There’s a lot of discussion from an African American perspective about what African people think about us from the continent. The views vary, as our relationship with Africa continues to develop, our conversations about African people as a Diaspora must also continue to develop. However we tend to only have a one sided view of what we think ‘African’ ppl think of Black Americans. There’s the tendency to say they look down on us, they don’t like us, they say negative things about us, they think we’re lazy. Some of that may be true in conversation, but we may also play antagonists in saying what we think African people feel without actually knowing any. Without having any continental born Africans in our immediate circle of friends or family. And more importantly, having never gone to the continent we could have an even more skewed idea as to what they really think about us.
There’s no real way to tell how one group of people thinks about another, because all groups no matter how homogenous have sporadic breakdowns and stereotypical ideas of one another. With that said, there is no one way that Africans on the continent can think about Black americans. As well when I use the term “African” this speaks to the Diaspora notwithstanding country or ethnic group. We are all different in our experiences and our outlook on life. But what I do feel is necessary is for Africans and Black americans to have a dialog that extends our outreach to them here and vice versa. There needs to be better communication between us to better understand the nuances of each others history, and a road map to better plan for our future as a unified group of Africans. These bridges that have divided us, as well as the physical ocean, keeps many stereotypes being played out and not being addressed in an intelligent and developmental way that leads to better understanding and cooperation.
I feel extremely blessed and honored to have experienced both sides. As a Black american, this country is mostly all I’ve ever known, all I’ve ever understood and it wasn’t until much later in my life that I actually began to have African friends, marry an African man and move to Africa. Before that, I had no way to gauge or understand what an ‘African’ thought about Black americans. Being able to attend ‘their’ parties, attend ‘their’ cultural celebrations, listen to ‘their’ music, that I began to see a world that did not mirror what I had been brought up with but rather it magnified it. I was intrigued with their language, the way they dressed for events and the food they cooked. Witnessing the African existence in america I got to see how Africans exist amongst their own for survival. Maintaining their cultural motifs here, while striving for the american dream. A lot of that has nothing to do with Black americans on the surface.
African people may not have any Black american friends either, and what contact they do have with us can be superficial, i.e, at work, in passing, or in the media. They may not even engage with us enough to even know the deeper dynamics of our condition in this country, or even our history as Black americans, and as a result ‘we’ are mis understood and not seen for the diverse people we are. We too also judge ‘Africans’ by this standard, not knowing their history, not knowing their point of view or the conditions they were raised with, so what we know is lost in translation. But through our shared histories, I believe we have more in common than the differences that divide us.
When I lived in Gambia, I always made it a point to see how people gauged me, did they see me as one of their own or a stranger. Of course most times, I blended right in and the only difference that set me apart was my dreadlocs which is not common amongst Gambian women, and when I spoke, it was clear I was not from Gambia. So I was usually asked ‘where are you from’? I’d often oblige this answer with Black america. I wanted my Gambian brothers/sisters to understand I wasn’t just from america, but I was from Black america, and that was a different place than ‘america’. The america most Gambians/Africans understand is the one of strength, power, abundance and opportunity. The underlying dynamics of struggle, exploitation, oppression, slavery and genocide is not often the narrative understood by Africans. They are mostly interested in the ‘brand’ of america. Their ideas about Black america is not one too different, strength, wealth, fame, fortune and music. Our music has reached the African continent more than any other product we have produced, and thus the images of that music has also been exported. Black american hip hop has transformed African traditional griot storytelling to the modern. The word ‘niggas’ has also reached the continent via Black american hip hop, I’ve heard some African hip hop mimicking this aspect of Black america (my niggas slang), but African hip hop is as diverse as the continent and I found a lot of it to be politically and culturally uplifting and not degrading. You see a lot of youth wearing Tupac and .50 t-shirts and it is clear, young Africa loves Black america’s hip hop icons, but is that all they see or know of us?
Maybe in some circles and maybe in others they see a different view, they may see the Malcolm X, the Martin Luther King, the Barack Obama, but these are wide ranges of personalities that does not speak to our experience in totality. So who we really are, can be totally mis informed and not understood by Africans on the continent. But their outlook to me was always typically positive. Though there were times I was called a ‘toubab’ meaning white person in Wolof, which I was offended by, but this word eluded to the fact I was from the white man’s land, speaking the white man’s language, not necessarily a racial epithet. However, I was normally addressed as Sista in everyday conversation, and that was refreshing. As a Black american, I was always welcomed ‘home’ because on a deeper level Gambians do overstand that we are ‘home’ that slavery separated us, but they are very curious what its like to live in america. And this was always an interesting conversation to have, because I tried to give a very real perspective of what its like to be Black in america. These are the roads that bring our bridges closer to understanding. Giving African people a view of what its like to be a Black american takes skill and some level of historical knowledge to bring the reality and not just the perceived fantasy or image of being ‘famous’ or rich and wealthy as so many believe. Explaining day to day racism and how it affects us, and how we have managed with over 400 years on american soil, while trying to keep a fresh modern approach to what can be achieved here. Many Africans praise america for its greatness, because they understand the difficulties of living in Africa, the extreme poverty for many and lack of infrastructure are things they notice in comparison to america, which is seen as having all.
My experience of living in the motherland, I feel also gives me a wider view to explain to my Black american sisters/brothers about the differences and realities of African life, and what is happening on the ground there in the 21st century and it is not a place simply of the past, and relating that information to what’s happening here in america. Black american youth need to understand there are many opportunities in Africa too and we have been programmed to think so negatively about Africa, that we are alienated from the continent, which leaves a huge void in our Black american existence.
There is much more to this dialog, but anytime I am amongst my ‘African’ friends in america, I know they are learning about us, and seeing the variety that we are, most still feel ‘Africa is home, and plan to return, they know that home has significance, home is culture, home is the essence, and for us as Black america, we are welcome to come ‘home’, if we want to also.