While sitting on the media panel at the Harvard Black Policy Conference I received two questions from men, one Liberian (a former US colony), the other also from an African country, about the diaspora and how we felt in regards to reporting on the plight and lives of black people everywhere. I talked about how a few times on my site I'd mentioned how my heart breaks when I see different types of people of African decent fight each other using the same terminology either our slave masters or former colonialists used against us.
(More after the jump)
Then I remembered the hurt from some readers during a "black versus African American" terminology thread where some expressed disdain for Africans and other members of the Diaspora, condemning them for "sticking amongst their own kinds" or for not liking black Americans. Some even accused them of going too far in what they saw as trying to please white people to prove they were "different" from us.
I tried to point out that the ignorance flows both ways. We were born to hate each other, both sides often being cruel. I can remember black students cruelly teasing and harassing the one Nigerian girl in our class. How dare she not look or dress like the rest of us or not sound like us. And her family hadn't thought about buying school clothes because she'd come from a place where everyone wore uniforms. But she was routinely asked the ignorant "lions and tigers" questions. It's a testament to her resilience that she managed to not let the ignorance of others stop her from pursuing friends and going to dances.
As one man at the conference put it, when he came to America he was told to stay away from black Americans because they were the worse. But then, when he son was sent to school he is told that Africans are like monkeys and that he should be happy to be in the US. His son then tells his father that he acts like a monkey when ever he acts "African." He, liked me, seemed to be carrying that same heartache. What sense did it make for him to decide to believe those who said "black Americans are bad" when they would easily say the same about him?
So why do some black Americans perpetuate stereotypes against these foreign born blacks?
It could be naivete. It could be me coming down with a bad case of "America is special" jibber jabber, but I always feel like black Americans should at least try to be leaders in the Diaspora just as our country is looked to for leadership in the world. Our wealthy are the wealthiest of blacks. Or educated are very educated (many from oversees come here just for the schooling). We have a proud history and story to share. But often we're too concerned with ourselves to think about our starving and sick brothers and sisters in Haiti, who we owe in some ways for inspiring us to never give up on freedom.
Or how we have so much in common with blacks in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Brazil (where slavery lasted the longest), Venezuela, France, Great Britain and more. Think of what we could learn from each other. From the Kenyans, the Ivory Coast, South Africa, Senegal. We know what it's like to be strangers in your own country. In many cases these individuals simply don't know our story. We can't fault them for not knowing. We can fault them for falling for such an obvious rouse, but so many of us, out of self-hatred, fell for it to against them.
But imagine if black Americans started working with other blacks international on everything from microlending to building corporations? From hospitals to education? Our combined wealth and knowledge would make us a force to be reckoned with. We could have our own summits and G8 style forums that would make demands of corporations who are harming everyone from poor blacks in Texas oil towns to poor Nigerians along the coast.
Yes there would be fighting and conflicting interests, but they have that in the actual G8 and in the United Nations. Why couldn't we do it? And why couldn't we lead the way? Why are we still telling monkey jokes in 2009 about Africans? Why do Africans still believe lies that we're the worst of the worst?
Why can't we be friends?