3 Things African Americans Misunderstand About Africans
01 Oct 2014
A few weeks ago, I was at lunch with a new business contact—an older African American woman—discussing a project we would be collaborating on. When we met, she only knew my first name. From the start of the conversation, I could tell there were going to be some challenges. She kept questioning how much I really knew about the project and how to best implement it, even though she was aware of my track record.
Admittedly, I look younger than my 15 years of experience as a professional brand consultant. Often, when working with someone new, I’m conscious of the fact that my expertise is in question because of how young I look. I get that, but I keep it moving. What I found amusing when I gave the lady my business card, was her reaction to my ancestry.
She looked at my card and then looked back at me. Immediately, I felt a shift in her attitude. And then…
“Your last name, where is it from?”
“I’m originally from Uganda,” I responded.
“Ohhhh…you’re African.” She said it like she was accusing me of having an incurable disease. It wasn't the first time I'd gotten that reaction.
I have grown up with a very keen awareness of the tensions that sometimes run deep between Africans and African Americans—the majority of which are founded on misinformation, miscommunication, and negative media. Generally, many African Americans believe one of three things about Africans:
That we sold them into slavery and so we’re traitors.
That we’re all poor, starving, sick and illiterate, etc.
and/or That we’re stuck up and think we’re better than them.
I can almost guarantee my colleague had one of those thoughts running through her mind once she found out I was African. So I’m going to take a minute to clear up a few things:
Your disdain for my ancestry means your disregard of your own.
That's because if you're Black, you've got blood from the Motherland running through your veins. Just ask all the celebrities (Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones, Lamman Rucker, Taraji P. Henson, India.Arie, Isaiah Washington, etc.) who’ve traced their roots back to a specific African country through DNA testing.
I did not sell you into slavery.
Neither did my father or my grandfather, or my great-grandfather. They were too busy fighting or recovering from colonialism. I cannot speak for my ancestors beyond that, as history shows that Africans did indeed sell other Africans into slavery, but understand that I had nothing to do with that.
We’re not all stuck up.
Many of us, like myself, have studied or read up on African American history and are grateful to our brothers and sisters on this side of the Atlantic for continuing to fight for the opportunities we have today. But make no mistake, those struggles have been parallel to those on the continent. That’s what Nelson Mandela, and others who believed in equality, were willing to die for.
We have more in common than we think. Let’s not to allow misinformation to continue to perpetuate the misconceptions we have of one another. We have a history of collaboration that we should be building upon. Maya, Malcolm, W.E.B. Dubois and Whitney Young all understood that. Isn’t it about time we did too? Because at the end of the day, whether you say you're African or African American, society just sees us all as Black. And to me, Black will always be beautiful.
What are some of the misconceptions you have found within the African Diaspora and how have you dealt with them?
photo © Gregd