africa. In fact, they should learn from diasporic
Jews who have not only made a commitment to the survival of the Jewish state as a political, cultural and geographical entity
but represent its interests wherever they are.
African and African-American
Race in America
Bridging a gap in understanding in Harlem: African immigrants, black teens discuss differences
By Petra Cahill
Dec. 10, 2004
NEW YORK - Daba Diakhate talked about her life as an African immigrant in Harlem.
“They used to throw rocks at me, they used to throw sticks at me. They used to try to jump
me," the 17-year-old said. "One time they tried to take my sneakers, but they realized they weren’t name-brand, so they
were like, 'Here, take your Payless sneakers,'” she said, to the jeers and laughter of her fellow students at the Umoja
Media Project, a gathering of of black Americans and African and Caribbean immigrants.
For Diakhate and many other immigrants, the area around 116th Street in Harlem is a sanctuary,
their little West Africa.
As vendors and customers stroll through the Malcolm Shabazz Market, greetings are more often exchanged
in West African dialects than in English. Men wear traditional prayer robes, and women sport colorful fabrics cut in African
styles that would be more familiar on the streets of Dakar than New York.
The shops and restaurants that line the street cater to a West African clientele. The Baobab Restaurant
serves up hot thiebu djen - a traditional Senegalese meal of rice and fish stew - and the Harlem Phone Card and Communication
shop sells inexpensive phone cards to call home.
But while 116th Street may offer a sense of comfortable familiarity, the rough streets are not
too far away.
According to the participants in Umoja, the predominantly black American neighborhood has not always
been welcoming to the wave of African immigrants, whose numbers have jumped from 42,000 in 1990 to 92,000 in 2000, according
to the U.S. Census Bureau.
That is what the project seeks to address. Organizers want to resolve the tension, misunderstandings
and misconceptions that have sometimes characterized the relationship between black Americans and the recent immigrants.
Umoja Media Project
It began after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a time of increased tension between the traditional
black American residents of Harlem and the recent African immigration population, many of whom are Muslim.
As part of the larger nonprofit agency known as the Harlem Children's Zone which offers an array
of education and social service programs, the Umoja Media Project was given a grant to create a documentary film that explores
the relationship between the two groups.
“Umoja” is a Swahili term for “unity,” and the project now involves 16
students between the ages of 10 and 17 who meet twice a week after school at TRUCE, the youth development arm of the Harlem
David Friedman / MSNBC.com
Tene Howard, TRUCE program coordinator, center, leads a gathering of the Umoja Media Project last
At the TRUCE center on 118th Street the children have access to numerous computers and state-of-the-art
video-editing technology to work on their documentary. The group is a mix of boys and girls who are the children of African
and Caribbean immigrants born in this country and black American students.
When the group began, it discussed issues of of identity and stereotypes. Trying to work through
labels like "African," "African-American," and "Black American" took hours of conversation. Eventually the group began to
take their conversations about community, identity, and culture out on the streets of Harlem and began filming their documentary.
The children of recent African immigrants are often picked on at school because they are seen as
different from their classmates. They are made fun of because they speak with a different accent, have darker skin, wear different
clothes, and are told that Africans smell.
Nassou Camara, a 15-year-old 10th-grader whose parents hail from Senegal and the Gambia, told a
story about what happened to her one day when she wore a necklace with a charm in the shape of the African continent around
her neck. Another student said to her rhetorically, “You’re not going to bring no disease here, right?"
Chika A. Onyeani, publisher and editor in chief of the African Sun Times, a
weekly newspaper that caters to the African immigrant population in this country, said it was important to break down stereotypes.
“There is no doubt that there is always some kind of disconnect between the two groups -
a lack of communication - but different organizations and the media need to try to bridge that gap,” Onyeani said. “There
will always be this angst, because there are just little crumbs that are left to us [the immigrant community] to fight for.
“But, there is more understanding and awareness now among teachers and parents. So, the stereotypes
are not as commonplace as before,” Onyeani said.
Still, many of the students involved in the Umoja project are stuck in a weird in-between world
in terms of their identity because their parents don’t necessarily understand the harassment they receive at school
and are resistant to them becoming more like their American contemporaries.
A number of them said that when they returned to Africa with their parents, they were equally confused
in terms of their identity.
Nassou Camara explained that when she and her twin, Amanata, returned to The Gambia and Senegal
with their parents a few years ago, it only compounded the idea of feeling like she was stuck between two different worlds.
“I feel like when I’m in America, I’m too African; when I’m in Africa,
I’m too American. So I just feel like I’m in the middle, but I’m African American, I know who I am.”
African Sun Times' Onyeani, applauded the students' efforts to educate their American counterparts
but also emphasized the importance that they know where they come from.
“You have to teach your children that they have to be responsible to their family back home
- that if they send back even $50 it will help a lot of people," said Onyeani. "You can’t just say that we have a nuclear
family -- because, of course, in our culture you don’t have ‘brothers’ or ‘sisters'; we are all related."
For Tene Howard, 25, the former program coordinator for the Umoja project who now heads up all
of the youth programs for TRUCE, giving the young people a forum to speak about the difficult line they are treading is huge
As the child of immigrants from Guyana,she can empathize with the struggles her students are going
through and the organization has helped many of them negotiate that difficult terrain.
“I learned to have pride about where I come from. Not to be scared to say I’m African
and to have a lot of confidence to tell people I’m African,” said Amanata Camara. “I think Umoja had a big
role and has made me more confident and it taught me things I didn’t know before about my culture.”
For Daba, the oldest sister of the Diakhate clan, Umoja has taught her to be “more calm”
and not fight back when she is made fun of in school or some of her younger siblings are teased on the street.
The students are now working to complete their documentary. They have already begun showing it
to different groups - they have shown it to a youth group associated with the local police precinct and violence prevention
workshop for young third- and fourth-graders.
Their goal is to complete it and use it as a tool to bring their message of tolerance and understanding
to a larger audience.
African immigrants in Detroit
Thursday, May 29, 2003
David Guralnick / The Detroit
Co-owner Kwasi Effah stocks goods at the K&K African Market in Detroit. More African immigrants
in Detroit has meant more African-owned businesses.
(photo in The Detroit News)
Africans find home in Detroit:
Number has nearly doubled in past decade
By Oralandar Brand-Williams / The
Charles V. Tines / The Detroit
Larry Alebiosu came to the United States in 1982 from Lagos, Nigeria, to attend college. Now he
owns a retail clothing business, Fashion International, in Southfield.
(photo in The Detroit News)
DETROIT -- In years past, when Kwaku Adwini-Poku wanted to make fufu, a staple of traditional African
meals, it meant a trip to an Asian grocery store on the city's east side.
African immigrants such as Adwini-Poku, a 49-year-old Ghana native who has been in Detroit for
more than 20 years, represented such a small group in Metro Detroit that the food products of their homeland were hard to
But that's changing. The number of African immigrants in Metro Detroit has nearly doubled in the
past decade. According to U.S. census figures, 9,532 African immigrants now live in the Metro region. As a result, Metro Detroit
has seen a surge in the number of African-owned businesses.
Businesses owned by African-born Metro Detroiters include 24-hour hair-braiding shops and supermarkets
that carry imported traditional African food products, such as cassava roots and dried meats.
"There are more Africans settling on the northwest side," said Adwini-Poku, an automotive engineer
and secretary of the United African Community Organization.
"A decade ago, the population of Africans here was very small. Now that the population is bigger,
there is a need to have more African stores, so people recognized that and are setting them up."
Historically, most African immigrants have been students or professionals who have sought careers
in engineering and medical fields. But Adwini-Poku says many of the new immigrants are merchants and laborers who have come
to Metro Detroit because of its job opportunities.
"They have found that there is a lot of employment here and they don't have to be professionals
to do it," Adwini-Poku said. "The biggest challenge people face is the transportation. Many of the people who come here have
never driven before."
Clothing retailer Larry Alebiosu came to the United States in 1982 from Lagos, Nigeria, to attend
college. Five years later, he moved to Detroit to work for a cellular phone company.
He now owns a retail clothing business, Fashion International, on 10 Mile in Southfield.
Alebiosu says Metro Detroit is attractive to Africans because of the area's racial makeup.
"I blend in very well with the African-American community because we are black people," Alebiosu
said. "It's easy to get along with people that are the same as you are. And you have a lot of African-Americans here who are
interested in Africa."
Africans traditionally have been drawn to cities like New York, Houston and Atlanta. But now, they
are moving to smaller cities and the Midwest.
"They are now very visible," said Jacob Olupona, a Nigerian, who is director of African-American
and African studies at the University of California at Davis. "The numbers have doubled, if not quadrupled."
Civil wars in several African nations such as Sierra Leone, Liberia and Rwanda are driving many
Africans to other parts of the world, Olupona said.
"In Kenya, there are a number of refugees waiting to come to the United States," he said.
Public relations executive Chinyere Ubamadu, 33, felt welcome in Metro Detroit, after living in
"The diverse environment ... and the attitudes seem to be more welcoming," said Ubamadu, who is
a native of Nigeria and lives in Southfield. "Some might argue there is more a split in the culture and that there is discrimination
in the area, but I witnessed racial discrimination in Boston and it's more blatant there ...like someone actually referring
to me with the n-word."
But the influx of many African immigrants into Metro Detroit, as in other large American cities,
hasn't translated into an immediate bonding between Africans and African-Americans.
In a recent study by the Lewis Mumford Center at the State University of New York at Albany, researchers
found a growing cultural gap between American blacks and immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean.
"It's not that different than other immigrant groups from another country that bring different
languages or cultures either through music, food or religion," said John Logan, a researcher for the center.
"It is really the same kind of question in the black community that you will find among Hispanics,
where Central and South Americans are moving into areas that used to be Mexican or Puerto Rican. The same process took place
on a larger scale 100 years ago, with respect to white immigrant groups like the Irish, Italians and Jews."
But African immigrants are forging relationships with African-Americans through several new programs
and organizations, such as the United African Community Organization, a 1-year-old umbrella group that represents African
Its president, Salewa Ola, said the relationship between Africans and American blacks needs to
"We want to see how we can heal the wounds of the past," said Ola, a native of Nigeria. "We have
more that brings us together than separates us."
On Saturday, the group is hosting a program at Detroit's Charles H. Wright Museum of African American
History. It's aimed at bringing blacks and Africans together.
Ola and Adwini-Poku, the organization's secretary, hope the event spurs more interaction among
African and American-born blacks. They also hope more African-Americans will be interested enough in African culture to travel
to one of the continent's 54 countries.
"It's like the story of the lost son or daughter who comes home," Ola said. "When a black person
goes to Africa, they are welcomed with open arms."
In January, an estimated 3,000 people turned out at the Wayne County Community College (WCCC) District's
downtown campus to attend the Passport to Africa program, a cultural immersion program about Africa.
"Speakers taught people about the kinds of foods people eat and the country's exports and languages,"
said David Butty, WCCC's director of public affairs and a native of Liberia.
Butty said the program was so popular that it will become an annual event every January, preceding
Black History Month.
"Africa has offered more to the world than we hear about," Butty said. "We hear more about the
fighting and the famine. So people were happy that we were having something like this."
You can reach Oralandar Brand-Williams at (313) 222-2690 or email@example.com.
African Immigrants Seek Ties,
Harmony with American Blacks
February 24, 2005
By Erin Chan
Detroit Free Press Staff
Felix Asiedu, a co-owner of K&K African Market on Livernois in Detroit, rings up a customer's
purchases Feb. 12. Saturday's a busy day as African immigrants come to shop for the comforts of home. Asiedu weighs plantains,
which are cooked before they're eaten (photo in Detroit
Onwuka Uchendu hears the questions over and over, from people of all skin tones, but it especially
perplexes him when the people asking are black:
"Did you have shoes? Did you have a car? Do you have buildings?" they pester him about his life
in Africa, as if he had just emerged from the bush.
Uchendu, 50, a Nigerian immigrant who lives in Southfield, often becomes so fatigued by ignorant
questions, he no longer denies but embellishes.
"I say, 'Yes, we have cars, and we have traffic lights, and when they turn green, the cars go through,
and when they turn red, the elephants go through,' " he said. "If they want to mock me and embarrass me, then I play the game."
It's misconceptions like these, say Uchendu and other African immigrants in metro Detroit, that
divide some of them not only from other Americans but other African Americans.
"You can get discrimination from whites and blacks," said Kyrian Nwagwu, 46, an immigrant from
Nigeria who became the first African-born councilman in Lathrup Village two years ago. "Some black Americans don't think we're
like them or that we're truly black people."
African immigrants like Uchendu and Nwagwu said they realize such views are not held by all American-born
blacks and that efforts are under way to increase understanding.
But rifts linger. For instance, Uchendu, president of the Old Bende Cultural Association, a group
of metro Detroit residents who hail from the former Nigerian province of Bende, said he feels no link to Black History Month.
"February has no meaning," said Uchendu, a computer engineer on contract with General Motors Corp.
"We don't feel a sense of connection."
The disconnect has become more evident as the population of sub-Saharan African-born immigrants
more than tripled -- rising to 7,324 -- in southeast Michigan since 1990, according to the Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative
Urban and Regional Research at the University at Albany in New York. The trend parallels the national increase in immigrants
from sub-Saharan Africa, which nearly tripled in the 1990s to roughly 600,000.
There are attempts to reach across the cultural divide via educational programs and business partnerships,
but reasons for why gaps and misperceptions emerge at all are about as diverse as the 53 countries of Africa.
"There's some contentiousness in the black community about black immigrants," said John Logan,
a professor of urban sociology and race at Brown University in Rhode Island and coauthor of a 2003 report about black diversity
in metropolitan areas. "On the one hand, 'Why aren't they more like us? Why don't they become part of our community? Why are
they so separate?' On the other hand, there was a sense that we are all black Americans and we need to stand together.
"Both are sources of potential division but also reasons for unity."
Beyond divisions created by misplaced stereotypes, other fissures stem from differences in goals,
geography, history and income.
Africans tend to emigrate, Logan said, because they have money or the hope of obtaining degrees
and careers that lead to larger incomes and residency in wealthier neighborhoods. He found that African immigrant households
nationally have a median income of $42,900 compared with $33,790 for U.S.-born blacks.
He also found that African immigrants tend to live in whiter neighborhoods. In southeast Michigan,
according to data compiled by the Lewis Mumford Center, the population is about 45 percent white where African immigrants
live but about 17 percent white where U.S.-born blacks reside.
Such differences give rise to stereotypes on both sides.
"Some African Americans born here feel we are too proud, and sometimes we think they're too lazy
and not dedicated," Lafor Olabegi, 48, a Nigerian immigrant and entrepreneur from Eastpointe, said recently as he shopped
for smoked fish at K & K African Market in northwest Detroit.
Another who senses the separation is Oria Jackson, 60, a Lathrup Village resident who traces her
roots to her family's sharecropper days in the South.
"It's a feeling. It's the superiority that they present to the Afro American," she said, adding
that she still has a good relationship with her neighbor, beautician and chiropractor, all of whom are originally from Africa.
"I do feel that, and a lot of it is because of misconception and misunderstanding, mine and in a general sense."
Fleeting encounters between people help feed the stereotypes, said John White, a national spokesman
for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Creating more understanding requires the recognition of a significant difference in the histories
of American-born blacks and African immigrants, said Steven Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies
in Washington, D.C.
Separation by hundreds of years and the scar of slavery means American-born blacks may feel more
removed from Africa and its immigrants, he said.
Christy Coleman, president of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit,
said both groups should remember they have a heritage of oppression based on African colonization and American slavery --
and their economic, social and political effects.
"The bottom line is that on the world's stage, the conditions of black and brown people are truly
deplorable," she said. "That's a point of commonality with which to work."
Saying the museum can offer a place to build relationships, she pointed to programming this year
with the theme "In the Spirit of Our Ancestors" and to such new, permanent exhibits as "And Still We Rise: Our Journey Through
African American History and Culture." On Sunday, Brandi Hampton, 28, of Harper Woods studied a topographic map of Africa
at the exhibit with her kids, ages 6 and 8. She said she knows few African immigrants but believes strongly in educating herself
and her family about Africa.
"It's a part of our history, where we once came from, despite not being born there," she said.
Other educational efforts include the Wayne County Community College District's third annual Passport
to Africa program, held last month, which highlighted the continent's countries. Organizer David Butty, a Liberian immigrant,
said attendance has grown from about 1,500 people the first year to more than 2,300.
"My goal since coming to this country has been to help Americans to understand," Butty said. "People
still think of Africa as one country."
Last year, the 10th Annual African World Expo, hosted in part by U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick,
D-Detroit, brought people to Cobo Center for a five-day U.S.-Africa business summit to discuss trade and investment in sectors
such as health care and manufacturing. This year's expo is scheduled for the second week of November at Cobo.
Other shifts in perspective lie with individuals like Uchendu who, despite having to field frustrating
questions about his homeland, has begun to ponder whether immigrants like him should increase their involvement during Black
"Maybe there should be changes," he said. "Maybe it's time to blend with the black community here."
Contact Erin Chan at 248-351-3293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
African Immigrants in the United States
African Immigrant Culture in Metropolitan Washington, D.C.: Building
and Bridging Communities
Diana Baird N'Diaye
In Somalia, Rukia Hussein grew up surrounded by the bounteous expression of buraanbur,
a tradition of women's sung poetry and dance.
In the 1960s, she was a leader with her husband in the Somali struggle for independence. She served
as a diplomat during the transition to Somali independence.
Mrs. Hussein is recognized by fellow Somalis as a fine poet. When the war in her country tore apart
the rich fabric of cultural and social life at home, she found herself living in the Washington, D.C., area for an indefinite
Here she uses her intimate knowledge and talents in buraanbur and other
expressive arts to do the delicate work of repairing torn relations between Somalis from different families, drawing people
together across clan lines. As Somali community scholar Abdirahman Dahir observes, "Buraanbur brings harmony
to the community; it brings participation of women from all the clans."
Rukia Hussein and other Somali women in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., share the task
of organizing occasions that ease the pain of adjusting to a new environment, restore relations, and construct community identity.
Through their efforts, Somali women's poetry, once restricted to women's circles, has become a
source of pride, enjoyment, and solidarity for all Somali immigrants.
Across the metropolitan Washington region, African immigrants actively redefine their ideas of
tradition and community by creating institutions and events that draw on expressive African forms.
African-born area residents establish language and culture schools where their American-born children
learn the social and artistic skills of their ancestral homes. Family and friends come together to celebrate births, weddings,
and other rites of passage. African immigrant entrepreneurs employ their knowledge of personal adornment and of the social
needs of their home communities to serve fellow immigrants and other Washingtonians.
As did the collaborative research project that led to the 1997 Festival of American Folklife program
African Immigrant Folklife, this essay explores several cultural dimensions: the use made of knowledge, skills, values, and
expressive forms brought from home to construct new communities and identities; and the new tradition that grows from encounters
with groups in the African Diaspora and in American society as a whole that contributes to the rich cultural landscape of
the United States.
The Washington, D.C., region has one of the largest and most diverse populations in the United
States of immigrants born on the African continent, some 60,000 people.
According to Bereket Selassie, "The majority have come from the Horn of Africa, more than 30,000
Ethiopians, Eritreans, and Somalis combined, with the largest numbers from Ethiopia and Eritrea. The next largest group, 10,000
to 15,000, are from Nigeria. Substantial numbers from Ghana, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Cameroon, and dozens of other African
countries add to the mix of African cultures" (Selassie 1996).
They are students, workers, self-employed business people, and their families. Selassie notes that
a large number of African immigrants in Washington have come as political refugees.
The nation's capital also is home to African diplomats and professionals serving in embassies,
international and nongovernmental organizations, and at academic institutions.
The years from 1965 to the present can be considered the third and fourth waves of African immigration.
The first was involuntary, of course, the result of violent sequestrations in Africa between the 17th and the 19th centuries.
The next wave of immigration from Africa was approximately 150 years ago from Cape Verde and was driven by severe conditions
of drought on these islands off the West African coast.
Prior to 1965, most Africans tended to emigrate to the European metropoles which had colonized
their lands. In 1965, however, new immigration legislation was enacted in the United States which eliminated the system of
national quotas for the Western hemisphere and replaced it with an overall limit of 120,000 immigrants.
In 1986 amnesty laws enabled many long-term African residents to regularize their status. But now
in 1997, debates recalling those of the 1920s dispute the value or threat of immigration. Proposed immigration legislation
is increasingly restrictive.
Neighbors, clients, patrons, and co-congregants of African newcomers living in the Washington area
often include African Americans - the descendants of those who were brought unwillingly from Africa centuries ago, some of
whose families migrated from the lower South during the 1930s and 1940s and others who came via the Caribbean and South America.
Some long-term local residents and their organizations have welcomed Africans of the new diaspora
to their churches and community organizations. Other area residents have been slow to embrace newcomers to neighborhoods they
see as their own. Many African immigrants, like their counterparts from the Caribbean, encounter the dilemma of being projected
in the media as model minorities while paradoxically facing challenges arising from anti-immigrant sentiment and resurgent
Culture shock or disillusion, concern over the possible loss of culture, and the desire to communicate
their community traditions to a wider public often go hand in hand. Women particularly note the need for children to learn
the traditions of their parents' homeland as part of a good upbringing.
Nomvula Cook, born in Lesotho, came to the United States with her African-American husband:
In 1981 I arrive in the United
States. Little do I know that this becomes a turning point in my life. I meet new people, and I make new friends. It doesn't
take me long to realize that I am now swimming in the belly of a new culture. The question is, do I swim or do I sink?
I begin to feel the burden of being expected to think and rationalize like an American.... The
fear of losing my culture and tradition in a foreign country continues to stay with me....
I begin to feel a tremendous guilt of raising my children in a culture that has no room to accommodate
my cultural identity. At this point ... maybe this fear begins to motivate me to be actively involved in collecting, preserving
the cultural music and art of Basotho people.
African newcomers to the United States describe a development of consciousness of themselves as
members of an ethnic group, of a larger national community, of Africa as a whole, and ultimately of a larger African world
that includes African-American and Caribbean peoples. They perform these evolving identities through participation in various
For many African newcomers to the United States, their sojourn is temporary; they plan to return
to their countries at a later date. Others have decided to live permanently in the United States by becoming American citizens.
This decision is not taken lightly and without sacrifice.
Yusef Ford, associate director of the Ethiopian Community Center, notes that in becoming an American
citizen - a move that he hesitated to make for two decades in the United States - he was obliged to forfeit rights to his
father's inheritance in Ethiopia.
A few Africans are able to move between residences on the African and North American continents.
Following a Caribbean pattern, some African countries are beginning to permit continued citizenship to emigrants and are even
establishing ministries of emigrant affairs. Whether Africans are permanent residents, citizens, or temporary sojourners,
they often have the responsibility of sending support to families at home.
As the continental Africans living in the nation's capital region have increased in number, they
have stamped their presence on the ethnic map and cultural calendar of the area. Africans present cultural programs, conferences,
and forums about their communities. Akwa Ibom, for example, an organization composed of members from Nigeria's Cross Rivers
State, presents dance and masquerade traditions representing the Efik, Anang, and Ibibio ethnic groups of that region.
Some organizations like the Ghanaian group Fantse-Kuo and the Sudanese Association organize by
country, region, or ethnic group. Other groups present traditional culture from a pan-African perspective.
Using traditional skills and knowledge, African-born entrepreneurs develop services for immigrants
and the community at large: Nigerian-run Oyingbo International Market in Hyattsville, Maryland, is an example, as are tailors,
dressmakers, couturiers, textile shops, and hair-braiding salons.
Immigrants run weekend schools and camps to nurture cultural identity and transmit traditions to
their children. African journalists, talk-show hosts, and disk jockeys feature news, interviews, music, and discussions of
interest to the African immigrant community.
Events such as the annual Ethiopian soccer tournament, institutions such as the AME Methodist Church
African Liberation Ministry, and "friends" and "sister cities" organizations bring together different communities in the Washington
area. Community institutions sometimes use traditional forms of social organization like tontines - revolving credit and savings
societies - other kinds of investment groups, and town associations, to get things done.
Some organizations retain close links to embassies, and their programs often center around events
in the home country. But many others exist outside the sphere of official contact with their former lands.
As communities become more established and populous, organizations become more like those of other
American ethnic groups. Community scholar Gorgui N'Diaye notes that twenty years ago, children born to Senegalese parents
in the United States were usually sent home to be educated, with the expectation that the entire family would eventually return.
At that time, they felt no need for cultural training outside the family. As more Senegalese and
their Gambian neighbors have begun to raise their children here, Senegambians have begun to explore organized cultural activities
for their young growing up in America.
African immigrants bring to America ideas of ethnic and region-based organizations that were devised
when Africans first migrated from rural towns to urban centers in Africa.
These patterns of organization continue in the United States. In the greater Washington metropolitan
area, the Nwannedinamba Social Club of Nigeria, the Asante Kotoko Association, and the Ethiopian Business Association are
among the many organizations that revitalize traditional norms, values, and civic unity (Olumba 1995).
Political, social, and cultural bridges are gradually being built between continental African and
Caribbean communities, who share similar experiences of immigration, accommodation, and ongoing transnational interests. They
recognize an identity based on shared African ancestry and the experience of racial discrimination. This growing consciousness
is shared with established African-American communities.
These relationships have led Washington's Mayor Marion Barry to appoint a Commission of African
and Caribbean Community Affairs, which is composed of equal numbers of continental African and Caribbean Americans.
African-American organizations have formed "sister city" relationships with cities in Africa and
the Caribbean. These organizations develop exchange visits between African and American children and adults, sponsor cultural
activities, and raise funds for civic gifts - ambulances, computers, etc. The organizations work closely with African and
Caribbean immigrant organizations from their "adopted" regions.
As African expatriates become immigrants, and as immigrants become citizens, they use aspects of
traditional culture to maintain connections with their roots, affirm their identity, maintain positive self-images for their
children, express their links to other African world people, and assert their unique contribution to their land of adoption.
There is a need for greater understanding of the cultures and experiences of continental Africans
living in the United States.
Perhaps a continuing annual event, like Brooklyn's West Indian Day carnival parade or the Latino
festival in the District of Columbia, will be invented to mobilize and define African immigrants publicly as a single community.
Most importantly, there is a need for connection and collaboration between Africans in America
and African Americans, between Washington's immigrants and its long-established populations.
Issues of immigrant culture,
community, and identity touch close to home for Diana Baird N'Diaye, who directed the African Immigrant Folklife Study Project
and co-curates the 1997 Festival program.
She was born to immigrants from Guyana and Barbados and is married to African-born co-researcher
Gorgui N'Diaye. Diana's doctoral dissertation is an ethnographic study of the African Immigrant Folklife research and presentation
1997 Festival of American Folklife Program Book, Washington, D.C.