Screen Shot 2012-04-13 at 9.52.21 AM

Photo via Flickr

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.

Lucas explains:

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

Tags: ,
Like Us On Facebook Follow Us On Twitter
  • LN

    My question would be: How long was Ms Lucas in South Africa??? Because if it was anything less than several years, then her observations, I think, lack some credibility.

    My African American mother — born and raised in Detroit who had NEVER left the country before — moved with my Haitian father to the Caribbean. My siblings and I were raised in Jamaica, with heavy Haitian influence. When my mother first moved to Jamaica she thought it was a hell hole — and understandably. She was a first world woman moving to a third world country. She spent the first year living there in depression, questioning whether she had made the right decision. Fast forward a few years, and my mother was thanking GOD for the chance to raise her black children in a black country, where we were shielded from a lot of the racism that happens here in America.

    My mother lived in Jamaica for TWO DECADES and just recently moved back to the States. And honestly, readjusting to American society has been very hard for her.

    I think it’s unnatural to think that just going to an African country for a few days and feeling like a foreigner means anything. OF COURSE you’re going to feel like a foreigner, because you ARE. But I don’t think that it means that there isn’t a legitimate connection to be made between African Americans and the diaspora worldwide.

    I’m sure that if Ms Lucas spent a year or two or three in South Africa, she’d have a more rounded view of her experience. And I’m sure she’d feel that African Americans do have a place in African (and Caribbean!) culture.

    One last thing, growing up in Jamaica, my mother befriended a few other African American women who had “jumped ship” to raise their children in the Caribbean. Was it difficult? Yes. Third world challenges are very real. But none of the women regretted their decision, and were glad to connect their black children more directly to their heritage.

  • MeMe

    the title in of the article shows the prolems. I am Congolese, I am half Luba half Musaka (these are my parents tribes) when I got to my friends who are Kongo (of the Bakongo) tribe I have a hard time identifying with their costumes and rituals, I do not speak their language either and that’s just in D.R.Congo. You see where I’m going here? To think that you’re going to connect with someone because you have the same amount of pigmentation and that 400 years ago you shared the same continent is absolutly absurd. I know AA have a very difficult past of being rejected by the land they were living in but I think it’s about time we all learn to move on from it, I’m not saying let’s ignore each other, you are always welcome to our land as a foreigner because that is what you are and there is nothing wrong with being a foreigner. Maybe AA need to start studying more about the continent first and understand it for what it is, with all it’s glory and not so glorious history.

    • LN

      “I think it’s about time we all learn to move on from it.”

      Wow. What an ignorant and insensitive statement. I live in the US now and it’s virtually IMPOSSIBLE to just “move on” from it. There are many white people who are invested in the idea that African Americans don’t belong here and are inferior. Even if I, as an African American woman, don’t live in this falsehood (and I DON’T). I live in a cultural structure that propogates this idea.

      Also, I DO think there are commonalities in the black experience. I am part of the natural hair community and that is something that black women — regardless of where they live — can relate to. Also, I find that the musical tastes of black women tend to be consistent throughout the diaspora. Think of the global appeal of Les Nubians, India Arie and Nneka.

      Now, I’m not saying this means that an African American person can just plant themselves in an African country and feel at home. I think that’s impractical. But I think it’s just as impractical to say that African Americans have NOTHING to do with Africa.

      Also, I find the attitudes you expressed very troubling compared to other ethnicities.

      In college, one of my friends was a 4th generation English-only-speaking Hispanic American woman. And although she had no bones about the fact that she was an AMERICAN woman, she still had concern for the issues facing Hispanic woman globally. Also, my roommate in college was Chinese-American and, although she often spoke about the great cultural differences between Chinese Americans and Chinese living in China, she still had love for her country of origin. Why can’t black people do the same?

    • @ LN,

      I have to disagree with you about it being an ignorant and insensitive statement. It is not. It is about time that you moved on. It is what it is. Slavery happened, and the system is not in favor of ANY minority, especially the black minority. As an African in America, I am compounded with the same realities and injustices as you. The system looks at me first as a BLACK woman who is also an IMMIGRANT! Two strikes against me. But does that mean, that I will sit and dwell with a”woe unto me” mentality. Absolutely not. You find cracks in the system and use them to your advantage!

      Curious: What factors make moving on hard?! What is holding you back?!

    • LN

      @African Mami… Wow… SO off base. I was raised in Jamaica, and I moved to the US a few years ago for college. My mother is African American, my father is Haitian American. I consider Jamaica myself a tri-cultural citizen (Jamaica, Haiti, America) and I go back home to Jamaica — where my parents own land — every year.

      So, yeh, we are NOT the same.

      And who said anything was holding me back?!?!?

      Girl, you do NOT know me.

    • @ LN,

      Girl, you do NOT know me.

      Damn ma! Was hood,eh I mean good!!!!!

      eh, of course I do not know you. This is not a fight oo. I found your comment quite interesting and disagreed with it. If I misunderstood or misconstrued what you were saying then please by all means correct a sister. Otherwise, MEOW, WOOF WOOF!!!

      and about we are NOT the same….system, recognizes as being one and the same. WOI!!!

  • LN

    @African Mami… I don’t care what the “system” recognizes. You stated in your comment that we’re coming from the same place, we’re NOT. Also, you asked me, “What is holding you back?” Which I find startling statement since you know NOTHING about me: you don’t know my marital status, where I live, my level of income, NOTHING. Yet, based on one comment you assumed that I’m somehow being “held back” by the system. I stated in my comment that although I LIVE OUTSIDE THE FALSEHOOD that Black people are not first class American citizens, the REALITY is that there are people in this country who are invested in that idea. That is why I found the original commenters statements to be callous. It is not easy for African Americans to “forget”. Every time a Trayvon Martin or racist Hunger Games tweet incident happens, it’s a reminder to black people of how others perceive us in this country. That’s just the reality.

    How you interpreted that as me being “held back” is a mystery and, frankly, was very arrogant.

    Don’t be worried about whether or not I’m being “held back”. Thanks for your concern, but… yeh, I’m good.

    • @ LN

      There was absolutely NO arrogance on my part. NONE. ZILCH. How you took it there is beyond me! By asking you what is holding you back, I was referencing to this statement you made. I just wanted introspection on the statement. It was nothing personal. Fall back!

      “I live in the US now and it’s virtually IMPOSSIBLE to just “move on” from it.” ——->

      By the way, I don’t do catty debates. If you don’t want to elaborate, I respect that. Other than that, I’m done with the back and forth! Have yourself a great day/night!

  • CB

    Wow, this is interesting since i just got back from Africa last week, Lagos Nigeria precisely, and what i can say is that i did not feel at home immediately just as i donot feel at home in the USA when i meet people for the first time. But you can rest assure i started feeling connected to the people as i became familiar with them and i also realized that that country was truly given to the Blacks from God. Everything about it screams Black. The people were so…..glad that i came and they did so many things to welcome me. I learned some of the language, wore the clothes,ate the food, went to the slums as well as the rich areas. I also went to Badagry to see the slave museum. There has been lies told to African Americans about Africans. They donot hate us! and they wanted me to tell you this. How can they hate us when we could be a relatives. I was shown nothing but love, and even though i am back in the USA they still keep in touch with me. I was there 3 months and i miss it. If you really want to know, then experience it for yourself. Caught between two worlds? for me, it’s having the best of both worlds, and i cannot honestly say that i have felt like i fit in in the USA. Imagine that. I have been in the USA more than 50 years and still donot feel connected. So what’s the point. When i went to buy another cell phone while in Nigeria, the sales agent, said when did you come back home. I was very touched by this. When i went to the airport to come back to the USA three patrol officers checking my bags said, please come back home. Some of the people cried when i left. In order to really feel like you fit in, you may need to visit more and stay longer. I did not want to go to S Africa i heard it is like America and would not be a true African experience. Try Lagos, that is the beat of real Africa. In the midst of about 160 million Black folks everyday, mind blowing and awesome!. I love Them.

    • @ CB

      Glad you enjoyed your trip back home!!!! :)

  • Atheist & Proud

    What’s the new term for black nowadays. Anyway, you guys are funny.