(In celebration of the Black history month!)
- For the purpose of this soliloquy, we will describe descendants of former slaves in the United State as Black Americans while their cousins who arrived as immigrants these 20th and 21st centuries as African Immigrants, just to draw a distinction.
- Why is there so much conflict shimmering between these brethren?
- What can be done to resolve these issues and cause them to join forces to rescue themselves in a world that has remained so unfair to either?
- What does it mean to be Black American and what does it mean to be an African Immigrant?
- What constitutes the kennel of their problems?
- Are they serious issues or simple issues blown out of context?
- What are the chances of resolving same?
That Black Americans had a problem of complete integration had been manifest since the end of slavery in the mid 19th century in the US. To resolve these issues, ideas both from the Blacks and the Whites ran riot. On one extreme was the idea that slavery should be re-introduced to take care of the mass of rudderless new free blacks who were unable to adjust to freedom after so many years of slavery. The other extreme were the ‘back to Africa’ movement popularized by black leaders like Marcus Garvey. In between were ideas for complete integration that hovered between the radical views of E.W.B Du Bois and the conservatism of Booker T. Washington.
African Immigrants that came in their large numbers recently have not helped matters but rather seem to have exacerbated issues for Black Americans. The crux of this new problem is what is perceived and rightly so as the success African Immigrants have made of their stay in the United States as compared to the not so successes of Black Americans, stirring up real tension between the two.
The origin of this tension seems to be the White American allusion and stereotype that Black Americans are lazy and the fact that some African Immigrants seem to have bought into this stereotype, leading to the perceived belief that African Immigrants don’t like Black Americans. This naturally has triggered a response from Black Americans in kind. Many Black Americans equally believe that their African Immigrant cousins are backward and primitive and ‘Tarzan’ like.
African Immigrants who come from the ‘back waters’ of Africa, sometimes from impossible situations often wonder why Black Americans have not made greater successes of their lives with all the available resources in America, often impossible to comprehend from an African perspective. They simply believe that the ‘ease’ with which they make success of their own lives should have made Black Americans with greater opportunities excel beyond ramification, leading to what Luvvie Ajayi described as the attitude of ‘if I could do it, why not them?’
White American society equally holds this view. Using the educational sector as an example, the Washington Post (2007), found that a quarter of black students admitted to elite colleges were African Immigrants, though they only represented 13 percent of America’s college-age black population. There is also a belief among White Americans that African Immigrants seem more polite, less hostile, more solicitous and easier to get along with while perceiving Black Americans in negative light.
One major explanation of this difference is that of difference in experiences. According to Guinier, “…it has to do with coming from a country … where blacks were in the majority and did not experience the stigma that black children did in the United States.” Whatever the explanation, there is a huge gulf existing between the two cousins.
It seems that there are undue White American interests in widening this chasm because early in the 20th century, Black Americans beyond the idea of mass migration back to Africa were at the forefront of the liberation struggle for African countries during the colonial era. The Pan Africanist movement led mostly by Black Americans made so many inroads into Africa not only in their liberation struggles but in helping the emergent new nations gain sure footholds in the international community.
Equally in the cultural realm, Black Americans and African cultural activists worked closely together to produce great cultural movements like Negritude, the Harlem Renaissance etc. Very many Black American intellectuals and Africans were involved in various exchange programs that were believed to be the herald of a new black world. But all that seems to have been lost and replaced by this towering tension among the two groups especially in the United States.
In this fast-paced new world of globalisation that seems hell-bent on stifling Africa and the black race, all hands must be on deck to save every black person on earth, be they Black Americans, African Immigrants and black Africa at large. New unique ways must be found to recapture the pristine world of Pan Africanism of the 1920s and the Cultural Revolution built on the black unity of the 1960s. Black Americans and African Immigrants stand the greatest chance of berthing this new revolution by consciously removing their present belligerence towards each other.
What needs be done?
- Despite the challenges faced by the contending cousins, deep inside Africa lies a philosophical solution to this unfortunate situation identified as ‘iwe nwanne anagi eru na umi okpupku,’ – brothers’ anger does not cross the bone marrow, i.e. anger can never be too deep and ‘Nkeiruka’- what lies ahead is greater. A synergy forged by these two will lead to a bountiful harvest and the creation of a formidable force that can truly confront the rampage of globalization skewed against the black race.
- This can be achieved through recreating the earlier Pan Black African cooperation of the early 20th century among the black race, this time through cultural diplomacy and cooperation.
- African Immigrant organizations, and there are so many of them, at all levels in the American society must consciously create an avenue of interacting with Black Americans within their areas of domicile. The university based associations can take the lead in this direction by consciously opening genuine conversations and positive dialogue with their Black American cousins.
- Students in colleges and universities should be encouraged to do same. They should as a matter of priority have open days and cultural festivals on and off campus dedicated to interactions with Black Americans. They should further make efforts during these engagements to induct their cousins into their various associations or countries of origin as ‘nwanne-di-na-mba’, blood brothers/sisters in Diaspora. This will truly give them a sense of belonging and make them partakers in the lives of African Immigrants and invariably stakeholders of the motherland – Africa.
- Outside the academia, there is virtually no part of the United States where you cannot get Black Americans and African Immigrants domiciled. Conscious and planned engagements and interactions with each other will go a long way. One unique cultural practice of all African Immigrants is the celebration of their various home countries’ cultural festivals. Another root of the African Immigrant strength is drawn from their culture of communal meetings. These cultural gatherings and the pressure from motherland is where the strength of African Immigrants lie and Black Americans can as well tap into this. It is not a taught process. The gains and effect come from simply participating. Therefore each community of African Immigrants as we said about the academia, must create avenues; open days and joint events were the two groups must continually meet.
- Added to this is also the need to adopt Black Americans as citizens of the various African countries represented in their locality. As adopted citizens, it will be easier for Black Americans with their resources to visit their adopted countries on holidays etc. As many of them as possible that visit the motherland will further expose them to the fact that the continent of their forebears is no jungle with Tarzans jumping off trees. They will also come into contact with the real challenges facing their cousins in Africa and understand why they work so hard to survive in foreign lands.
- With their years of experience in fighting for black freedom and sustaining their liberty in the United States, Black Americans will help bring to bear these experiences in the present struggle for greater freedom, and democracy in the motherland. Equally they will gain tremendously from the great economic opportunities in Africa currently being exploited by Asians with their own racial baggages.
- That African Immigrants have lived in the United States up to two or three generations does not mean they do not want to go back to the motherland and end their days there. What has stopped many so far has remained the frustrating parlous situation Africa still faces. So working together with their cousins of the Diaspora like we saw happen through Pan Africanism that led to the decolonization of Africa, this new movement of cooperation will invariably led to Africa taking its pride of place among the developed world.
- There is no denying the fact that this call may be an uphill task because of the waters that have passed under the bridge, but a step at a time and patience will remain a key. Equally, catching them young, i.e. consciously cultivating generation next and educating them on what stereotyping is causing and has caused the two groups is another fertile idea to create new understanding.
- The formation of an ASSOCIATION to champion interaction between Black American and African Immigrants’ children in junior schools in the United States and in linking them with their peers in schools across Africa aimed at sharing their various young stories, dreams and aspirations, comparing their lives etc. will also help create a new generation of adults with a new understanding of who their cousins are.
- Sponsored group tours to Africa for students and interested adults should all be a planned part of this new narrative.
- These interactions, if put into place even tentatively, will definitely clear a part towards diminishing the stereotypes that currently becloud the two groups while opening up new vistas of opportunities, economic cooperation etc.
Mazi Gerald Oluchi Ibe wrote in from Aurora, Arapahoe, Colorado, United States