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.

  • CHE

    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.

  • Kai

    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.

  • CHE

    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.

  • CHE

    Also totally agree with your perspective Kai.

  • Mary mary

    Actually, my experience has found that color trumps culture. I am first generation west African American, but when I lived in Rwanda with 4 white Americans, I felt more comfortable and aligned with my Rwandan friends and colleagues than with my 4 white American roommates. These girls came from different parts of American than I did and had different interests. In fact, I was better friends with the white Australian friend I made than with my roomies. I was never identified as rwandan by my Rwandan friends, but I never tried too and I was open to learning about the country and culture. But our shared experience of being black in the world and our similar attitude about was something strong we could relate too.

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