Reading through Demetria Lucas’ ‘Not African Enough for Africa,’ prompted a few questions for me as an African woman. What exactly does being African mean? Is it a cultural thing? A color thing? Why do African Americans believe they would feel at home in Africa despite having no tangible link to the continent?

As I read through the comments it was obvious, that to a lot of African Americans, Africa is a vital piece of the identity puzzle. And I get it.

Think about it for a minute. Many Black Americans have often identified as African first and an American later. So, it makes sense that they would expect acceptance in Africa, especially since their existence in America has been difficult.

African Americans were not willing visitors to America. You were torn away from what you knew to help grow a foreign economy and were never compensated for your labor. Even now, despite your contributions, you are not really welcome, and everyday there is another reminder that you are not the same.

Add to that the fact that Marcus Garvey’s Back to Africa movement made returning to the continent seem like the solution to the problems affecting Blacks in the Diaspora. In Africa, you would never be ‘the other’.  You would be fully accepted and embraced for you were once again the majority. And while things did not go quite as planned, many African Americans passed that idea down through generations. Africa became a place where you would not be the other, not a minority. It became a place where nearly everyone looked like you. You would not have to be stopped because you were black, get tagged with the Angry Black woman stereotype because no one would notice….seeing as everyone was just as black as you.

Unfortunately, the reality—as Lucas pointed out—is very different. Skin color is not enough to make you fit in, and when selling the African dream someone forgot to tell you a couple of things.

Culture trumps color. The ability to speak local languages is just one aspect. Honestly, even if you made the effort to learn the language, there are still the social cues and the slang that many would probably miss. Unfortunately, a white African would be seen as more authenticly “African” than an Black American in many instances, because in the space of two generations, the term ‘White African’ has become acceptable. In my grandparents’ days, if you were white, you were either a missionary or a colonizer. You were a stranger, never African.

The fact that African-born Whites can now claim Africa as their home is proof that culture is dynamic. In less than a hundred years, White Africans are a legitimate part of the continent. So, if such a huge change has occurred in that short span of time, how could African Americans–who are separated by hundreds of years of differences–think they will just immediately mesh into one of Africa’s many cultures? It is almost impossible.

As a child, my father had a friend–a former Black Panther–who moved to Tanzania in the late seventies. During that time, Tanzania was practicing African Socialism and he was very excited to live and farm among his people. Over 30 years later, he is still seen as a foreigner, even though he speaks Kiswahili with great fluency and has assimilated as best as he knows how.

I sympathize with wanting to know who you are, with being a child of two worlds who doesn’t quite fit into either one. I know Blacks in the Diaspora want a place where they can just be themselves, but sadly, Africa isn’t it.

Here, you are American; you have been away for five hundred years. We do not have the same experiences to bond us, the same languages to help us bridge the gap, the same memories of how things were.

Please come visit and walk the paths your ancestors walked. But that is all we can give you.

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118 Comments

  1. Shoot, even I have a hard time going back to Africa, and I am first-generation American.

    And that is the key. People need to stop thinking of Africa as something you “go back to.” Semantics such as “get in touch with my roots,” “discover my past,” imply that Africa is in some sort of primitive state or timeless Eden that could one could return to. Africa (and yes, all of its countries, I know it is not a monolith) has kind of moved on without their long-lost African-American brethren.

    This article, makes me think of Smokie Robinson’s poem, “Black American” on youtube:

    And, if you go to Africa in search of your race/
    You’ll find out quick you’re not an African American/
    You’re just a Black American in Africa takin’ up space!

    Why you keep trying to attach yourself to a continent/
    Where if you got the chance and you went/
    Most people there would even claim you as one of them.
    As a pure bread daughter or son of them.

    Your heritage is right here now, no matter what you call yourself or what you say/
    And a lot of people died to make it that way….

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    • dunno, africans sometimes just don’t get certain things.

      i know italian americans, irish americans, german americans, vietnamese americans, etc. who always “go back” to their “homeland” or place of origin to rediscover or learn about their roots but are not ostracized for doing so.

      italy, ireland, germany, and other places are not regarded as backward primitive places because people regard them as the place from where their ancestors sprung. and italians, the irish, etc. don’t necessarily regard their returned children as horribly as africans do.

      it is natural for diasporans of all kinds to want to see the place from where they sprang.

      having said all that, i know i am whole as a black american because i know my history.

      i just think africans have yet to figure out how to deal with the diaspora. i don’t even think africans even understand the impact the forced diaspora has had on them.

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  2. AustralianGirl

    I dont know….I think some Africans on this site should stop being so harsh towards African-Americans…..
    Not particularly talking about this author, just generally.

    Feel free to disagree if you will, just putting it out there

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    • Aww that is a sad sentiment actually.

      I do not know that it is best expressed not as “you are not welcome here in Africa.” I think it is more like “we have a hard time relating to you in the here and now.” I think African Americans -descendants of slaves- have such a rich history of their own here in America. When I go to Nigeria I know who I am going back to and it must be frustrating to go back–and yet not really go back. There is a real sense of never knowing your history that seems ever-elusive. But whenever you go to any country you will meet the range of people- some who are welcoming and some less so. But your experience is what you make of it. If you are determined to find joy out of a visit there you will most certainly find it.

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    • Yes @Australian Girl

      Why do Africans feel as if they can comment on how Black Americans define themselves, if they should go back to Africa(if only out of curiosity), if they will fit in in Africa, if they will be welcomed, etc, and blah, blah, blah,. Do Africans think we care and do they think we are asking their permission to visit, settle, or claim it? IF WE SO CHOOSE….especially when so many of them are stating these opinions in an America,on an American website- made much less treacherous for them-* by the descendants of slaves*-(our ancestors- the Alphas and the Omegas) who fought to the death sometimes for their god given humanity and rights and by extention opened America to Africans who benefit greatly from the Black American fight. Why do they sound so fearful- to me- at the thought of Black Americans returning to Africa or is the issue that they believe all they see in the media about BLack Americans and so feel they have to protect their precious Africa? Yes…I believe that is the biggest issue- Africans believe everything they see in the media about BlackAmericans; And even though Black Americans- also see in the same media- all the crazy stories about Africa and Africans, some of us choose to go see for ourselves with an open mind.

      LOL…We are not asking Africans for ANYTHING- not acceptance, nor for family or permission. I dont know too many Blacks here(not yet anyhow-LOL) who are clamoring to get to Africa but if and when they so choose- Africans cannot stop us or give us permission.

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    • mahogany

      @ Che

      You are free to come and go as you please, no “African” is restricting you. For someone who claims to be open minded your comments come across as narrow minded and misguided.

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    • @Mahogany

      I did not claim to be anything- I stated my postion and I also responded to the author of the article and some of the commenters.

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    • mahogany

      @ Che

      And I respect your opinion. We can agree to disagree, but you make it seem like all “Africans” thinks/feel the same way about AA, which is not true. I can’t be living on American soil and yet bash all AA. We differ in culture yes, but at the end of the day we are all black.

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    • AfroStyling

      @ Che…yeah sure…why dont you just try to go to Nigeria if you so please and watch yourself be sent back ant murtala muhammed airport. If you want to visit an african country, no one is stopping you. But dont make it into some big to do or act like Africans are stopping you. And you need to work out the obvious issues that you have with Africans before you even venture over there. We dont send anybody.

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    • @Afrostyling

      I have been to Africa and I came back! I havent made it to Nigeria yet but Senegal was a beautiful country with beautiful people. I dont have a problem with Africans if they are cool and not talking their nonsense and dont have an inflated sense of themselves with no basis in reality and no nasty attitudes as if they are above Black Americans. I am Black and therefore feel I can relate to any Black person no matter where they come from…I keep an open mind and heart-after all some of my friends are African and I have gone out with Africans in the past (LOL) but some of you can miss me and keep it moving with the attitudes you display towards Black Americans.

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    • Zimbobella

      @che that attitude is yours is the one that many a sane African will not put up with. So Africans are ok to you until they start talking their nonsense….hmmm what nonsense is it that you speak of? Africa is a huge continent. Do not judge us by one country and certainly we do not speak nonsense. We speak our mind, a trait, you clearly have but is muddled up in your issues. Get them sorted out. It really puzzles me why someone with a functioning brain would think some Africans would be waiting with some rose petals (cue coming to America) and a key to allow black Americans into the continent. Ludicrous! Our countries work just like your countries. You come of as having the ‘I am better than you’ mentality. Not flying since 1855

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  3. arlette

    i spent my first seven years in africa so when i sometimes go back i feel like i belong there, i do plan to live there in the future or have a holiday house there. my parents bought a retirement house there as well. i always feel welcomed (btw i am british) when i go there and i dont feel out of place at all as i have many relatives who live there, i speak swahili as well as my mother tongue kinyarwanda.

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    • arlette

      honestly i dont regard african americans as actual africans. maybe this is due to the many stereotypes of americans when they travel. the fact that many AA dont have a direct link to africa or that most dont know exactly where in africa they come from.

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    • Hi fellow rwandese

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  4. Boy, here we go again
    Ill take the bait:

    Arlette and Grace….who cares what you think and who cares what you think of how Black Americans choose to define themselves. Again, what do Africans think they can give us that we cannot give ourselves? Its funny- if a White person or other non Black were to say we are moving to Africa I really dont think africans would put up a fuss but let a Black American suggest such a thing then all these Africans come out of the woodwork talking their nonsense; Why? Why so much fear it sounds like? Is there something in Africa you all do not want Black Americans to see? Do you all think , oh I dont know, that Black Amerians are somehow incapable of handling your continent, or maybe we would handle it too well and have too much influence or bring too much change or some other reason?

    If Black Americans, Caribbeans did decide to go back and claim Africa and settle there- who is going to stop them(africans?LOL) and what do you Africans think they would be doing so out of the ordinary(are Black Americans/ Caribbeans clamoring to get to Africa?) that they cannot and will not fit in? Of course there is the question of culture, language and blah,blah,blah….but- newsflash- Black Americans are HUMANS with their own language, culture and they would make it work and adjust and maybe excel?(Im sure the foreign Blacks on the continent are educated)- just like so many of you Africans, who are in an America made much less treacherous for you all by the fight of Black Americans.

    Hate to break it to you all but there are a number of Black Americans/ Caribbeans in Ghana, South Africa- I met some in Senegal when I visited- and I am sure they are all over the continent….and they are *gasp* living, working, getting married, having children, being ordinary etc -just like most people in the world.

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    • Yeahright2011

      @CHE

      I think you pretty much said what needed to be said. Blacks in the US don’t export their degenerates and the Blacks that do leave the US to go anywhere have an education, financial resources, and looking to contribute. Ironically most immigrants coming to the US bring nothing. And that’s okay……..for now.

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    • cosign. As a daughter of West African Immigrants, I’m easily rejected in my parent’s home country for not speaking the language and being raised in the States. BUT like Che says, I’m not asking for anyone’s permission to be who I am. Wherever I go, I know I have to create community.

      I also think it’s interesting that Wanjku talks about the cultural shift that occurred as African-born whites started to claim Africa. What about the shifts in Liberia? You note Marcus Garvey’s movement as a failure but American born blacks claiming Liberia did lead to a whole lot of shifts there.

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    • i was not opposed to Af americans going. Perhaps that was not clear from what i said. Just the semantics or the wording that is used when people go. No person of Hispanic descent says “I am taking it all the way back to Spain!” I am just opposed to the idea of thinking of Africans as just bush people who have not modernized that is all. I just get tired of the images I see on TV and the sad depictions blah blah blah. I am calling attention to the weirdness of the wording. There is more than lions and tigers. Visit Africa as much as you please; fill your passport with visas when you go. (if you stop in nigeria be sure to visit the open market places, I love those more than the Galleria. Just be prepared to negociate for the prices). Ghana is another wonderful place to visit- you may not want to leave if you go!

      And educated Black people know their history but when I grew up I did not live in the best neighorhoods. Not every Af. American knows their history beyond their neighborhood. All I am saying is Af americans have an extremely rich history that extends beyond the sadness of slavery and the tradition of MLK Jr. From garvey, to hughes, to morrison, to malcolm, cj walker. That is a history that they can be proud of.

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    • Caribbean

      Um, you do realize that Caribbeans and Africans usually share the same sentiments about Afric -eh, excuse me – BLACK Americans, right? The two share a lot more in common culturewise than with Black Americans. In fact, in college the African American students usually only mixed with other A.Americans whereas the Africans and Caribbeans ALWAYS hung out together.

      To most Caribbeans, Black Americans are nothing but “Yankees”. A perfect example of the culture difference would be the Virgin Islands season of College Hill on BET. (Google it if you don’t know what I’m talking about. ) So, sorry to break it to you but including Caribbeans in your Black American beef with Africans is incorrect.

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    • @Carribean I suggest you take yourself to France and the UK, THEN talk about solidarity between carribeans and Africans. That unity crap you believe in between Africans and west Indians will be shattered in front of your very eyes.

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    • Caribbean

      My comment is directed @ Che

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    • Caribbean

      Yes which is why I referred to Black AMERICANS. Not brits

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    • odemata

      @ Caribbean That indifference is because West Indians and well as Continental Africans see themselves as immigrants, or refer to their place of origin as a sort of ethnic classification. For example, Trini’s don’t mix with Jamaicans. This is a result of the ignorant teaching in their respective countries that fail tremendously to highlight the commonality of all those Africans living in the diaspora of caribbean and within America. This was what the Pan-Africanist moment was trying to do, bridge and educate on how we are alike. Do your research in stead of watching minstrel shows before you speak about how different we are, for then you would see how many cultural practices that were and are present within Africa today, still thrives in various forms, in the “islands” as well within Black American communities. Look up the named Stokely Carmichael from Trinidad and read on what and how he related to the plight of all Black peoples.

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    • @Odemata and @Che- Perhaps you should direct you’re comments at Che. Although a bit abrasive, I don’t think Caribbean’s comments are too far off. Che’s comments are very dismissive, insulting and insensitive and invokes that type of response.

      I’m Sierra Leonean of Krio decent. And to those of you who don’t know, Krios are the decendents of freed slaves who went back to Africa and settled in Freetown, Sierra Leone. I have tried NUMEROUS times to explain to African Americans how much we are alike. From the food(collard greens is really just a plassas dish without palm oil for example), to the music, to the speech(Gullah)! It doesn’t matter how much sense I make. For the most part, they’re never really receptive.

      Even as an undergrad, a majority (not all!) of African American students were not to open African culture. So I’ve accepted that most, like Che, will pretty much ALWAYS make ignorant comments like ” If Africa is so great, why are you in America?” To that I say, well if America is so great, why are you trying to go back to Africa?

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    • @Muse

      It’s funny how you think your use of the word “most” and “majority” means your generalising is factual and not a biased opinion.

      Che’s question “if Africa is so great then why are you in America” is not one that stems from ignorance. It is a response to many Africans who speak lesser of African Americans while at the same time benefitting from our hardwork in this country, like you.

      You accuse AA’s of not being open for discussion with you when you do the same to us when we try to explain our position to other commentators.

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    • odemata

      @ Muse The thing is this. We have within every group a problem of cultural ignorance. All are result of circumstances that stem from racism and what we have here within your’s and other folks experiences is a result of that. Just because slaver, so called ended, so did the effects of it. Its because of conversations such as this we should work more arduously to see how much we are alike as opposed to focusing on those ignorance fellows who leave such a impact on us. One thing I would say, before those from the Islands and continent comment on the reception from Black Americans, they should delve in history and find their answers instead of looking at things for face value. We are all victims.

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    • @Caribbean

      I speak as a Black American and a Caribbean, specifically Jamaican and I am commenting on my experiences interacting with Africans as both….I went to college with Africans and Caribbeans and Africans stuck with Africans and Caribbeans with Caribbeans but your experience might be different.I do know though that Africans and Caribbeans, having experience with both groups, try to hold themselves back or above Black Americans(LOL) while living in America and benefitting from the fight for their rights that Black Americans fought and died for.

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    • @Muse

      Again I was responding to the TONE of the post and the TONE of the African commenters. I have been to Senegal West Africa-out of curiosity and well-for college credits and I CAME BACK TO AMERICA! I wasnt looking for a home, acceptance, approval, family, permission, nor culture- I have that here in America. Some Black Americans despite seeing the media depictions of Africa and Africans go and see for themselves and keep an open mind. What closes it (sometimes) for some is meeting SOME Africans who think they are above you(LOL)for whatever nonsense reasons and have the nerve to do this while living in America and benefitting from the fight Black Americans waged for their rights.

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    • @Caribbean

      Please, no snark, but what cultural practices do West Indians share with Africans that make them so alike and makes West Indians so different from Black Americans?

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    • Chrissy

      It is a response to many Africans who speak lesser of African Americans while at the same time benefitting from our hardwork in this country, like you.

      Yea. This is something I never understood.

      A lot of these Africans and Caribbeans(them too) come to blogs like this and bash African Americans while they are benefiting from the work our ancestors put in this country for us to be here. Now they want to pretend that they are above African Americans…but without African Americans they most likely wouldn’t even be in America.

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  5. I am NOT African. Realizing this has changed my life for the better. People need to understand that while African-Americans were stolen from Africa and that our roots are very much “African,” we have built a new, rich culture and identity. I don’t know why this is such a harsh reality for some to grapple with :S

    Everyone forgets that even the earliest freed slaves tried to claim their “Africanness” by going to Sierra Leone and Liberia too if I’m not mistaken. But even that migration caused issues, and there was major tension between freed slaves and the same Indigenous people who lived there.

    I have no claim to a land or a culture that I do not know. I can only build up the culture that I love and has made me who I am today. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to read Stuart Hall and get with the program.

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    • Also totally agree with your perspective Kai.

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    • Yeahright2011

      “I am NOT African. Realizing this has changed my life for the better. ”

      I can affirm this.

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    • LemonNLime

      Agreed! I am an American NOT an African American. Yes the majority of my family was brought here against their will but my roots have been firmly planted in this country longer than many of the white, Hispanic, and Asians that make it up. This country is my birthright and no one is going to try and lessen that by sticking “African” in front of “American” just because I have brown skin. The language, history, and culture that I identify with is American and especially after having traveled, culture, for me, trumps color no matter how crappy race relations may be in this country. If I want to reconnect with my roots, I’ll go to Georgia.

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    • YeahRight2011

      @Lemon

      Caribbeans, depending on the country, can talk a bit. They were our partners in crime BUT I also know that if there had been a distinction made between native and immigrant in their favor, they wouldn’t have helped. Most groups are like anyway, no matter the race or ethnic group.

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