*****After having a good discussion, I asked my favorite, Milan, to write a guest blog post. I think she has an interesting perspective. Enjoy. Also laides if you want to know about the latest make and beauty products on the market hit up her blog. Click HERE to see it. *****
So I was actually pleased when my boy Tunde suggested I get on and write this post for his blog because it’s a topic I feel strongly about and have some ‘not so great’ experience with. It’s actually a follow-up to a post he wrote HERE that I thought was extremely thought provoking.
After reading Tunde’s post, it brought back a ton of memories I had of situations in the past (that were essentially the reverse of what he was talking about) where I was made to feel inadequate or “less than” because…well…I am ‘just’ black or ‘just’ African-American, if you will. Yes you read right, JUST black…as if being so was simply not good enough. I’ve heard some Africans and even Afro-Caribbean people say African-Americans are “lost, lazy and lack true heritage”. Instead of embracing African-Americans as an extension of who they are and the cultures they represent, many have chosen to shun us or write us off as “lost”. This is mind-boggling to me. And hurtful.
I identify myself as black or African-American. I tend to use the two interchangeably a lot although African-American speaks more to my culture whereas black can include people of various cultural backgrounds with a common tie to African ancestry. I was born here in the United States, so were my parents, so were their parents and several generations before them. Yet, I know I am a descendent of Africa. I know my roots and heritage can be traced directly back to that continent. I know my ancestors were taken from Africa, brought to America as slaves and that’s essentially where my family’s story in this country begins. I’ve had family members trace our ancestry back to the early/mid-1800s. I know my people were slaves in this country. I even know what states some of them lived, who may have owned them, how they married, what children they had, how they moved and migrated across this country, and how I came to be born and raised in California. These are things I know.
What I do not know is exactly what country in Africa my people came from. I do not know what village or tribe I am a descendant of. I do not know what region I am from. I do not have names of my African ancestors. I myself do not have an African surname. But my heart is there, I know it, I feel it and there’s nothing anyone can say or do to take that away from me or any other African-American in this country. I am proud of who I am, I am proud of the ancestors that struggled in THIS country for me to have the opportunities I have, I am proud of what African-Americans here represent. I am proud of my family and my name.
When I was in college, I had a Nigerian guy I liked tell me although he liked me too…his parents would never accept me because I was ‘just’ black. I think this was the first of many of these types of comments I would encounter throughout the years usually from well-meaning African friends of mine. At the time I didn’t even fully understand what that meant…’just’ black. But it did stick with me. I guess I was naïve and looked at us all in much the same way. Yes, I was aware of cultural differences, however, black was black to me. Whether you were Haitian, Nigerian, Belizean, African-American, Trinidadian, Jamaican-American, Eritrean, etc. It was the first time I started seeing the major division that WE create amongst ourselves. The various sects that had arisen, the “culture snobs” (as I tend to call them) that existed…those that shun anything and everything that is different from the specific African culture they were a part of. The “oh you can’t know ANYTHING about this over here because THIS is Naija”. Yeah, that attitude. I have more stories along these lines, but in the interest of not writing an epic novel (just a short book apparently LOL), I won’t share them all. But you get the idea. I’m all for cultural pride. I get that. I love seeing it. I think blacks are some of the most diverse and interesting people on this planet. But when that pride turns to elitism, that’s when I have a problem.
I think we have enough “outside forces” that try to divide and conquer black people and that try to make us feel inferior that it’s sad to me that we do it to ourselves as well. That internal rejection tends to hurt more than the rejection you receive when you expect it from “others”.
I used to feel bad when I would hear the “you’re JUST black”comments. Like I was lacking something that made me inadequate. Now that I’m older, I don’t feel bad…I’m extremely proud to be JUST black or African-American. Black people in the United States have had to endure incredible pain and suffering and have had to overcome numerous struggles to be able to live equally and fairly. We STILL struggle for that. But we have a fighting spirit that can’t be matched. We’re survivors. And not for nothing, I think that strength was born and fed in Africa and has been passed down from generation to generation and still exists to this day in this country and around the world. We are resilient.
I have always been interested in learning about various cultures, especially various African/Afro-Caribbean cultures. It’s fascinating to me. Not because I’m searching for something that I lack, but because I tend to discover an aspect of these cultures that has translated into African-American culture in some way. I think that’s pretty special and I would encourage other African people to do the same. Especially those that are hung-up on the idea that being ‘just black’ isn’t good enough. They may discover that what connects us if far greater than what separates us. They may also discover that when they look at us, they’ll see themselves more often than not.
Ethiopian, Nigerian, Ugandan, Eritrean, Belizean, Trinidadian, Jamaican, Bahamian….yeah, I think African-Americans are all of those mixed up and rolled into one. I think that’s pretty dope and I’m extremely proud to be JUST black.