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.

  • girlformerlyknownasgrace

    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….

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • girlformerlyknownasgrace

    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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