It happened out of nowhere. Suddenly, seamlessly, my Nigerian acquaintances became my closest friends. Throughout my foray into Nigerian culture, I’m reminded often enough of that persistent, deep prejudice held by Africans toward African-Americans. But I shouldn’t take this personal.
We don’t trust each other either, my boy says, laughing.
In the form of japes, we get into the African/African-American gap: Africans loathe African-Americans’ work ethic and wayward morals; African-Americans feel Africans are backwards, schemers and arrogant.
But as Peter Ustinov said, “comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.” The diasporic divide can be laughed off for only so long. Consider this. From 1980 to 2009, the African-born population in United States grew from just under 200,000 to almost 1.5 million.
Add that to the much deeper influx of Latinos and this country is becoming increasingly browner. We’re going to be brushing shoulders more often, which means sooner or later, we’re going have to hash out this beef.
So why not now? What’s the hold up?
Neither side has an accurate picture of the other. Western media plays the exacerbating role of depicting one culture as miscreants, entertainers and gun fodder and the other as primitive, unsophisticated and victimized by a dysfunctional continent.
We are familiar with the history of how African-Americans came to this country. But many aren’t as mindful of a significant impetus behind the huge influx of African immigrants. Over the years, as Africa’s resources were increasingly not controlled by Africans, the labor market became hugely imbalanced.
There was too many supply of workers. Not nearly enough demand for work. The wealth of their countries spread to first-world economies.
Hence around 1960, a throng of African citizens migrated West to start anew in a country they’ve only heard and read about. Currently, some estimates count between 46 and 49 percent of all African immigrants having a college diploma. In the Nigerian community, 17 percent have master’s degrees, compared to 19 percent of white residents.
Overall, African migrants send billions annually back to their families and friends in remittances.
Even with this nobility of purpose and accomplishment, Africans are still outsiders to a culture imbued with the legacy of slavery and civil rights battles. Many African-Americans still resent African leaders who profited off the slave trade, while others have no connection to Africa other than what they see through the media.
Meanwhile, there isn’t love lost from the other side, with many Africans harboring the notion that African-Americans lack identity and are indolent complainers.
There is also an obvious color component underpinning the rift. In a world where the fairer skin is sine qua non for magazine covers, billboards and cinematic presence, the darker complected Africans don’t quite measure up. There is a socialized aversion to color and black people are no exception. The “darkness everybody” jokes within the African-American community and #teamlightskin hashtags reinforce our serious hangup over complexion.
The irony is that our destinies are linked. The greatest lamentation of slavery, the vestige we can’t seem to shake, is the chasm it created in people’s knowledge of themselves through a tie to African heritage.
We are reaching urgent times in this collective discourse. Economic inequality, HIV/AIDS and racial prejudice are common foes to blacks in America, regardless of background.
Both cultures share the common barrier of a system that pushes colored folks to the margins. The longer we ignore this link, the longer we deprive ourselves of progressive action toward creating something better. At some point, we have to alchemize our minor cultural differences into a global perspective bound by a deep connection.
Considering how President Barack Obama is the seed of a Kenyan immigrant, now is as good a time as any to initiate earnest dialogue on this divide. The son of a Kenyan is married to a sistah in the White House. Right in front of us is a muse, a spring to propel us into this vacuum and start the closing process.