After we ran Demetria Lucas’ article Not African Enough In Africa, the comments section (predictably) opened up some old wounds and divides. While many–from all over the Diaspora–understood Lucas’ experience of feeling “foreign” in a land she hoped, perhaps naively, would feel like “home,” others read her piece as yet another example of Americans exerting their class privilege on a foreign land.
The article also seemed to reignite tense feelings between some Africans and African-Americans who felt the other side would never be able to relate to their particular struggles.
It is for this particular reason that I, like Lucas, tend to stay away from writing about such subjects because bridging the gap seems increasingly impossible, while widening the divide appears to be inevitable.
On her blog, Lucas explained how:
I stayed away from similar topics. I knew the issues discussed were a deep problem. And I didn’t have a solution or see a way of effectively talking it out or through it, especially when, just like the Clutch post, people were reading what they wanted to see, not what was there. So I figured the topic was better left alone.
Despite the potential for disaster, Lucas says she wrote Not African Enough in Africa to break down the myth many black Americans have about our ancestral home. Many of us speak about Africa as our home, this place with which we will have an instant connection because of our shared history, and yes, our skin color, but the realty is that the rift between black Americans and Africa is as long and large as the centuries we’ve been in this country. Despite our need/want to fulfill the longing for our homeland, approaching any trip to Africa expecting we’ll instantly feel a kinship with people on the continent sets us up for failure.
Many Black Americans suspend logic to imagine there’s a place on the other side of the Atlantic where they “belong” since so many don’t feel that happens here. The desire for a place where you feel like you just are allows for logic to be defied. People do it in bad relationships and over absentee fathers every day. I don’t understand why it’s so surprising in this context. It’s not logic. It’s not ignorant. It’s hope for something better than the hand you’ve been dealt, an idea that keeps you going much like Christianity’s promise of suffering in life and getting your rewards at the pearly gates. If you don’t have that, then what?
The mythology and reality that allow for the suspended logic are literally the first 500 words of “Not African Enough in Africa”. The next 700 expose the knee-slapping joke that’s been had on Black Americans who hold up all of Africa and any part of Africa as our specialized Motherland. We’re Americans who are Black and that’s all. The story was in no way an indictment of what’s wrong with South Africa or Africa in general (if I thought it sucked specifically or generally, I’d just say that.) I could have spoken greetings in all 10 of South Africa’s other official languages (and none of them would have enabled me to answer a question about sunglasses) and I could have been in Ghana or Nigeria, or Tanzania or any other country in the world and I wouldn’t “fit” because squares don’t fit in circles. That there are Black Americans who are willing to try is an indictment of what’s wrong with America, a problem that I only picked up on when I got to South Africa and realized no, really, this “I’m so American” feeling isn’t just what happens when I travel thru the UK and Europe. That’s really just what I am, no hyphen necessary to pay homage to roots that were severed. My bad, I was bamboozled, maybe I just wanted to be.
As a traveler, I admit to feeling the same way, of wanting to blend seamlessly into the background of whatever black community I happen to be in at the moment. But as an American, with all of the privileges it carries abroad, this isn’t always possible. Do I keep trying? Sure. I love people, and especially black folks. But like Lucas I’m no longer under the impression that I will immediately “fit” or feel at home with people who look like me.
Check out the rest of Demetia Lucas’ piece about Not African Enough In Africa on her Belle In Brooklyn blog.