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Posted under: Opinion

10 Strategies for surviving being an African in black America

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Over the past 20 years there has been a population explosion of Africans immigrating to North America. Children have followed and they have grown up in a radically different world than their parents. Naturally, these children soon ask the question, "who am I?" They walk into a legacy of being black without having the same historic experience as your average black/African-American. As a Ghanaian-Brit, I think the African British culture is now emerging and is doing a good job in towing the line of being British and African, however, now that I am living in North America I am sensing a confusion that once besieged us Africans in Britain. So from one child of African immigrants to others, I would like to present my 10 strategies for Africans in America to survive being an African, while also being black in America.

1) Africa is hated, and you will be mocked

The perception of Africa in the media has hit black America hard, as it once did with British Caribbean’s. Because of their historic link there is an embarrassment of being associated to the negative portrayal of Africa. You as a new African are the reminder to all the negative programming they’ve subconsciously eaten, and during school you will feel their wrath! Here you have to be like Jesus, “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” But if you survive the storm, they will learn better and ask your forgiveness.

2) Don't become a victim to the negative perception of Africa

It is easy to want to disassociate yourself from the constant portrayal of impoverishment, aid, famine, beggars, war, child soldiers, evil dictators, etc., I completely understand when you say “I’m not from Africa, my parents are!”  I used to say the same. But you must fortify your mind to block out and attack this perspective. You are an embodiment of African culture and your acceptance alone is a rebuke to the negative campaign throughout the media. British-born Sierra Leonean Alim Kamara has embraced the Griot tradition of his culture. He is a storyteller, rapper and motivational speaker. He travels the globe sharing stories while also heads a charity named A-Scholar, which supplies educational material and scholarships for his people in Sierra Leone.
Alim
Alim
Photo via TUGGS.T.A.R.

3) Being African does not make you less Black

It does, however, make you less black American, but your experience as an African is equally valuable to the multi-layered fabric of being black. Although you might not be the same as your family back home, you haven't stopped being an African because of where you were born. You are simply acquiring a new experience as an African on different shores. Embrace your duality; it will serve as a massive benefit in the future to new migrants, to your family that will join you in the future and to communicating to other Africans in different parts of the world.

4) Know your history did not begin with slavery

That does not make you superior than those whose ancestors did experience this tragic event. But it does say you have a different genetic experience that informed the journey of your ancestors. Those stories are no less valuable and provide an insight to children of the enslaved as to what their history was before slavery. It's your duty to get to know and share who you are, but never belittle or turn you nose up to the experience of black Americans. Their negative attitude to you is in large part due to their experience as Africans on these shores, which your ancestors were fortunate to avoid. Get to understand not undermine, for learning how to communicate who you are to who they are will challenge stereotypes and eliminate prejudices.

5) Artists have a special role to play

Artists are masters of communication and can stimulate constructive discussions. Your dual heritage enables access, experimentation debate and conversation. It creates new work and perspectives and encourages discussion. There is a beauty in sound and perspective that comes along with it. Mozambique born rapper Muhammad Yaya grew up in London and has artistically fused with British of Caribbean origin Sarina Leah to form a dynamic rap-singing duo, Native Sun.
Native Sun
Native Sun
Photo via TUGGS.T.A.R.

6) Not teaching your children your culture is preparing them to be lost

Africans were ripped of their culture through enslavement. It is often lamented how “we lost our language religion culture and God.”  Do not throw what you retained away. As your elders pass, it will dawn upon you that for centuries the ways of your people has been passed on to successive generations and you are the last surviving person to this link. It will equally be highly embarrassing when your children ask you who they are and you are not able to respond. They will endure unnecessary identity crises that can be completely avoided. Your children will decide and invent new ways to straddle the cultures. Mi fri Ghana (I am from Ghana) was started by British Ghanaians as a way to remain connected to their homeland, enabling other Ghanaian children to be less confused about their culture and provide a tangible means to be a Ghanaian even if it is a different type of Ghanaian.
me firi ghana
me firi ghana
Photo via TUGGS.T.A.R.

7) Infuse your historical traditions into your contemporary culture

Learn how to make you culture relevant. Use the advanced technologies that are in the West to make who you are tangible. This could lead to further joint exploration, joint development, cross-cultural projects, increase in trade and access. The Bollywood and Nollywood explosions are not based solely in those native countries but on countries their people are in. Check out FUSE ODG, a UK-born Ghanaian musician who introduced the Ghanaian Ga tradition of Azonto to the non-Ghanaian world.

8) You are unquestionably an African born in America

But so are African-Americans, just a different type. And just as they find their feet, you must do the same. You can be an American whose parents are African, an African who is born in America, an American who has an African background. Your contemporaries will decide to be elements of all of the above. It doesn't have to be either or; it is what you feel on top of who you are. Such diverse realities enable more authentic travel, and an exciting future. No one typifies this more than Idris Elba. Part Ghanaian, part Sierra Leonean, grew up in east London and has played characters from London, America, West Africa, East Africa and Southern Africa. Do you not think his rich heritage helped him in this? And with him now turning his focus to African films, who better to challenge the perception of Africa than the direct children of Africans?

9) Embrace the African descendants that claim Africa

Some African-Americans still feel an almighty connection to Africa and some don’t. Malcolm X once said “The American so-called Negro can never be blamed for his attitude to race, for he is merely reacting to 400 years of conditioning.” This is also true with Africa. After 400 years of being brainwashed against Africa, there is a differing view with who they are. Think about it, if you don’t teach your children the culture and the succeeding generations thereafter don’t do the same, it won’t be long that they will question who they are; so do not admonish those who are attempting to re-establish a meaningful connection. Their analysis might provide differing conclusions with some opting for African-American others as Moors, Blacks, Africans, Afrikans, Muslims, Christians, Hebrews, Pan-Africans, etc. We must allow for these conversations to happen. Stand aside, listen and learn. But recognize the reality of this discussion doesn't apply to you. You shouldn't claim their historical nuances as your own, but you mustn't refuse those that submit and seek access to African culture, for in essence it does belong to them and it is a small concession in them rebuilding their own identity and historical legacy.

10) When all is said and done we are one

Why on earth is it so easy for black people to look at different races and say “we are all the same underneath” but with people we share a visual connection and historical legacy with, it is an invitation for conflict and division. We all as Africans in America, African-Americans, African-British, African-Caribbeans, African-Latinos, etc. must begin to understand each other and propagate the slogan, “From many branches we are one!” You first generations are the best messengers for this mission. --- TUGGS.T.A.R is a motivational poet and a Youth Engagement Practitioner that has been trained as a Facilitator under Jim Brown’s A-mer-I-Can program (UK chapter). To date he has two albums, The Africa E.P: From Here to There and Home Again and Season of Lost Love. He has just released his first book, The Secret Relationship Between Africans & Blacks, which is available on Amazon. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on his website here.
The Secret Relationship Between Africans and Blacks
The Secret Relationship Between Africans and Blacks
Photo: Amazon

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