African vs. African-American
A shared complexion does not guarantee racial solidarity.
Author: TRACIE REDDICK.
Topics: blacks, culture, Africans, slavery, racism, U.S., & Africa.
|TAMPA – When Anthony Eromosele Oigbokie came to America in 1960, he heard racial slurs – not from Klansmen in white sheets – but from dashiki-wearing blacks.
“Just because African-Americans wear kente cloth does not mean they embrace everything that is African,” says Oigbokie, a Nigerian business owner in Tampa. “I caught a lot of hell from the frat boys” at Tuskegee University, a historically black college in Alabama.
“They were always trying to play with my intelligence. This was a time when folks were shouting, “Say it loud: I’m black and I’m proud.’ Yet, when I called someone black, they would say, “Why are you so cruel? Why are you calling us black?’ If they saw me with a girl, they would yell to her, “What are you doing with that African?’ ”
Three decades later, not much has changed. Africans and black Americans often fail to forge relationships in the classroom and the workplace. They blame nationality, ethnicity, culture, economics and education.
“A shared complexion does not equal a shared culture, nor does it automatically lead to friendships,” says Kofi Glover, a native of Ghana and a political science professor at the University of South Florida. “Whether we like it or not, Africans and African-Americans have two different and very distinct cultures.”
“That’s a fallacy,” retorts Omali Yeshitela, president of St. Petersburg’s National People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, a black nationalist group whose name means “freedom” in Swahili. Yeshitela is from St. Petersburg and was formerly known as Joe Waller.
Whether blacks live on the Ivory Coast or the Atlantic Coast, Yeshitela contends, “we’re all the same. There are no cultural differences between Africans and African-Americans.”
Na’im Akbar, a psychology professor at Florida State University, sides with Glover. “The only way we’ll ever begin to appreciate each other is to recognize and embrace our cultural differences,” says Akbar, who was born in America.
“A lot of us do harbor a lot of hostility toward Africans,” says Tampa poet James Tokley. “Many Africans have no idea what our ancestors endured during slavery.”
In Ghana, he says, “we did not experience white domination like the Africans in Kenya, Zimbabwe or South Africa. We do not understand the whole concept of slavery, or it’s effect on the attitude of a lot of African-Americans, mainly because we were not exposed to it. To read about racism and discrimination is one thing, but to experience it is something else.”
Much bad blood stems from interactions between Africans and whites, Oigbokie says. For example, he ate at some segregated restaurants in the 1960s.
Glover, who also teaches African studies at USF, says these perceptions are rooted in “all the negative things we’ve been taught about each other.”
“I have seen us come together in great magnificence,” Yeshitela says, citing, as an example, Marcus Garvey, founder of a back-to-Africa movement in the 1920s. “He was very successful in bringing about the unity of African people.”
“When most Africans come here, their first priority, by and large, is education,” he says. “Right here you have a tool that allows you to open doors within American society.
In 1990, the median household income of an African immigrant was $30,907, according to the Center for Research on Immigration Policy in Washington, D.C. That compares with $19,533 for black Americans. Africans who immigrate to the United States come largely from the educated middle class of their countries. The research center reports 47 percent are college graduates and 22 percent have a professional specialty. Only 14 percent of black Americans graduate from college.
“If you visit Nigeria or Ghana, the masses of the people are locked in the same circumstances as poor African-Americans,” he says. “Both groups seem content to do nothing other than what they are currently doing.
“We’re faced with a situation where 3 to 10 percent of the total trade in Africa happens in Africa. The rest is exported from Africa. The future of all black-skinned people centers in Africa. That is our birthright and someone else has it. The struggle we have to make lies in reclaiming what is rightfully ours.”