The Trials and Tribulations of Blackness


More and more Africans are moving from Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, etc. to the United States. A great many have moved into my neighborhood, in the borough of the Bronx over the years. I once had a cordial friendship with an African woman who was Muslim. Her name was Julia. Julia braided hair for a living. Her husband drove a gypsy taxi, but he also kept a good eye and a strong hold on her. She whispered to me that he didn’t want her to pick up any “bad” American habits…meaning, I was a bad influence.

I wanted to know more about where she came from and her past life; but one caustic look from her husband usually clamped her mouth closed. I’m sorry to say that I don’t know much about Africans, outside of the fact that the women carry their babies tied to their backs, and sometimes braid hair to make a living and the men drive taxis or are vendors and sell things on the streets for a living. But in my observations of them, I find the men to be a little domineering and controlling, especially the married ones; while the women are passive and quiet.

Julia once uttered to me, while her husband was out working, that most Africans think that Black-Americans are lazy, complain too much about racism, that the women are mostly scantily-clad whores and that Black Americans as a whole, lack culture because we don’t know our heritage, our language or which tribe we originated from and that we are all “Akata”. I replied that American blacks are descendants of slaves, who were dragged to the new world in chains and shackles. And therefore it is NOT our fault if we didn’t know where in Africa we came from or what tribe or language we spoke. I was hurt by her blunt and derogatory remarks. I saw her less and less after that. Then one day a few weeks later, her husband came to my house, and demanded to know where Julia was. I told him I hadn’t seen her for weeks. Turns out, she left him—taking their three-year old daughter to parts unknown.

A couple of years later, my husband befriended an African brother named Harry from Nigeria, who was Catholic, happily assimilated and in fact actually preferred Black-American women to African women. He felt that African women were backwards and unsophisticated. One day as we all walked around in the neighborhood we ran into a few of his friends from his village whom he hadn’t seen in twenty years; two of them were women. My husband and I got dirty looks and smirks and they spoke to Harry, angrily, in their native tongue. When they left us finally, my husband asks Harry what was said about us and what does Akata mean? I told my husband, that I heard the word before. Harry refused at first, but with our relentless prodding, he finally told us. The women wanted to know, what is he doing hanging around with “American slaves…cotton pickers…Akata”. Harry said that he told them that we were a married couple and that we were nice people and for them to not be so judgmental. This didn’t make me or my husband feel any better. We had a long discussion that night about Africans vs. Black-Americans and the many layers of sensitive issues that plague us. I also felt that if American Blacks were so beneath Africans, then why are they coming here in droves?

Black-Americans have a long and illustrious history of championing African causes and since more and more Africans continue to arrive in the United States, they automatically benefit from Civil Rights and Affirmative Action, even though they did not participate in civil rights issues in large numbers like Black-Americans. Basically, I feel that Africans should stop feeling superior over Black-Americans, because our ancestors were dragged here against their will; but yet through resilience and stubbornness, they persevered. And due to Black Americans trailblazing the Civil Rights movement, this made it possible for Africans to live decently in the U.S. and benefit from services and other entitlements. I also feel that if the two cultures were to overcome the mutual stereotypes and band together as a formidable group domestically and internationally, we will have the ability and the potential to reach such a daunting level of influence in this country, that it would be phenomenal!!!

I say all this, to say…newly arrived Africans, and Africans that’s been here awhile, need to stop hating on Black Americans; because we need each other. And, if it wasn’t for Black Americans setting examples in this country, they wouldn’t have what they currently have, such as jobs with benefits, decent housing, healthcare, civil rights AND freedom from religious and political persecution of whence they escape.

Alexis G. Thornton, is a published writer and author of: FAMILY, FRIENDS, HUSBANDS and LOVERS…THE BEST OF ENEMIES