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The Beef Between Africans & African Americans: Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

“You’re not African American, you’re American. You guys just say African American so you can have some relation to Africa.”

These are the words that were spoken to me from a Nigerian lady that I attended college with. It was hurtful to hear her say this. I have traveled to Zambia twice and the first time was challenging. In a debriefing session I explained to the white people on the trip, that my entire life I had been told that I am African American, and here I was in Africa and had no culture to call my own. When a man in the market realized that I couldn’t speak Bemba he told my Zambian host that I should be ashamed of myself for not knowing my language. He didn’t know that I wasn’t from Zambia, because everything about me along with the rest of the African American community screams Africa. While in Zambia, I noticed how the people looked just like African Americans back home. It was very evident that African Americans are from Africa.
There are two major problems at hand: not enough African Americans acknowledge that they are Africans and not enough Africans acknowledge that African Americans are African. I’m sure growing up we have all heard the “You look like you African” jokes. Well that cruel joke has followed us to adulthood. How can a Black person look like an African, when they are African? And why is that meant to be offensive? I will admit that it wasn’t until after my voyage to the Motherland, that I began to take ownership of my African roots. What’s weird is when I say that I’m African around African Americans that know me, they look at me like I’m crazy and question me. I respond by saying “You’re African too!”
On the other hand I have heard Africans speak like the Nigerian lady who told me that I wasn’t African. Is the history of slavery not enough explanation on how we separated from our homeland? That isn’t American history; it’s African and American history. There are African Americans like myself who have gone through major identity crisis’ and struggled over the fact that we have no knowledge of what country in Africa we came from. Just because we weren’t born in Africa, don’t strip us of our African identity and heritage.
What frustrates me is I can see how the media has played a crucial role in dividing us. In America they have presented Africa to us as the Dark Continent with uncivilized people. To an extent we have believed everything we’ve seen on television. I remember on my first trip to Africa I was scared that some random men were going to break into the house I was staying and rape me. How crazy is that? In Africa they have presented African Americans as all being uneducated, rappers, thugs, and hoes. It was very irritating when the Africans would try to use slang with me. The media alone has caused us to form stereotypes about each other.
This is an issue that frequently comes up in my diverse circle of friends, so I wanted to share it with you guys. I leave you with this question:
At what point did African Americans stop being African? When we got off the slaveship?


  1. Great post! I have received alot of prejudice from African women and could not understand why. It was not until an African man told me why. " African Americans still have a "cotton pickers" attitude". That was prob 15 years ago and has always stuck with me.

  2. I don't remember if I've told you this or not, so sorry if I'm being redundant. I had heard how there was this big divide between Africans and African-Americans...but, surprisingly, I haven't experienced it yet. Of course, that may be because every African I meets thinks that I'm African, lol!

    Seriously, though, when I went to Zambia, I went through something similar. I felt like an "orphan" and even had Zambians walk up to me and start speaking Bemba. And the moments I've loved about recent times is when an African says that I look Zambian or Kenyan...because it gives me a sense of hope that maybe I will one day know where my ancestors came from.

    I'm loving your posts!

  3. I cannot blame anyone for the divide because just as the media tell us different things and divide the black people, we must remember that we sold our brothers into slavery. (I am Nigerian, by the way).
    My sister went to university in Philadelphia and she received a lot of prejudice from African Americans who told her that she had come to usurp and take the little the West had given to them; they asked her why she had to be so 'go-getting' as if to prove they were lesser than her, why did she always shove her culture in their faces.
    So you see, it cuts both ways: we are all paying for what our ancestors did a long time ago and some of us still head the wrong way the West leads us with its misdirections.
    I am sorry you felt hurt by that remark.
    They are people out there (Africans and African Americans) who understand and follow the way to peace because no matter how much we seem different,we are essentially the same and from the same.

  4. I love this post! I experienced this same prejudice from an African in college. It is a real eye-opening experience! What hurts the most is the fact that many of us who call ourselves "African Americans" can't trace our roots back to where we came from in Africa. So, we hold on to the "African" in African American so that we don't forget the mother-land. It is what it is...sad as it is, but I hope that one day we all understand that we are of one and the same!

  5. Some people are just jerks and feel the need to 'put you in your place'

    Two of the Nigerian women on campus said that I was "born a slave". Fortunately most of the African international students I've encountered are not jerks.

    There is a lot of media brainwashing going on to pit Americans against Africans and Africans against Americans.

  6. Hi Nikki,

    I saw your post over at bglhonline. It definitely sparked my interest. I just thought I'd just post what I posted over there to this entry as well. Love your blog, btw.

    I found this topic to be quite daunting. The fact is our identities are not only complex but they are also two sided: how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us. The African-American identity is complex because it encompasses so many identities.
    As we already know, Africa is a vast continent with many peoples (sub-saharan, berber, arab, moor, etc), divided by arbitrary lines sectioning off “so-called countries” (former European colonies with the exception of Ethiopia). These lines were created without regard to many of these varied peoples. Take Nigeria for example. It is one of the most diverse countries in the world when it comes to ethnicities. People in Nigeria are not Nigerian. They are Igbo, Hausa, Fulani, etc. When Africans were brought to the Americas, there was lots of miscegenation going on not only between whites, indigenous peoples and Africans but also among Africans from various ethnic backgrounds. Therefore, in one instance, one can argue that blacks throughout the Americas are truly African because we’re mixed with different African ethnicities. However, what I would argue is African and American in the sense of being “African-American” are two terms that aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s a new world identity that is a combination of African memory and salvaged cultural elements as well as a made up American identity including European and indigenous elements. Therefore, I don’t think we are necessarily African people. I think we are merely the descendants of African peoples. In many cases, we have similar phenotypes and other commonalities. Nevertheless, our identity is different not just because we’re on a different continent/ hemisphere but because like previously stated, many of our cultural elements are a result of mixing and lacking knowledge of our African cultural histories.
    While in undergrad, I studied abroad in South Africa because I, too, wanted to find my African roots. I found cultural commonalities with the Xhosa families I lived with but where there were similarities there were also differences. I can understand why we would want to go back to Africa to gain a sense of understanding about ourselves but I think we need to know that we are different and our identities are not the same. However, we can learn to appreciate and embrace those differences while also affirming the African elements that have contributed in shaping who we are as a people today.

  7. As I recall there were tribes who were for slave trade and other tribes that were not for slave trade thus there were fights between them... not everyone was up for selling their brothers and sister ---> I had to clarify that<-- so the ones that do not know this please do your research....

    In addition there are first generation Africans who cant speak their mother tongue and have never been to their country does this make them i.e Ivorian or Ghanaian or black British or African American??

    I guess we all have to agree to disagree and just treat each other with respect at the end of the day we are still Africans whether you like it or not ....

    @njoyable ur absolutely right ...

    The continent is made of so much more than what you see on TV... its just that the countries are in the hands of greedy leaders apart from Botswana which is well developed and is doing way better than Italy, Spain, UK etc... if you didnt know THEY EXPORT MOST OF THE WORLDS DIAMOND and they have a current account BALANCE not deficit... and according to the IMF ratios its an A+ country....

    Remember that knowledge is the key ...

  8. great post... i can relate.. when was a Jr. in college i studied in London for a semester. One day i got into a cab and the driver (a west African) began to challenge me about who I am and where i come from. He first asked. 'where are u from'? I said the "U.S.", he responded NO, where are u really from... and so on... i was like dude give me a break...

    Like you i always considered myself African, but that was before I went overseas and it dawned on me... maybe I'm not as African as i thought....

  9. Its very disturbing we don't get along.when i first came to America i have no idea that Africans and African Americans don't get along.i knew about it when my sister in-law explained some of her experiences she went through with African Americans during her college days.At first i was not convinced until i saw it first hand.my first semester in community college i always wanted to make friends with African Americans but only a few wanted to talk to me.It was worst at the school cafeteria where African girls and African American girls always get into and its still going on.Its true the media have divided us but its high time we start getting along.like i always tell my friends blaming each other wont take us nowhere.
    i have my own experiences i can remember those days when we are playing indoor soccer in the school basketball hall African American boys will come in with air fresheners trying to spray the place because they say we smell bad and others will hold there nose as long as they see us in the hall.At work it was very different we see our selves as brothers.they ask us questions about Africa because they feel the media is misleading people.
    It is worst between the sisters.very few African girls want to be friends with African American girls.They barely talk.I have always been attracted to African American women but its unfortunate very few wanted to date Africans.if you are an African you have to try very hard.I dated a few who doesn't mind me being an African but many i gave up.Vice-versa very few African women want to date African Americans and that number is very very low.
    It is really disturbing and it doesn't look like it will ever get better.the media have really succeeded in dividing us.Some Africans wont rather check OTHER when asked there race than check black/African American because they feel if they check the later they classify themselves African Americans.Its that time we start challenging the media to stop dividing us.

  10. African American and African having beef?? What a shame. We can fight each other but we still regarded as dumb fucks.