- Posted June 1, 2009 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
African perspectives on black America
Africans? Yes. African-Americans? No
Africans have never been, aren’t now, and will never be African-Americans. The African-Americans are black-colored Americans, born and bred. The Africans are black-colored, born anywhere, but bred in Africa. Disciplined in Africa. Taught in Africa. As an African, I see an African-American as an American who has the same skin color as I do, but not the same values, not the same challenges, and not the same priorities.
When I came to the United States, I came in with a preconceived notion that the African-Americans were like me. I thought they would like me. I thought they would understand me. I expected the Caucasians to neither know nor understand me. Truth be told, I did not understand them either. But I got the shock of my life. I never really had people – Black or White – poking fun at my accent, but I did see it happening to other Africans. What I did get and still get, however are the most ignorant questions from the African-Americans.
They want to know how I got into the United States. Did I swim or did I walk? I once told an African-American girl that I flew in on the back of an ostrich. She believed me. Her name was Tiffany; it was years ago, but I will always remember that moment. I was not too bothered that she did not know Ostriches cannot fly. Anyone could have missed that. I was more concerned that Tiffany did not stop to wonder how on earth I could have mounted on an ostrich and flew for thousands of miles, luggage included. She never did get my sarcasm. I thought I either had a warped understanding of sarcasm, or Tiffany had a very warped knowledge and understanding of geography, physics, and possibly basic zoology. I quickly concluded the latter.
The African-Americans want to know how I lived in Nigeria. Did I live on trees? Did I ride bulls and lions? Did I walk around naked? Ironically, we do not have tree houses. Americans, however, have tree houses – albeit mostly for kids. We do not ride bulls, but I see it is a fun game here. We do not walk around naked, but nudism is just one of the many movements I have come to discover in America. A movement I refuse to be moved by.
When I came to the United States, I had just completed the tenth grade in Nigeria. The African-American woman in my new high school thought it wise for me to enroll in ESOL. I was African, so she just assumed I communicated by clicking my tongue. I spoke English fluently to her, but she could not be convinced. I was made to take a test, a test that proved I did not need ESOL. When I got to the community college, I ran into the same problem. It did not matter that I had spent the last two years in an American high school and had graduated. The African-American woman insisted that I probably needed to take some zero-credit reading and English courses. She also told me point blankly that even if I did not need the zero credit courses, it would be in my best interest to register for the English 101 course for international students. It was still three credits, but it was made a little bit easier for people who did not speak English as their first language.
Nothing I said could convince her otherwise. It did not matter that I came from a country where English was the official language. It did not matter that English was in fact my first language. I spoke more English than I did Igbo (my native Nigerian language). It was with great pleasure that I came back to her, a woman whose face I have since forgotten, to tell her that my placement exam placed me in an Honor’s English course. She sneered. She could not have cared less. But I cared.
Consciously or unconsciously, we have a disdain, a mistrust of the people whom we share our skin color with. They may have originated from us, but they are not us. They look like us, but they are not us. The month of February never ceases to tickle me. African-Americans think it is their time to dress African, support the Motherland. A lot of them do not even know that Africa is a continent. They must think that all Africans live on a little street – that is, if we have streets – and we know ourselves by name. When I tell an African-American that I am Nigerian (or African), they ask, “Oh, Gabriel is from Africa too. Do you know him?” Yes, I do. All the Africans in America happen to live together in one basement.
Last year, I was enrolled in a Psychology course where I had a number of African-American classmates. They were shocked the day I uttered, “I have never been to a Black wedding.” I must have gotten carried away and forgotten that they would not understand what I meant by that statement. They assumed me to be an oreo cookie – Black on the outside, and White on the inside. I had to explain to them that ‘Black wedding’ meant African-American wedding.
The Black people – that’s what we call them – are so quick to tell us that we do not understand what they have been through. We do not know how they were worked like donkeys and slaughtered like cattle. But they have forgotten so soon. Those in Africa suffered too. The families of those brought here were tormented too. We have all suffered. We have all been tortured. But now that we are free, holding on to the sins of White men who have long died and gone to meet their Maker is more torture than anything we have ever suffered. It is self-inflicted. One must always move forward, never backward, strive to reach higher grounds, break new barriers, and never live in past glory.
Nigerians refer to an African American as an Akata, a term that is unflattering and derogatory. An ‘Akata’ is someone who is wild, impulsive, animalistic, unserious, and unreliable. The word has become like the N-word, originally meant as bad, never meant as good, but sometimes meant indifferently. Just a word used to differentiate us from them. Some African-Americans know what the word stands for, but they do not know its connotation. They are quick to say, ‘I’m Akata.’ Some non-Nigerian Africans have adapted the word. When an African is born and bred here, he/she is still referred to as an Akata. An African Akata. The difference between an Akata and an African Akata is that the African Akata has African parents.
After almost a decade in the land that flows with milk and honey, I still do not feel completely at home with my like-colored brethrens. I still feel at home with my African brethrens, the ones that know what I know and feel what I feel.