Why Can’t We Be Friends? (The Diaspora)

Myself and a student with some Haitian decent get to talking about Haiti’s Revolution and its impact on the United States.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?

68 thoughts on “Why Can’t We Be Friends? (The Diaspora)

  1. @ DanielleTo me it’s frustrating because like many have said, blacks usually aren’t well informed about other blacks that exist outside of their region. I’ve heard all kinds of ignorant questions, statements and offensive names from Afro Americans about native Africans and West Indians. To many black Americans, West Indians are "dumb coconuts" that live in huts. Africans are half-starved "monkeys" that don’t wear shoes. On the converse, to many West Indians and Africans, black Americans are all lazy, shiftless negroes who live off the government and shoot each other for sport. These are all stereotypes created by whites that we’ve all internalized, but because were all on the bottom of the social ladder, we’ve taken to climbing and clawing over one another trying to be on the "top of the bottom". And in the end, were all a bunch of niggers to the world anyway.

  2. Danielle and Court, you both hit the nail on the head right there with your comments. Big up to the two of you and everyone else on this post that has figured out how to think for yourselves and dismiss all the divisive rhetoric for what it is-BS. i’m sick of the rest of you that want to keep this drama going.

  3. With the exception of those comments that justify the divide, I’m really pleased with the discussion here over this issue. This is the first conversation that I’ve seen where all the blame hasn’t been placed on one side, and that people are acknowledging that it’s coming from everyone. I, too, am currently trying to figure out how best to build better relations within the Diaspora. As an African-American, I focus on what we need to do first. I can’t speak for the other ethnicities, but I personally think that African-Americans can’t move forward with understanding the other ethnicities within the Diaspora without first understanding, accepting, and having pride in our multifaceted history/culture. Through education of where we came from and how we got to where we are today, we can construct healthier identities. And through education of the histories/cultures of other ethnicities, we can stop conflating "African-American" with "black" and have a broader perspective of what/who is black, and thus better relate to other blacks in the Diaspora. Together, what this means for me is that African-Americans will have a broader framework for "blackness" and won’t feel the need to judge other blacks from our cultural perspective, and we’ll feel less of a rejection when others don’t wish to identify as African-Americans.However, I do have conflicting feelings regarding this issue. Though I feel passionately about the Diaspora, some attitudes that I’ve heard/seen expressed by other ethnicities regarding African-Americans is pushing me away and making me more ethnocentric. While I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong with having a particular interest in my own culture, I feel like lately I’ve been losing interest in the other cultures and histories because of these disparaging attitudes. But I know that non African-Americans feel the same way. And then there is that feeling that there is a pecking order in America regarding the different blacks, and along with that is the feeling that we (as African-Americans) can’t win for sh*t in this country. At any rate, I’m hoping that we get over these issues and start building unity, solidarity, and mutual respect. And I def. want to be a part of this revolution!

  4. @ Rikyrah. "Africans don’t want anything to do with ‘ Black folk’ unless they can use it to get something. Otherwise, they don’t want to be considered like ‘ those Black folk’. Seen it once. Seen it a hundred times."Exactly what benefits are you talking about? Scholarships for college? Money? socio-economic status? Black Americans have many opportunities to go to school if they really, really want to. In my personal experience, it just seems that the first generation American-born African kids/ immigrants are more inclined to take advantage of these opportunities. Blaming African immigrants and their children because they have this zeal is really not the way to go. It’s this "mine, mine, mine" attitude that is divisive. Also, my parents being Nigerian have three strikes against them when they walk into an interview. 1.They’re black, duh, right? 2. An accent. 3. A foreign name. So it’s not like Africans just waltz in and things are "given" to them on a silver platter.To suggest otherwise is insulting. I’ve lost count of the number of times people have butchered my last name, mistaken me for being Japanese, or asked whether or not I’d seen a lion before. Black Americans, on the other hand, just have color to deal with. English is their native language. However, in the end to white people we are all one: black is black, so any racism/ discrimination/ whatever will be applied to all of us. A racist person isn’t going to say, "oh well by the exact pigment or shade of brown of this person’s skin I’m going to deduce that they’re the ancestors of slaves, so I’m not going to give them this job promotion. Instead, I’ll take an African." Black is black. I consider myself a black American, I just happen to have closer ties to Nigeria, the land of my parents. I am American born, and yet genetically Nigerian. So what does that make me? African or African American? As for the Obama comment… I’m a bit puzzled. Why shouldn’t he acknowledge his mother, despite being of the dreaded white race? It’s who he is. And throughout his campaign he always made sure to distinguish that he was not a black man running for president, but rather a man running for president who just happened to be black.

  5. @ unknown I liked your post. Knowledge is power. Once we all understand what’s going on with everyone else we’ll be able to advance… together.

  6. Lady M, thank you for the compliment. I do want to address some things in your comment (not attacking, but for dialogue’s sake):"Black Americans have many opportunities to go to school if they really, really want to. In my personal experience, it just seems that the first generation American-born African kids/ immigrants are more inclined to take advantage of these opportunities. Blaming African immigrants and their children because they have this zeal is really not the way to go. It’s this "mine, mine, mine" attitude that is divisive."I agree with you that we (African-Americans) have opportunities out there, and that we should work harder in gaining access to these, but I ask you to consider why this may be the case (at the same time, we could ask why and how black immigrants have gained the opportunities that they have and from what conditions they came). Too often, 1st-gen. and immigrant blacks jump directly to the conclusion that African-Americans are lazy, criminals, and ignorant. The fact is that a lot of this does have to do with the policies that were put into effect against blacks in this country and weren’t revoked until the Civil Rights Era, which puts a lot of people back in terms of having the community and connections needed to gain access to these opportunities. And, true, there is self-accountability, but I think there is a definite and powerful system wherein one reinforces the other. But I can’t expect black immigrants to acknowledge and understand the extent of these things (even if they come from similar situations) when I didn’t even learn them until I took a college course about them last semester. This just goes back to the need to be educated about where we come from and how we ended up where we are now. I also agree that a "mine, mine, mine" attitude is divisive, but so is the opposite. Whether you and I participate in it or not, there does exist certain attitudes on both sides. Just as some may have "this is ours, get in line" attitude, there are those with the exact same "pick yourself up by the bootstraps" mentality that many racist whites have. The problem is that we (as African-Americans) have been trying to do this since the days of slavery, but the policies that are in place now, and the effects of the policies of the past, continue to put us at a serious disadvantage. And despite our being in a rich nation, disadvantaged is still disadvantaged. This is not meant to be an excuse (and I’d be offended if you were to take it as such), but as a jumping point for figuring out how to correct this, and again this is something that we both need to understand about each other. "Black Americans, on the other hand, just have color to deal with. English is their native language."That’s not necessarily true. Being from the South and currently going to school in a Midwestern university with a lot of upper-class people, I have to constantly be aware of how heavy my accent is, lest I’ll be considered low-class and ignorant. There are some immigrant blacks here that many would consider to speak better English than I do because they don’t have a regional accent, especially not one historically associated with "backwardness" and ignorance. There is also the misconception that all African-Americans speak Ebonics (which I don’t think speaking it is a bad thing), and have terrible command of the English language. Notice that whenever someone (especially non-black) wants to come across as urban or ghetto, they mimic what they perceive to be Ebonics (the correct term is actually African-American Vernacular English). Also, many Jamaals, Kendras, Keishas, LaTashas, and other "ghetto" names are stigmatized in this society. People with these names (and I know plenty with "worse") won’t make it past having their resumes read because their names are too "unprofessional." I’m not saying that all of this is necessarily the same as the experiences that immigrants face, but they are strikes that African-Americans have to constantly deal with. And this is what I’m talking about. We need to start learning of each others’ realities, acknowledging them, and respecting them. You’re parents have their strikes as immigrants; my parents have their strikes as Southern African-Americans from a very rural and poor state. But to your larger point, I agree that we are all seen as largely the same by non-blacks. (Although, there are quite a few who do draw distinctions between blacks that come from a foreign background and those who are seemingly the descendants of US slaves, and have preferences and biases based on this. I’ve seen this a lot on the internet, actually.)

  7. And this:"I consider myself a black American, I just happen to have closer ties to Nigeria, the land of my parents. I am American born, and yet genetically Nigerian. So what does that make me? African or African American?"I personally don’t believe in defining another person’s identity, but I think this speaks to the need for definitions that African-Americans need in terms of distinguishing our own ethnicity and heritage. My friend/suite-mate is the American-born child of Nigerian immigrants. When I describe her to other people (and since I haven’t asked her explicitly how she identifies), I refer to her as Nigerian-American. I would consider us both to be black Americans. But what do I call those of us whose familial history in this country is drawn back to US slavery? If you, as an American born child of Nigerian immigrants, are an African-American, what does that make me? What term do I use to identify myself and that acknowledges my culture and heritage that has been centuries here in the making? Where do the distinctions lie? I don’t believe in using these terms as tools to further divide; but, if I were Nigerian-American (or identified as Igbo or another specific ethnicity, for that matter), there would be some pride in terms of the history, heritage, and culture that goes along with that identifier. It’d be beautiful if I, too, could have such an identifier that distinctly refers to my heritage, and then we could all identify in solidarity with the broader term of black. The histories of the Diasporas may be similar, but they are different. I’d like us to be able to identify ourselves in terms that both respect our differences and show our solidarity.

  8. Sorry Snob, this is the last one for the day (I think):I just want to clarify something in my last comment:"When I describe her to other people (and since I haven’t asked her explicitly how she identifies), I refer to her as Nigerian-American. I would consider us both to be black Americans. But what do I call those of us whose familial history in this country is drawn back to US slavery?"I refer to her as Nigerian-American because her Nigerian heritage is a strong part of her household. When she talks about some of her family members, she mimics their accents. She tells me about having to speak only in her language when talking to some family members. She still visits family in Nigeria. So for me, this is indicative of a specific ethnicity. So, for those of us whose language and heritage is tied up in the culture and history created because of US slave practices and subsequent policies, how are we to distinguish ourselves in this country?

  9. The above post hits the nail on the head.My analogy is people of Korean, Chinese and Japanese descent living in US.Racially I can’t tell them apart. They are all asian-american to me.But culturally they are worlds apart and segregate themselves from each other accordingly.It’s the same with the Irish, Italians, polish etc.A Nigerian is not the same as a Kenyan who is not the same as a west indian.They all have their own food, language (i.e. not english) and a history that doesn’t just revolve around slavery and civil rights. All these reinforce the pride amongst their people.I know little about african-american culture I’ve never seen it promoted globally. To me african-americans are just part of the black race and that’s it. I think this is why the other black people of the world feel superior.It is all about culture.Develop a distinct african-american culture and other black people will have a lot more respect.This black utopia where everyone gets along just isn’t gonna happen.

  10. Gee, everything has been said. I can only add that I married a Haitian man, and his family are extremely hard-working. He told me how he was taught how "bad" African-Americans were (who taught this lesson I don’t recall right now) but he is not a black black racist. There is something to be said for "self-selecting" families. They did come here for a reason and for some reason just seem to try harder to make it here. But I have seen through shared family/friend connections, in the second generation, things going completely haywire. . .children of the very hard-working–becoming complacent, wild, irresponsible and "white is right" lovers. These people that I know of with wayward children even have two-parent households.What is it that America does to our beautiful young?

  11. Now wait just a minute, Carlos. African Americans DO have a distinct culture. In fact, African-Americans give the rest of ALL other Americans the so-called cultural solidarity and the pop culture that is admired and cultivated and copied all over the world. You can currently take everything from our new president to vocabulary, music, sports, business advertising, etc. today and see OUR influence. We don’t just have a static past existence. We continue to shine and create the culture of the day for all.

  12. Ok, I just want to make it known that the "unknown" that made the comment in response to Carlos, and the unknown (me) that made the previous 4 comments (above Carlos) is not the same person. I don’t know what the 2nd unknown’s intentions are, but this comment is just for clarifications sake.

  13. To the first unknown: You bring up some very good points, and I appreciate that we’re all able to talk about this issue in an adult manner, without name-calling or any other childish acts. In all honesty, in response to your question I’m not sure where we can create this distinction within unity among all blacks. How do we do this, without creating more confusion with all the already existing racial/ ethnic groups? Whenever I fill out a form and they ask for ethnicity there’s normally just African American/Black, or African. There’s always the "of African descent" description but I find that term to be pretty ambiguous, especially in this case. Your comments about accents are on point, and it really made me think more of regional accents. I’m from the west coast and most of us have a pretty crisp manner of speaking here. Not to say that I don’t lapse into a much more relaxed manner of speech with friends and all, and we all do. To some, the so-called "ghetto" names are considered part of black culture. I posted something in one of Snob’s earlier posts about names like Da’Shawna with the apostrophe and all… It’s okay to be unique with names but not to the point of no return. Naming a child a name that is visibly unpronounceable when written on paper is not doing the child any favors. Off topic, but to anyone interested check out Cora Daniel’s "Ghettonation: A Journey into the Land of Bling and Home of the Shameless". It’s an interesting book and talks about ghetto culture, its meaning, and how "ghetto" is not automatically synonymous with being "black", as so many non-black people incorrectly think.

  14. As an African American who always had an affinity for other cultures around the world, it truly saddens me when visiting a particular country in Africa I get the "why are YOU here" treatment or I am served last among my colleagues. While I have often chosen to view members of the diaspora as one, it is apparent it is not a monolith. Nevertheless, I truly wish we could focus on the things that unite us rather than divide us. The negative behavior truly gets old and the temptation to retreat into one’s own "community" becomes very attractive. But if we alllow ourselves to succumb to that temptation we will continue to miss out on many opportunities to learn from each other.

  15. Since unknown wanted to clarify, I’ve updated name to "unknown2" and my point was in response to Carlos’ assertion that African-Americans have no culture. There is plenty of African-American culture in this country, in our history and family life. It is more than the so-called ghettoization of blacks. Just wanted to point that out.

  16. It would be great if the black diaspora could join together, but I think (and feel free to disagree with me), that the reason for all the two-way snobbery is this inate need to prove that you are ‘the better black.’ In a world where simply being black automatically puts you at the bottom of the class system, who can you, as a black person look down on and feel superior to? We’ve pretty created these ridiculous barriers between one another as a way to make ourselves feel empowered, as in, "Sure, I’m black, but I’m African, so I’m way better than those uncultured American blacks." I relate it to the same way some black people are so quick to point out their mixed heritage–even when there’s no need to! I’m black, but I’m part Indian. I’m black, but I’m part Spanish. Etc., etc, etc.

  17. My post is raw! First of all, "ignorant" comments from AA to others are just that. It’s not that AA are dumb, we just are not interested and don’t care. Been travelling all over the Caribbean for over 25 yrs. Most of us, black and white only go for the palm trees and turquoise waters. And I just learned that your homes sewage drains into the same waters that unsuspecting tourists swim in. What an infestation. Where will tourism go when the rest of the world catches on to that fact. I’ll never step foot in that infested water again. Give me my east and west coast beaches. I guess this means the whole Caribbean will be migrating to the US instead of Europe? At least then, the rest of you can go to school because we all know that if you don’t pay, you don’t go to school beyond your early grades. Well, you better round up the posse quick cause America is really starting to discuss legislation against immigrants. How many of you have actually paid the thousands that it costs to become a citizen? Your women greet us with cold hard stares and harsh replys when we visit. If you stopped practicing voodoo your attitude might change up a bit. Your nasty attitudes are attributed to jealousies; that’s why you come here and try to "top" successful black Americans. I see you as being jealous and highly insecure and you spew hatred all over the internet but NOT personally. (try that) I work with one of you and she is the most miserable person I have ever met. Caribbean people are very delusional about their "superiority". Why are you here then? If you are so educated go back to your countries and build; invent and run tings as you say. How dare you come to MY country and disrespect African Americans. Your mothers and fathers are ignorant and pretty stupid for migrating here and then keeping you distant from native Black Americans but oh, I shouldn’t be suprised because we all know how you kiss up to the white man to get what you want. He really doesn’t like you; he only laughs at your servitude behind your back. Yes, I’ve heard the jokes and comments made at your expense and in the end you are still black N’s. He knows of your weakness and your need to be submissive and the only reason why slavery stopped in the Caribbean first is because the white man saw that nothing could be produce there so he left. And still, today, 2009, in this world of constantly developing technology, you still have nothing. Go on, separate yourself from African Americans because truthfully although some of us are AH’s( which starts in the home, mothers and missing dads), African American, in my view equates to native black people of America who descended from slaves who, in turn, built this country while trifling Europeans sat on their fat, nasty, dirty asses…the same ones you kiss! And it was MY ancestors whose blood was shed, whose back was split open, beat into submission after being sold into slavery by , wouldn’t you know it, ass-kissing Africans. The same ones who need to realize that genocide in your countries continues while you escape thousand of miles here and ignore the situation there (sad for the innocent victims). Black Americans, African-Americans are the strongest black people on the face of the earth. You weaklings nor your ancestors could never have endured and fought for freedom the way my ancestors have and you truly need to thank us for not giving you a harder time here. (although you arrive in this country with your nose turned down on us). Face it, Caribbean , Africans and black Europeans are the weakest. This is what I see when I see you. You are a disgrace and you turn my stomach as well as many others. Oh, we Black Americans do discuss you. Stop being jealous. Learn from us. We will never bend.

  18. I know this is an old thread, but I just had to say: @ truthsayer that your comment/speech was very hate-filled and bitter. It was just sad really. Any hope for a constructive, open discussion on a topic such as this is brought to a grinding halt by comments such as yours.

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