Starting back in 2010, for couple of years I had this series of “point of view” blogs with my friend, Gerald Montgomery, we called AtlanticDivide. We would take a topic and approach it from our two different perspectives. He, an African-American, and me, an African immigrant. We went through many topics: Affirmative Action, reparations, going back home, the N word, etc. But this one here, about how we view each other, was one of the more popular dialogues.
A bit on our approach: For some topics such as this one, at first we would impersonate the general sentiment in our respective groups. As you could imagine, this would be filled with some pretty narrowmindedness and stereotypes. But then immediately after posting, we would respond in comments with our own personal thoughts and feelings. So please make sure to read the comments as well.
It is no surprise the rift between Africans-in-America and African-Americans. Our kids navigate it at schools, their parents do at their workplaces; and we all do everywhere we come face-to-face with each other. The worst of us–which may be a lot of us–think African-Americans are lazy; those people are ghetto, they are wild, irresponsible, unreliable, conniving, always complaining about racism…when everything has been (and continues to be) handed to them…and have the audacity to think they are better than us.
To forgive and forget— Africans invented that. Many Africans don’t even remember the Europeans and colonization let alone hold them accountable for the woes of the continent and her people. So slavery and a history of discrimination an African-American may give as the reason for their current situation simply doesn’t hold water with us. We don’t know enough about psychology to know about PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) or sociology to know about the correlation between the auction block and the ghetto, plantation and the prison system. To us it doesn’t matter what your grandfather couldn’t do, it’s what you can (but won’t) do.
The belief that America is the land of opportunities is a religion to many Africans. How else would you feel, if you escaped poverty and destitution to a land of milk and honey, where an easy job could pay you $8 an hour (when you hardly made a dollar a week where you came from)? To be without a job in America is an abomination to the African-in-America. So when we look at African-Americans unemployed en masse, we don’t see racial demons at play. We can’t; we have not been bred to see these things. We don’t know racism…except maybe if we are from South Africa. What we know is this: if you want and work hard for it, nothing should stop you from getting it. If they try, they will fail. You may need to work harder, harder than others; but if that’s what it takes, that’s what you give. That’s what we give. Why can’t they?
It is said that teevee adds few pounds to a body. It may just be it also adds few pounds to reality. But only the best of us notice this and take it for what it’s worth. For the rest of us, teevee is gospel. To many Africans-in-America, cable news is a new phenomenon. We, therefore, don’t know the concept of sensationalization that is so prevalent in this medium. Yet we are fascinated with it. And what does it show us? Loud African-Americans on shows like Maury, violent African-Americans on the evening news, on those prison shows, special reports, etc. To further shape our view, because of our economic status more often when we come to America, we live in low-income neighborhoods, where our first introduction to African-Americans come in the body of niggas. Unfortunately, we don’t know the difference between Blacks and niggas. We end up painting them both the same: with a nigga brush. Consequently, we see the group as uneducated (because niggas usually are), drug infested (because niggas usually are), violent (because niggas usually are), disrespectful (that may just be an American disposition).
But perhaps the most seethed resentment many Africans-in-America have toward African-Americans is a personal one. Forget not being welcomed with open arms, each African-in-America has at least a story of an early encounter with one or more African-Americans that left him/her feeling less than brotherly-loved. If you come here young enough to attend elementary and/or high school, to your surprise while many White kids are at least cordial with you, it’s the African-Americans that make fun of you, your people and where you come from; they are the most ignorant of all that you are (and thought they too were). Personally, it was my African-American classmates in high school that called me Kunta Kinte, laughed at my Payless shoes and asked me if I lived on trees where I came from. When you stand on the other side of a counter from them, they are rude, quick to be impatient with you for not speaking English or for doing so with an accent; in a relationship they are confrontational; in separation they are vindictive; as strangers, they are abrasive and unrefined.
A friend once told me he hated (yes, hated) African-Americans because when he first came to America–in Southside Chicago–after cashing his first paycheck at one of those check-cashing places, he put his first American dollars in his pocket and proudly walked to the nearest bus station. However, before the bus came, he was approached by an African-African who punched him in the face, robbed him of his money and left him bleeding on the snowy ground. He has never forgiven the group for that. Obviously, it makes little sense to “hate” a whole group because of one encounter with one individual, but human beings, we are prone to stereotypes and often base lifelong sentiments on a single encounter. It doesn’t make it right. But human beings are seldom perfect.
The gripes against the African, at least those that are stated openly, are mostly socioeconomic in nature. The consensus is this: His governments are corrupt; his people, accursed and starving! So he trades in his loincloth for a “coat-suit”, leaves his mud hut (and his flies) and hops a crop-duster to the only international airport in all of Africa. Once in America, the African struts around with the pride of a pompous peacock – arrogant and condescending – enjoying the freedoms earlier generations of so-called Negroes were fire-hosed, jailed, even lynched for, without any consideration or gesture of gratitude. Freedoms the descendants of those civil rights protesters are still fighting for today! Like a Johnny-come-lately getting in the American Dream handout line ahead of the indigenous African-American.
The African comes here to educate himself in universities and make gain in corporate America only to pack up and go “back home”, taking his American wealth with him. He speaks so fondly of his home yet comes here like the locust; with his kinfolk in swarms to pillage for a season, leaving the land destitute. While here, he enjoys the benefits afforded to black people but doesn’t contribute to the African-American struggle; because he believes it is not his fight. In other words, he’s black like us when it benefits him and African when disassociation pays the greater dividends.
And lastly, he looks down his nose at the African-American because this so-called Negro has no tongue, tradition, or territory; no back home to go to. He thinks he’s better; favored above the black man he has met here. He speaks his dialog to exclude the “Akata” (a derogatory term for African-Americans) from the conversation. He eats his cultural food and wears his colorful traditional gowns as if spreading those peacock feathers in boast.
But he is still BLACK; a butterfly, stereotypically darker than his American cross-bred moth cousin. A black butterfly that emerged from his chrysalis only to mock the so-called African-American moth for developing a cocoon; like the pot calling the kettle black! He can’t possibly know a thousand African-Americans personally but argues tens of millions are criminal and lazy. (In fact, the day he stops saying that most are no good, that this is the rule, will be the day he can legitimately place sole blame on the individual for, then, being the exception. The rule being most of us were good, the bad individual would be the exception, thus liable for his condition. But for now, the African says most are no good, yet blames the individual.) He calls the American Negro Akata while the white man calls him nigger, too!