Taken from Godfrey Mwakikagile, "Relations Between Africans and African Americans: Misconceptions, Myths and Realities" (Grand Rapids, Michigan: National Academic Press, 2005), 302 pages, softcover edition. http://napress1.tripod.com/ Pan-African Books napress1.tripod.com http://africanamericanbooks.tripod.com/ African-American Books: Relations Between Africans and African Americans: Misconceptions, Myths and Realities africanamericanbooks.tripod.com http://africandiaspora2005.tripod.com/ African and Black American Relations: Good or Bad? africandiaspora2005.tripod.com About the Author: http://mwakikagile.tripod.com/ Tanzanian writer: Godfrey Mwakikagile mwakikagile.tripod.com Chapter Six: Misconceptions About Each Other RELATIONS between Africans and African Americans have been reinforced and impaired by a number of factors through the years. On the positive side, natural bonds between the two "peoples" - who are really one people - have been the most critical factor in maintaining and strengthening this "tempestuous" relationship. On the negative side, misconceptions about each other have been some of the most damaging, sometimes even impairing the credibility of those who are genuinely interested in fostering and maintaining a strong relationship between Africans and African Americans on both sides of the Atlantic. One of the biggest misconceptions is that we don't care about other or even like let alone love each other. I asked one of the African Americans who moved to Ghana a few questions on this subject. She was living in Ghana when I asked her these questions towards the end of November 2004, the same month I started writing this book and when I was working on this chapter and she was more than willing to answer any questions I had. Her name was Imahkus Okofu, author of Returning Home Ain't Easy, But It Sure Is A Blessing, about her return to her ancestral homeland Africa. She was born and raised in the Bronx, New York, and lived in Jamaica before moving to Ghana in 1990, permanently, with her husband. These are her answers to my questions: Q: "What are some of the challenges have you met?" A: "Language, culture, historical differences and the perception that all Africans from the diaspora, especially Americans, are rich. Getting over the romanticized notion about Africa. It's a hard crash into reality." Q: "What is the general attitude of Africans on the mainland towards African Americans, especially when they return to the motherland?" A: "Some are very happy to see us, are proud and want to help us adjust. But many are angry and confused because (1)They say we were fortunate as our ancestors were taken as slaves and as a result we got to be born in America. (2) They don't understand why we left the land of golden opportunity (America) to come to Ghana where they are suffering. (3) Many want to go to America and can't." Q: "What do yout think about Gregg Pascal Zachary's article, "Tangled Roots: For African Americans in Ghana, The Grass Isn't Always Greener," in The Wall Street Journal, March 14, 2001? It caused quite a stir. But I don't know if all the people quoted in the article, besides Victoria Cooper, disputed what was said or denied saying what the writer said they did." A: "Several people mentioned in that article responded to The Wall Street Journal and to date have received no response. This so-called journalist with his warped mentality to the degree that he should be put into the category of agent provocateur in trying to discourage Afrikans of the diaspora from looking towards Afrika with the thoughts of returning and re-uniting this Afrikan family. As a couple of individuals (my husband and I) that this 'white boy' wrote about, we can honestly say that a lot of what he said was unfounded, untrue and terribly distorted. He also failed to mention in his article how he had been treated and accepted as a journalist in our community. Nor did he expound on his vocal discourse of 'wishing he had been born black.' And let us not fail to mention his sneaky, underhanded affinity towards Afrikan sisters. He has been banned from our community and all others should take careful notice of this snake." Q: "Is it true that some African Americans are disgusted with Africa - the cold reception, etc. - and have decided to return to the United States?" A: "Our reception has been anything but cold. Extremely friendly, even with underlying motives. Afrika is not for every Afrikan descendant born in the diaspora. As the title of my book states, 'Returning Home Ain't Easy.' There are a few, and I do mean a few, who have returned to the diaspora. But for the most part, those who have repatriated have stood the test of time, dating as far back as 1956 when The Honorable Osagefyo Kwame Nkrumah first invited brothers and sisters to come home to motherland Afrika/Ghana; and also keeping in mind the affirmation of The Honorable Marcus Garvey 'Africa for Africans, those at home and those abroad.' Those descendants who visited Afrika and chose to return to America are the Africans 'abroad.' The networking between the continent and the diaspora is extremely important. so, those Afrikans 'abroad' must support those of us repatriated Afrikans on the continent as much as possible, for we are here to make a way for those who desire to come. Those Afrikans born in America as a result of the Trans-Atlantic Arab-European slave trade, descendants of kidnapped Afrikans, are the ones that are working to be a part of the re-building of Mother Afrika and the uniting of the Black Afrikan family globally. There are those of us kidnapped Afrikans born in the diaspora who also hear the message from The Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey that we have to reclaim and redeem Mother Afrika. Of course, there are those who do not want this to happen, but 'Up You Mighty Race You Can Accomplish What You Will' (as Marcus Garvey said)." Q: "What happened to the citizenship bill for African Americans President Jerry Rawlings talked about at a press conference with President Bill Clinton in Washington in 1998? Is it true that it's dead?" A: "For all intents and purposes, it is unconscious. It is up to us to re-awaken the sleeping giant. Dual citizenship was only given to Ghanaians. We received something called Right of Abode and it is not citizenship. We will have to fight hard for this one. Sorry, Jerry let us down, I'm afraid. Stay strong. The Struggle Continues But Victory Is Ours! One Love, One God, One Heart, One Blessed Afrikan Family. Seestah Imahkus and Nana Okofo Iture Kwaku I Ababio." Although she tried to clear up some of the misconceptions Africans and African Americans have about each other, a commendable effort, there is no question that some of the African Americans who lived in Ghana - as well as in other parts of Africa - and returned to the United States disagree with her assessment of the situation on the continent, especially in terms of relationship between Africans and black Americans. There are Africans who don't want to be bothered, just as black Americans don't; there are those who are genuinely friendly and interested in helping our brethren from the diaspora to settle in Africa; there are Africans who pretend to be nice to African Americans, calling them "my brother," "my sister," just to raid their pockets or use them to get to the United States in order to escape "hell" in Africa; and there are some who are outright hostile, just as some African Americans are, especially those who don't want to be identified with "primitive savages" on the "Dark Continent" as their brethren. But even those who are genuinely interested in the well-being of each other still don't know some of the things which both sides have done to foster racial solidarity and support the struggle for justice we as people, black people, have been denied probably more than anybody else. I remember, for example, reading about an African American graduate student at an American university who wanted to know if Africans in the United States and those in the motherland had ever been concerned or played any role in supporting African Americans in their struggle against racial injustice including lynchings. He asked this question obviously because most black Americans don't know or don't believe that Africans have ever shown any interest in their plight or helped them in the struggle for racial justice and equality. Although it is a misconception, it is accepted as truth. Most people may not know about this, and there may not be much documentation on the subject, but it is a fact, a documented historical fact, that Africans have supported their kith-and-kin in the United States for decades and in the best way they could, given the constraints under which they have had to operate. There are, and there have been through the decades, operational limits beyond which, as foreigners, Africans on American soil and in Africa cannot go in their support for the black American struggle for equality and justice. During the civil rights movement, African governments took strong interest in the struggle for racial equality in the United States and issued a formal statement condemning racial injustice against people of African descent in the United States. The statement was in the form of a resolution linking racial discrimination in the United States with apartheid in South Africa and was issued by the African heads of state and government who met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in May 1963, to form the Organization of African Unity. And it was incorporated into the OAU Charter: "The Summit Conference of Independent African States meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 22 May to 25 May 1963; having considered all aspects of the questions of apartheid and racial discriminations; unanimously convinced of the imperious and urgent necessity of co-ordinating and intensifying their efforts to put an end to the South African Government's criminal policy of apartheid and wipe out racial discrimination in all its forms,...(also) expresses the deep concern aroused in all African peoples and governments by the measures of racial discrimination taken against communities of African origin living outside the continent and particularly in the United States of America,...intolerable mal-practices which are likely seriously to deteriorate relations between the African peoples and governments on the one hand and the people and Government of the United States of America on the other." And in the following year, after the OAU summit of African heads of state and government met in Cairo, Egypt, in July (1964), African leaders addressed the subject of racial discrimination in the United States. This was after Malcolm X spoke at the conference and appealed to African leaders to raise the matter at the United Nations. If apartheid in South Africa could be addressed by the UN, he saw no reason why racial discrimination against people of African descent in the United States could not be accorded the same treatment. About nine African countries, including Ghana, Guinea, Tanzania and Egypt, agreed to take up the matter and bring it before the UN General Assembly but did not do so for a number of reasons including diplomatic and political problems and strong opposition from the United States government. When Malcolm X went on a trip to several African countries in July 1964, State Department officials in Washington complained about his activities, saying he was causing a lot of trouble for the United States in Africa where he also strongly condemned American involvement in the Congo and in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba. And the assassination of Malcolm X himself several months later on February 21, 1965, after his African trip, sealed the fate of this subject since he was the only major African American leader who consistently worked to have it brought before the UN. But even before then, and even much earlier, Africans had been involved in varying degrees in the struggle for racial equality in the United States just like African Americans had been in the independence struggle and liberation movements in Africa. In the late 1950s, the leaders Ghana and Guinea, the first two black African countries to win independence - Ghana from Britainin 1957 and Guinea from France in 1958 - addressed the issue of racial discrimination in the United States. The diplomats from these two countries raised the issue at the UN at least once. And not long after Tanganyika (renamed Tanzania in 1964 after uniting with Zanzibar) won independence, the Tanganyikan ambassador to the UN, and other diplomats at the Tanganyika Mission, worked with African Americans including Malcolm X who, after his African trip in July 1964, was picked up from the airport and taken in a car with diplomatic plates that were traced to the Tanganyika Mission to the UN. This is contained in a memo written by the FBI who had been watching Malcolm X all the time and had agents at the airport waiting for him to follow his movements. The FBI also said after Malcolm X arrived in New York, he was taken to the residence of Tanganyika's ambassador to the UN. And in a photograph on one of Malcolm X's speech albums, one of the people shown is Muhammad Ali Foum, a Tanzanian diplomat to the UN. In another photo, Malcolm X is seen talking to Abdulrahman Mohammed Babu, a leading Tanzanian cabinet member and one of the most influential African and Third World leaders who worked closely with President Julius Nyerere for many years. The picture was taken when the two met in Harlem. All this is more than just anecdotal evidence of African support to black Americans in their quest for racial justice in the United States. It is enough proof showing that a number of African countries have been actively involved in the struggle for racial justice in the United States and have always strongly identified with African Americans as an African people themselves; although their support has been limited for a number of reasons including threats and strong opposition by the United States, and also due to the fact that it is not easy for outsiders to play a major role in the domestic arena of other countries. Yet, in spite of all this, some Africans in Africa devised various means to support their brethren in the United States in their quest for racial justice. For example, trade unionists in Ghana in the fifties, aware of what was going on in the United States in terms of race relations, periodically sent letters to America's largest labor organization, the AFL-CIO, condemning racial injustices including lynchings and other travesties of justice. And even further back in the forties, many Africans in Africa closely followed what was going on in the United States. Nigerian newspapers under Nnamdi Azikiwe - who later became Nigeria's first president after independence in 1960 - and black American papers worked together, covering events on both sides of the Atlantic, especially in the mid-late forties. For example, there was extensive coverage of the Nigerian general strike of 1945 and the Enugu coal miners' strike of 1949 in black American newspapers which prompted black American organizations to ask the US State Department to intervene on behalf of the Nigerian workers whose rights were being violated by the British colonial government. Even US federal intervention in the southern states was largely motivated by foreign policy considerations to win the friendship of African countries in the super-power rivalry with the Soviet Union and rob the Soviets of a powerful propaganda weapon they used against the United States to portray it as hypocritical nation which professed democracy while denying racial equality to people of African descent on its soil for no reason other than that they were black and African. As African countries emerged from colonial rule in the late fifties and sixties, African leaders paid close attention to what the United States was doing in terms of advancing the cause for racial equality. And the Daily Graphic in Ghana reported extensively on what went on in the United States during the civil rights movement; an interest motivated by racial considerations and racial solidarity between Africans and African Americans. The paper, which was the organ of the ruling Convention People's Party (CPP) led by President Kwame Nkrumah, even sent a correspondent to Little Rock, Arkansas, to cover the school desegregation case, and the accompanying violence, all of which attracted international attention. The Daily Graphic correspondent was also assigned to cover race relations across the United States in general. I also remember when I was a news reporter in Tanzania in the early seventies, our newspapers, especially The Nationalist owned by the ruling party TANU (Tanganyika African National Union), had many stories about the struggle for racial justice in the United States, including the plight of the Black Panthers such as Angela Davis and George Jackson. The editor of The Nationalist was Benjamin Mkapa, simply known as Ben Mkapa, who also wrote strong editorials on the subject. He later became my editor at the government-owned Daily News in Dar es Salaam, the nation's capital, and helped me to go to school in the United States. In 1995 he was elected president of Tanzania. He was re-elected in 2000 for a second five-year term which was also his last as stipulated by the constitution. And like the founding father of the nation Mwalimu Nyerere, Mkapa was also a committed Pan-Africanist who was fully aware of the imperative need for unity of all African people including those in the diaspora. This should help to dispel the myth that Africans don't want to have anything to do with African Americans. But there is another dimension to this problem, the misconception that Africans don't want to identify themselves as black, or that they don't want to call themselves black, especially when they are in the United States, in order to maintain distance from black Americans who are collectively known as blacks in the American context. And there is some truth to this, also arising from a misconception on the part of many Africans - by no means all - that black Americans are low-class and lack positive values including values conducive to achievement, an image reinforced by the media and the predominantly white racist society. But it persists, nonetheless, and is taken for granted as a fact of life by many Africans including those who should know better after living in the United States for many years. As Charles Mudede, the son of African immigrants from Zimbabwe, stated in his article, "Out of Africa: Young African immigrants Must Choose Between Being African or African American" published in TheStranger.com in 2001: "Black Americans represent an underclass and to adopt their ways - and be their color at the same time - is to adopt their terrible fate." That's a pretty loaded statement. And to understand what he is saying, it is important that it should not be taken out of context, as the author himself explains in his article reproduced here in its entirety so that we don't lose perspective on the subject: "Young African immigrants must choose between being African or African American. Their parents pull in one direction and their peers pull in another. The bus that runs up and down Rainier Avenue carries two types of East African youths. The first type is distinguished by their traditional clothes and Islamic politeness and diffidence. They never speak loudly, and are always found near the front of the bus for either safety or propriety's sake. Then there's the second, newer type of East African youth. This type always sits deep in the back of the bus, decked out in FUBU, Johnny Blaze, Ecko, and Mecca with sneakers as thick as Neil Armstrong's moon shoes. In the winter they wear puffy space jackets, their ears sealed in bulging Sony headphones. In the summer, they wear NBA vests and long, baggy shorts or white undershirts with polka-dot boxer shorts puffing out of their sagging 'raw denim' pants. If they are girls, they have colorful nails done up at Hollywood Nails; if they are boys, they have tight braids or do-rags, and no amount of scrutiny can separate them from African Americans. Only when they speak is the truth revealed. 'I can always tell the difference between the two right away,' Dinknesh says to me in the library of her high school. She came to Seattle in 1999 from Ethiopia, and though her accent is thick, she has a steady command of English. 'If I go to the mall,' Dinknesh says confidently, 'I can tell who is African American and who is African. For some people it's not easy, but I know the difference.' I explain to her that I can never tell them apart, especially with the East African youth. If they come from Nigeria or Zimbabwe or Zaire, I know right away they are African, and not because their features are more recognizable (more Bantu, as an ethnologist might bluntly put it), but because they always get the codes wrong or messed up. They are either a year behind the trends or their pants aren't sagging in the proper, lackadaisical manner, or worse still, and I have seen this several times, they are wearing a generic version of Tommy Hilfiger--a brand name that's already a thing of the past for African American youth. 'I can understand how you might not tell the difference with the [Ethiopian] boys; they are harder [to distinguish]. But the African girls, you can tell right away,' Dinknesh says. Dinknesh is a case in point: She is East African, but in terms of appearance, clothes, bright jewelry, and fancy fingernails, she's all African American. And though she doesn't say it directly, she's proud of the fact that in just under three years, she has managed to blend into the American foliage. 'Many African Americans are surprised when they hear me speak,' says Dinknesh. '[Before I speak] they think I'm an American or even someone they know. But I'm Ethiopian, and proud of who I am, and of my African heritage.' A hard line runs between Dinknesh's appearance, which is connected with her American future, and her internal life, which is still connected with her African past. The surface and the center do not hold well in Dinknesh and others like her; they speak two separate social languages, which they have yet to reconcile or make sense of. For many young East African immigrants, this conflict has produced a crisis. Dinknesh's successful assimilation of black American clothes and style will, according to popular and academic reasoning, probably be more detrimental than beneficial to her future in America. Black Americans represent the American underclass, and to adopt their ways (and be their color at the same time) is to adopt their terrible fate. All East African youths who look like African Americans are conscious of this; it's frequently emphasized by their parents. To look like African Americans, who are the very definition of limited opportunity in this society, is to reject the grand myths of success that obsess the immigrant parent. Dinknesh and other East African immigrants like her are making a choice that will relegate them to the bottom of this oppressive society. Classic Assimilation The old model of assimilation--the classic assimilation model--goes something like this: Immigrant arrives in a big, northern industrial city like New York City, with a leather suitcase in hand. The immigrant then moves into a ghetto, gets a low-paying job, works long hours for his/her kids, who do their homework in a tiny kitchen smelling of Old World foods. The kids, the second generation, then go to college, graduate with honors, and become doctors, lawyers, and presidents of the United States of America. As Kathryn Harker writes in her invaluable study, 'Immigrant Generation, Assimilation, and Adolescent Psychological Well-Being' (Social Forces): 'According to this model, first-generation immigrants, who are foreign-born and socialized in another country, should rarely be expected to achieve social and economic parity with the native-born American population because they must often overcome barriers such as discrimination, a new culture, and a new language. However, the second generation, U.S.-born children of immigrants, [or] foreign-born immigrants who migrated to the U.S. while very young… [are] expected to narrow the gap between themselves and the native population in terms of social outcomes.' The classic model of assimilation, however, applies only to European immigrants, who can lose their ethnic identity and become white, and thereby identify themselves with the ruling class. 'Life is easier for you if you assimilate, and become more white American, that is true,' says Mimi Rosinski, who is 19 and came to America from Poland 14 years ago. Like the Polish immigrants who arrived in this country in the early part of the 20th century, Mimi has gone through the first phase of the transformation from European to white American; her son will complete the transformation and become all-American. 'You get **** for being different in school, and so you become like them. It also makes it easier for you to get a job if you're American, and to get to places you want to be in this society,' says Mimi. 'But then there is the whole other problem of becoming Americanized, even if it is white American. In the end, parents don't like it. At least my parents didn't like it. They now say I'm too Americanized and liberated, and I've lost touch with my Polish roots. But they are the ones who let me become American. They didn't teach me anything about being Polish. I think they first thought it was good and were even excited about it, then [later] they thought it was bad and ruined the unity of the family.' Despite its currency in the popular imagination, the classic assimilation model has been in sharp decline since the passage of the Hart-Cellar Immigration Reform Act in 1965. That law abolished 'national origins' quotas that favored European immigrants above all others, and channeled immigrant flows through more democratic processes. Today, 90 percent of immigrants come from Asia, Latin America, and Africa, and they've invented a plethora of new assimilation and adaptation models to meet their specific needs. For blacks in particular, the classic assimilation model is nothing more than a bad joke. Unlike Latin Americans and even some Asians, blacks don't stand a chance of becoming white and benefiting from the institutions and connections available to white people. In fact, all they can become is another type of traditional American: black American. But this form of assimilation doesn't offer the same opportunities that white assimilation offers European immigrants. So to succeed in the United States, modern African immigrants have to adopt the very opposite of the classic assimilation model. To survive in this country, they work hard to preserve their cultural distinctions rather than blend in with African Americans. To blend with African Americans is to engage in downward assimilation, as sociologists call it, a process by which new immigrants are absorbed into 'impoverished, generally nonwhite, urban groups whose members display adversarial stances toward mainstream behaviors, including the devaluation of education and diminished expectations.' (Center for Migration Studies of New York.) In New York City, for example, the retention of foreign accents and culture has helped West Indian blacks get jobs. 'Given the strong negative stereotypes attached to black Americans, maintaining their distinctiveness [is] particularly important for West Indian blacks,' writes sociologist Kyle D. Crowder. 'Recent research indicates that West Indian immigrants are well aware of the stigma attached to being black in America, and, especially among first generation West Indians, there is a strong motivation to maintain their distinction as West Indian ethnics.' This was certainly the case for me. I'm the son of Zimbabwean immigrants, and when my family lived in a black community near Sharptown, Maryland, my mother took extraordinary measures to keep my sister and me separated from local black Americans. My mother allowed only the children of whites, other Africans, and upper-class African Americans of the sort to be found in Ebony magazine to hang out in our rooms. But most of the African American boys and girls I knew--and conducted secret friendships with under my mother's radar--were like Kicky, who lived across the street from us. Kicky's mother was a part-time server in a cafeteria at a special school, and his father was somewhere in Tennessee serving time. My mother not only banned Kicky from our house, but also from the sidewalk in front of our house. Our Parents 'Where have I heard that before?' laughs Hali Mah-Mohamed, after I tell her the things my mother used to say about African Americans. 'I hear that all of the time. Even the little bad things that happen, she blames them on African Americans. She is always saying they are drug dealers, they don't want to work, they do nothing but bad things.' Like Dinknesh, Hali, who is 18 years old and moved here from Uganda six years ago, looks more African American than African. Her friend, Tirzah Ngaga, who is 19 years old and moved here from Kenya four years ago, also looks American, though a part of her makeup--the penciled eyebrows; her long, pulled-back hair--recalls Nairobi's 'high life' culture. We're sitting in the Rosebud, and the girls seem to forget me for a moment, locked, as it were, in a conversation about their guardians. 'Remember when you braided Makoni's hair at my house, and he was there with three of his friends?' Hali asks Tirzah. 'Yeah, I remember that,' Tirzah responds, sipping her cappuccino. 'My mother just freaked out when she saw the boys, because they looked African American,' says Hali. "'Who are those African Americans?' she asked me. I told her that they were not even African American but from Ethiopia, and they were my friends. But she still freaked out, saying I should stay away from African Americans 'cause they are bad people, and a bad influence. They do drugs, and go to jail.' Hali shakes her head as she recounts her mother's impossible reasoning. 'Even if they were African American, what does it matter anyway?' Tirzah adds, raising her voice in protest. 'My sister does the same thing. In fact, she is always judging African Americans. She never stops saying that they are not good people and I will get into trouble if I hang out with them. But how can you judge something you don't understand? She does not know any African Americans, so how can she call them all bad?' 'Parents are always like that. They just label everyone as the same and that is it,' concludes Hali. A few days before meeting Tirzah and Hali, I met again with Dinknesh, who has been in the United States for two years, and a handsome young student named Hayat Yemer, who has been in the United States for four years. Seventeen years old and from Ethiopia, Hayat's face has the noble air of basketball superstar Kobe Bryant. Whispering in the library of Chief Sealth High School in West Seattle, we discussed their parents' attitudes toward their appearance, which is black American. 'Our parents have problems with [it], but this is the way we must look because we are now in a new country,' Hayat says confidently. 'When I play basketball with my friends we speak English, and I like to speak English. It is the professional thing to do.' 'I don't feel whites. You know,' says Dinknesh, laughing, '[whites] don't like me and my skin color, and I don't like them. So why should I try to look and act like them?' I ask her if she gets along with African Americans, seeing as she has rejected white Americans. 'My people have a problem understanding them,' she says. 'That is why we don't get along. They talk too fast, and pronounce words like 'ask' like 'axes.' So we don't know what they are talking about. Plus they don't like us. And they also think we don't like them. 'When I was at the mall the other day, some African American guys who thought I was American came up to me and started talking. [But] when they heard me speak they backed away, saying African women don't like African Americans. But I said it's black Americans who don't like Africans, especially black American girls. The girls don't like us because they are jealous of us--at least that is what I heard. They are jealous because of the hair and they recognize our beauty. So they are worried that their men will chase us instead of them.' 'All you have to do is work hard and everyone will respect you,' Hayat says, feeling that Dinknesh has gone off the deep end, and is now in private territory. 'I know African Americans have problems working and also with family [life]. Their fathers are never around, and drugs are everywhere. But if you work hard, get a job, and don't abuse the freedom we have in America, then everything will be okay.' The Survivors Most immigrants avoid thinking too deeply about what's really going on in America. The whole weird and complex structure of their new society is broken down into basic parts: parts that work and improve their lot, and parts that don't work and don't improve their lot. All other possibilities are thrown out the window. Immigrants can't help but be so blunt because their world is a panicked world. They arrive in America fleeing desperate circumstances--war, famine, crazy dictators. Once they arrive, deportation always seems a phone call away. They are usually forced into poor neighborhoods riddled with crime and bad cops, and if they have a job it's rarely stable or meaningful. This is why so many black immigrants hold such low opinions of African Americans, the very people they should identify with. Immigrants want to improve their lives as fast as possible, and they don't see many black Americans living the lives they want to live in America. Indeed, most black immigrants are as suspicious and critical of whites as black Americans, but they don't have the luxury of voicing their grievances. For example, my mother's criticism of black Americans was equally matched by her criticism of white Americans, particularly Republicans. She hated Ronald Reagan with a passion, and thought that Republicans were the cruelest, most selfish people on Earth. The day Reagan was shot was not a dark day in the Mudede home. But my mother would never express this harsh criticism in public, because she didn't want to jeopardize her already shaky status as an American. What mattered to her first was achieving some sort of security, and not the larger problems of the racism and capitalism in America. (When we were back in Africa, many years later, she let everyone know how much she despised Ronald Reagan. Even the daughter of the American ambassador to Zimbabwe, who visited my sister regularly, was told that her father's employer was a very bad man. My mother's brother, who was educated in the middle of Idaho, spoke about Europeans in terms that would have pleased Louis Farrakhan after he returned to Africa.) The Real Future East African youths like Dinknesh are in transition; they may look black American, but their core is still African. Their children, however, will be African American in the deepest sense. Because America is the way it is, these African American children will experience the full brunt of America's brand of racism. The happy life their grandparents dreamed about when they arrived here from 'war-torn Africa' will become, for them, a nightmare of police harassment, job discrimination, and limited social and economic prospects. Dinknesh's parents are trying to block the path to this bleak future by sustaining and imposing their Africanness. As for my own mother, she succeeded. Despite my absorption of black American culture from hiphop to black literature, I maintained my African/British identity, and never became an African American. But now I have two kids, who, despite being mixed (white/black), are considered black in this society--the sad legacy of the 'one drop rule' (during slavery days, it was held that one drop of black blood made you 100 percent black). Will I react like my mother if my son comes home from school in sagging pants, saying ****** this and ****** that? At present, I really don't know. And maybe I don't want to contemplate such a terrible question." So, in a very strange way, though not totally inexplicable, this blackness, this black identity of ours, attracts and repels at the same time. It draws many Africans towards black Americans because of the natural ties they share as people of African origin; yet it repels them from their brethren precisely because they have the same identity as blacks, not because they are fundamentally different in terms of origin. But it is reciprocal. Many black Americans feel the same way. It is the fear of admitting "I am what you are" because of the negative image they have of each other. But there is still another dimension to this, at least in the American context, which explains why some Africans don't want to be called black. "Are you black?" "No, I am African. I come from Africa, not from the United States." That is because the term black in the American context is generally used to mean black American as opposed to foreign-born blacks. Therefore many Africans don't want to be called black or be identified as black because they don't want to be confused with American blacks. But there is also an underlying motive, powerful, and even if not necessarily sinister. They don't want to forge links with them. They just want to remain and to be known as Africans, with their own distinct identity or identities solidly anchored in their African heritage. That is the line of reasoning, convincing or not, rational or irrational. It is a powerful motive, nonetheless, among a significant number of Africans in the United States. But while some of that is true, it is not true that Africans don't want to identify themselves as black people or don't accept their black identity because they hate to be mistaken for black Americans; there are, in fact, many who would like to be black Americans and even do their best to talk and sound like black Americans, something they wouldn't be doing if they were ashamed of being identified as such. Yet, there is no question that Africans usually don't call themselves black people. I myself remember this very well when I was growing up in Tanganyika, later Tanzania, in the sixties. We simply called ourselves Africans. Even during colonial rule, we did not have the equivalent of the Black World, or Black News or any other organ to articulate our nationalist sentiments and aspirations in racial terms in our quest for freedom and independence, the way black Americans do, appealing to color (blackness) as a binding force in their struggle against white domination and oppression. We had, instead, Mwafrika, a newspaper for Africans, black Africans yes, but African, not black, as our common identity. We had the same paper in Tanganyika and in Kenya whose name in Kiswahili simply means African. And the main reason we Africans usually don't call ourselves black in Africa the way African Americans do in the United States is that we have ethnic or tribal identities our brethren in the diaspora don't. They lost all that during slavery. Except in Tanzania and may be in Botswana, Africans in other African countries usually identify themselves first on the basis of tribal identity, as Kikuyu, Ashanti, Ewe, Shona, Ndebele, Yoruba, Igbo, Zulu, Venda, Xhosa, Toro or Luo before they say they are Kenyan or Nigerian next, or African, let alone black. As Mwashuma Nyatta, a Kenyan student at Harvard University in the 1990s, bluntly put it when quoted in an article "Black Identity on Campus" on Africana.com: "I am more Taita than I am Kenyan, and more Kenyan than I am black." His tribal identity, Taita, comes first. That is one of the fundamental differences between Africans and African Americans who are bound together by their blackness in a predominantly white society. Therefore, whereas, for example, Kamau is a Kikuyu first, or Olutola or Adelabi is a Yoruba first, and next a Kenyan or a Nigerian before he even identifies himself as an African, a black American is black first and last, or American next. And when black Americans complain about racism that is being perpetrated against them by whites, thus using or seeking refuge in their collective black identity in a predominantly white society in the American context, Africans in Africa have to contend with tribalism by fellow Africans who belong to other tribes and whose members favor their own people as much as whites do against blacks and other minorities. Therefore, the tribe, or tribal identity, unites Africans in the same way skin color or race or blackness unites black Americans. Skin color between rival or competing African tribes is irrelevant. It does not unite Africans because tribes divide them and unite their own members. Africans know they are black. But they are not united by their blackness, except in conflicts or confrontations with white racists; for example as happened in apartheid South Africa. But even then, black people in South Africa identified themselves mainly as Africans, not as blacks, as opposed to Europeans or people of European origin with their own non-African identity and whose domination and oppression helped Africans to transcend their tribal loyalties and rivalries since they were facing a common enemy. Yet, ethnic loyalties remained paramount in many cases in apartheid South Africa as they still are today; for example, the Zulu and their Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) against the Xhosa who "dominate" the African National Congress (ANC); some of their enemies and detractors even call the ruling party, La Xhosa Nostra. In Nigeria also, ethnic divisions were a major problem even during the struggle for independence, in spite of the fact that all Nigerians faced a common enemy: the British colonial rulers. The Hausa-Fulani of Northern Nigeria had their own party, the Northern People's Congress (NPC); the Igbo dominated the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC); and the Yoruba, one of the country's three largest ethnic groups, led and dominated the Action Group (AG). However, in many cases across Africa, Africans temporarily submerged their ethnic and regional differences to form a united front in their struggle for independence. After Europeans left at the end of colonial rule, different tribes or ethnic groups started to compete for power along tribal and ethnoregional lines, plunging a number of countries into chaos and even civil war, the kind of turmoil and virtual anarchy unheard of among black Americans who constitute a single ethnic group, black, in Black America - if it was a separate nation - as opposed to the Igbo, Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba and the rest of the ethnic groups, 250 altogether, which make up Nigeria as one nation. Yet, many African Americans including college students have not come to grips with this fundamental reality or been able to comprehend its complexity because they see all blacks just as one people; overlooking the ethnic diversity that is so typical of Africa, and ignoring the big role tribes or tribal identities play in African lives. Some Africans have transcended that. However, they are only a minority. The vast majority appeal to ethnic loyalties and capitalize on ethnic allegiance to promote their own interests to the detriment of national unity. But even those who have transcended tribalism simply identify themselves as Africans, whether they are in Africa or in America, because that is their collective identity. It is a misconception for American blacks to say assertion of this African identity is a rejection of black identity black Americans share with black Africans. All these misconceptions will continue to keep Africans and African Americans divided, or confused, unless the two "peoples" sort them out and try to understand exactly what they mean, bearing in mind that they can build a strong relationship by focusing on what they have in common than on what divides them. They have more similarities than differences, far more than they realize. But they have not capitalized on that, thus fuelling suspicion that they don't care about each other. And that is tragic, especially in a world where Africans and people of African origin will remain on the periphery of the mainstream if they don't unite and work together to protect and promote their common interests.