THE relationship between black Americans and black Africans has been a subject of interest for social scientists and writers for a long time.
Some black Africans, especially students who go to live in the United States are often unprepared for the reality of the poor relations that exist between black Africans and black Americans.
On university campuses there are sharp divisions and they generally do not associate socially. Each views the other suspiciously and differently with some superiority.
For the longest time there have been advocacy groups that want the term African-American expunged from official use so that they are just called Black Americans, the argument being that they have no association with Africa anymore. Some argue that not all black people originated from Africa, therefore, the term is inaccurate.
In her book “Becoming” Michelle Obama draws a firm distinction between herself as an African-American and her husband’s black African relatives.
During her first visit to Kenya with her husband, the young Michelle ponders over the differences between herself and the indigenous Kenyans she encountered in villages and marketplaces somewhat unconsciously snobbishly. She is decidedly grateful and relieved about not being “that African” and is comforted by the knowledge that she can and will return home to America after the visit.
In a study published in February 2018 titled Parsing the Gulf between Africans and African Americans, researchers Ashly Nsangou and Lauren Dundes confirmed some facts about the relations between Africans and African-Americans and their perceptions of each other.
The online survey included 322 recently graduated college students comprising 45 Africans, 160 African-Americans and 117 white Americans.
They found that black intra-racial cohesion is absent between Africans and African-Americans as the cultural differences and the negative perceptions they have of each other are unbridgeable.
They found that apart from skin colour, they share almost nothing else. There is no sense of connectedness to each other. Only 21% of African-Americans reported feeling connected and related in some way to black Africans.
Each group thinks the other feels a sense of superiority over them. African-Americans believe that Africans have an ignorant disregard and lack of appreciation of their struggles with racial oppression.
On the other hand, black Africans view African-Americans as being too focused on race issues. Black Africans are rather preoccupied with getting ahead and taking advantage of the many social and financial upliftment opportunities America provides that are unavailable in their countries of origin.
In different surveys, African immigrants revealed that they think African-Americans should get over their slavery heritage and focus on the present.
African immigrants seem unable to relate to the struggles of African-Americans whose ancestors went to the US as involuntary immigrants followed by years of harsh racial segregation laws and practices that shape the present African-American identity.
The responses of African-Americans showed they thought that black Africans were there to take advantage of the equal opportunities which they (Black-Americans) fought for yet are not involved or concerned with the civil rights movement. To their chagrin, some black Africans regard themselves as harder working and more intelligent than African-Americans.
The majority of African immigrants tend to enter America with more financial resources enabled by personal savings or family money and scholarships. These financial leg-ups accord them the latitude to concentrate on upward mobility.
They have few opportunities and motivations for integrating with African-Americans and so are largely shielded from the problems ordinary black Americans face. African-Americans feel that first and second generation Africans look down on them because they cannot identify with their historical and present struggles and are unsympathetic to them.
Africans disdain them for what they see as deliberate squandering of opportunities which are widely available to them that are not available to them in Africa. In some surveys, Africans hold the same negative stereotypes about African-Americans as do white Americans.
They look down on some aspects of the black American way of life like their reliance on charity, assisted housing programmes, food stamps and their lower social status.
Some Africans also tend to view African-Americans as lazy, violent, criminally-prone, wild, rude, impetuous and uncultured.
Many African immigrants report being strongly cautioned by their families against turning into black Americans.
Dating and marrying African-Americans is frowned upon and discouraged. Such negative views fuel the hostility and suspicions between the two groups. Africans are regarded by African-Americans as backward and inferior to them yet are still conceited for no good reason.
In the 1970’s there were only 80 000 African immigrants but now they are 2,1 million, thereby making up 5% of all US immigrants. They report that they do not identify with African-Americans and that cohesion is almost zero.
They have different cultures and different views and experiences about the white establishment. African immigrants enter white American opportunity spaces with less historical hang-ups so they reportedly become more financially and socially successful per capita.
Though they are fewer, they have a higher average educational level than other foreign-born black immigrant groups. At least 35% of African immigrants aged 25 have earned a college degree compared to the overall US population of 30% and almost double that of US-born black people at 19%. African immigrants comprise 41% of black undergraduates at Ivy League Schools.
Many African migrants to America are often not prepared for the hostility and contemptuousness they encounter at the hands of some African-Americans.
They face discrimination and bullying in colleges, schools and workplaces.
They are bullied about their complexion, accents and the popular negative stereotypes about their countries of origin.
African-Americans are less educated and travelled than white Americans and so tend to be more ignorant about African geography and history.
They are reported to ask the most ignorant but sincere questions about Africa such as about riding zebras and giraffes to school. Following the success of the 2018 blockbuster film Black Panther, more black Americans than white Americans reported thinking that Wakanda was an actual place or country in Africa. Someone earnestly reported that it is “somewhere near the border of Zimbabwe and Kenya.”
Only a minority of African immigrants report feeling solidarity and personal involvement with African-American struggles over issues like police brutality, higher imprisonment rates, workplace discrimination etc.
Many schools and colleges have separate organisations for African students which are distinct from Black Student Union clubs which focus exclusively on African-American interests.
In the broader society, Africans living in the US are more comfortable among themselves and live distinct lives from African-Americans.
On the whole, while Africans support the Black Lives Matter Movement it means different things to them than it does to African-Americans.
- Miriam Tose Majome is a lawyer at Veritas and she writes in her personal capacity.