A Letter to Africans from an African-American
Today, my bosses took our office on a trip to the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. Georgia. I wish I had taken pictures, but honestly, I was so enraptured by all of the knowledge and history wrapped in that museum that I didn’t want to waste time taking aesthetically-pleasing photos to post to my blog or Instagram. It was also quite a draining experience to realize what my recent ancestors, such as my grandparents who are still living, and even my mom and dad, had to live through just for me to be able to have basic rights I often take for granted – attending a public university, going to the supermarket or to the movies and not having to sit in a segregated theater, living in a beautiful apartment community…the list goes on and on. Even though there’s much to accomplish in the realm of civil rights, I’m forever thankful for those who lived through the Civil Rights Era and who have set the foundation for my success. There’s no way I could’ve achieved what I have without those people.
The real inspiration of this post came from the discussion my coworkers and I had on the way back from the museum. Three of my coworkers, including my boyfriend, are African, and I don’t think they quite grasped how crappy the United States was, and in many ways still is, for African-Americans. Something they bought up is how it’s crazy that for them (Africans), it was always the African-Americans who were the most prejudicial towards them, but now (African-Americans) are trying to embrace their African heritage and roots. This personal piece, I hope, will shed light on my personal feelings and ideas on this subject. While I personally feel a lot of African-Americans are more embracive of African cultures because it’s become “trendy” to do so, I don’t think that’s where most Black Americans’ sentiments lie.
When this question came up on the bus ride back, my coworker, Corshae, began to explain how slave ideology for white plantation owners was to separate the slaves based on their skin color – light-skinned slaves, often the offspring of raped female slaves, were in the house simply because they looked more like white people and were more “acceptable,” while brown-skinned slaves and darker were in the fields. The whole plan was to create division. The house-slaves felt they were above the field slaves because they worked closer to “massa” and the family and were usually treated better than the field-slaves, and there was literally only one factor to owe to that: skin tone. This is why the “light-skinned versus dark-skinned” debate is still a thing even in 2018. Light-skinned people (girls especially) believe darker-complected people are jealous of their curly, “good hair,” and tan skin. This is why the “crabs-in-a-bucket” mentality is still a thing in 2018. When one black person starts to get a little successful, instead of uplifting them, other black people begin to tear them down. On the flip side, once a black person does get successful, they forget that “even if you in a Benz, you still a nigga in a coop” and turn their back on the black community as a whole, just like Kanye and Ben Carson. All of this is due to wanting to be in massa’s good graces, and now that massa is no longer our physical slave owner, assimilation into white society is our new slave owner. Black-Americans, even now, have to act, walk, talk, and present themselves a certain way to get jobs and opportunities that they’re the best fit for or even overqualified for. This is our reality as African-Americans.
I then piggy-backed off Corshae’s point and explained how a lot of the prejudice by African-Americans against Africans came not from privilege or from thinking we were better than Africans, but from internalized hate. From a young age, as young as preschool, black girls and boys are taught to denounce their blackness and anything associated with it. Again, this comes from our need here in America to assimilate as much as possible to white society and their standards. When I admitted to everyone that as a young girl I wanted nothing more than to be a white girl, the bus got silent. Corshae and my boss, an African-American man, nodded in understanding, while my African coworkers stayed silent. Until my boyfriend asked, “Really?” I confirmed. I explained how when you hate yourself and all the things that make you who you are (race, ethnicity, creed, etc.), you project that hate onto other people and resent them for being comfortable in their own skin. It’s the reason why my older sister, Shay, got called a monkey, even by other black girls, all throughout grade school. When I played softball consistently, I was almost her complexion. I was called a “burnt French fry” for being so dark during the summer. I was “burnt to a crisp.” It’s the sole reason I started wearing hats on the softball field – to keep myself from getting darker.
And that’s the premise of my argument: African-Americans don’t hate Africans. At all. But we, at the time, resented the fact that Africans were proudly African and proudly black. I, for one, wish I could’ve had an upbringing in a country where I wasn’t seen as being at the bottom of the food chain. One where I didn’t have to look in the mirror every day and hate what I saw. One where my parents wouldn’t have to get the, “Your children are so well mannered! I’m so surprised!” from white teachers, pastors, parents of classmates, coworkers, etc. One where white and black people take one look at me and one look at my twin sister and tell us we’re lying about being twins because she’s light-skinned and I’m darker. One where I don’t have to put on a “white voice” when I’m called for an interview. One where the media isn’t constantly telling me how straight hair is in and natural hair, dreads, braids, and any other “ethnic” hairstyle is dirty, unkept, and unprofessional. Where the same white people telling me that “ethnic” hairstyles, “urban” clothing and accessories such as short, tight “bodycon” dresses, big hoop earrings, and long, glittery and colorful acrylic nails are “ghetto” are the ones taking that urban style and making it trendy. And instead of giving credit to the inspiration, in the wise words of Bring It On, “here y'all come trying to steal it, putting some blonde hair on it and calling it something different.”
Now, I’m no expert on Africans and the issues they have to deal with. No struggle is more important or harder than another. But at the very least, they got to grow up being proud of their race, proud of their ethnicity, proud of their tribe, proud of their blackness. They got to grow up seeing people around them who look just like them instead of being one of four black people in the classroom. Their celebrities and politicians, doctors, lawyers, nearly everyone of all different occupations, look like them. So the idea of one day becoming a black politician, or a black doctor, or a black lawyer, or hell, even a black accountant, doesn’t garner a bunch of oohhs and ahhs and then the follow up about how difficult of a career choice it is and how many people don’t make it and basically any other explanation when they really want to say “not many black people do that.” They don’t even need to qualify the job with their race – they’d just be a politician, a lawyer, a doctor.
I didn’t completely start embracing my blackness until I was twenty years old. I lived twenty years on this earth hating and feeling uncomfortable for the skin I was born in. And even then, I still can’t even love and appreciate my blackness in full because I don’t know where it stems from. That’s another thing to be resentful of Africans for – they know their history, what tribes they came from. All I know about myself is that I was probably the descendant of a slaves, who were basically forced to forget their heritage, or who just lost touch of it generation after generation. Sure, I could take an ancestry test, but how can I actually be sure it’s correct? Those companies could throw any mix of regions and ethnicities together with some arbitrary percentages and call it a day to make a quick buck. And the fact that some of them have clauses saying they own your DNA? Nope, it’s a no from me, dawg.
My boyfriend actually once asked why it seemed as though African-Americans claim every part of the mixture in their blood other than their black blood. Before, I didn’t quite have an answer, but now I do. It’s because we crave to have an identity past just being black, and the “other” portions of our blood are the most easily traceable. I know I’m 6.25% Irish because my great-grandfather was half Irish, half black. That’s the most origin tracing I’m able to do through my family tree. The most tracing most of us African-Americans can do of our family trees.
So, if you’re African and you’re wondering why you’ve experienced prejudice from African-Americans, remember that it’s probably because we’re jealous of you. We’re jealous of every bit of love you can have for your origin that we can’t and will never be able to experience. Jealous people, unfortunately, are always the meanest. Thankfully, us African-Americans are starting to find more of a voice and more of an identity. We have a long way to go, but we’re finally starting to love our blackness.
Write you little lovelies later,
XO Ky M.