Bridging The Gap: Fixing The Divide Between Africans And African Americans


There is a disconnect as wide as the Atlantic Ocean between African-Americans and Africans. By and large, we don’t understand each other. We don’t communicate with each other. We don’t accept each other as the long lost family that we are and that is a shame. In our failure to overcome misunderstandings between us, we are missing out on the opportunity to enhance and strengthen both our collective populations socially, culturally and economically.

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As an African-American who was born and raised in Northern California in the shadow of the Black Panther Party—and who is married to a Nigerian immigrant—I want nothing more than for my sons to know and embrace both the African and African-America aspects of who they are. For me, those aspects are one and the same.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Moji Akinde, a Nigerian immigrant who is a meetings and logistics planner and holds the office of programming chair for the Nigerian American Professionals Association (NAPA) of Chicago. A few years back, Moji penned the article “It’s Time for Africans in America to Identify with African-Americans” and expressed the same desire for all members of the African diaspora to unite.

While speaking with Moji, I immediately felt a sense of sisterhood with her as she described the members of NAPA, a non-profit founded in 1998 made up of Nigerian Americans who actively build and leverage a network of professional resources to assist the Nigerian community in Chicago. We both recognized the similarities that exist between our groups because we understand that we come from the same source. Still, we do also recognize that time, circumstance and environment have converged to muddle and confuse our understandings of each other.
Photo courtesy of NAPA Chicago. Bridging the Gap Brunch Discussion Between Africans & African Americans took place in March 2017.

“Most of our members are what I call hybrids, in that we identify just as strongly with our American life as we do our Nigerian culture, and are constantly finding a way to balance that duality in our personal and professional lives,” Moji explained. In her capacity with NAPA, Moji curates and produces events to advance NAPA’s cause. One such annual event is Dine & Discuss: Bridging the Gap Between Africans vs. African-Americans.

“It is no secret that the relationship between African and African Americans, particularly in the U.S., is a complicated one, and with each day the world gets smaller via instant access to global news, the need to address our differences became pressing,” Moji said. “To most of the world, we are all Black until we speak and our dialects give us away. Because of this, anything that happens to one community, impacts the other. As such, NAPA decided there was no better way to discuss a sensitive topic than to have it on a full belly, at a metaphoric dining table like the family we ought to be.”

The first such event was held in 2015 in partnership with the Metropolitan Board of the Chicago Urban League, an African-American organization dedicated to uplifting Chicago while fostering personal and professional development among its members. The third most recent Dine & Discuss took place this past March.
Moji Akinde, a Nigerian immigrant who is a meetings and logistics planner and holds the office of programming chair for the Nigerian American Professionals Association (NAPA) of Chicago.
Moji described what happened during the first two events, “There were a bit more Nigerians in attendance. The dialogue scratched the surface of the discussion, acknowledging that there is indeed a divide and that something had to be done about it. The second event had a more balanced mix of Africans and African-Americans, where the conversation and exercises conducted centered around airing the stereotypic misconceptions each community has about one another, and provided a safe space for both parties to finally address their hurt and anger in an honest, intimate environment.”

I was reminded of my personal circumstances. When my husband first came to America, he suffered the most verbal abuse from African-Americans. Their favorite name to call him was “African booty scratcher.” Conversely, as his wife I constantly have to validate myself to Nigerian family members and demonstrate why I’m “worthy” to be married to him—how I’m not some composite “hood rat” with no home training.

NAPA’s March event was held in partnership with Global Strategists Association, an organization working to increase global engagement among Blacks.
Photo courtesy of NAPA Chicago. Bridging the Gap Brunch Discussion Between Africans & African Americans took place in March 2017.
“With the current socio-political climate in the U.S., there is an urgency now more than ever for Africans and African-Americans to combine economic, social and political resources, and adopt a more practical, solutions-driven approach to address the way forward together. It was our most attended event, with walk-ins and about a 50/50 split in attendance demographic.”

Again, our lack of unification has larger implications. Coming together is about much more than sharing tips for caring for natural hair or trading fashion trends. We are talking about actually arriving at solutions for igniting a strong bond that can confront issues affecting our survival and livelihood both in America, throughout Africa and everywhere else in the world where Blacks live. And the movement toward those solutions are downright simple.

Moji expounded what was discussed at the most recent event, “It was apparent that neither community intentionally engaged nor dwelled in the spaces of the other. An active desegregation of both communities would be an ideal first step to take in knowing one another before working together. For example, simple activities like dining at African or soul food restaurants, attending one another's parties or social events, participating in professional associations and networking events.”
Photo courtesy of NAPA Chicago. Bridging the Gap Brunch Discussion Between Africans & African Americans took place in March 2017.
Moji also described the desire to unite behind qualified African and African-American leaders for political representation and the importance of echoing and recreating the same type of partnerships in activism we saw during the 1960s with freedom fighters such as Maya Angelou, Nelson Mandela, Malcom X, Patrice Lumumba and scores of others.

“Africans are indeed expected and ought to participate in the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Moji. And African-Americans should be equally invested in the issues of neo-colonialism, climate change, and groups such as Al-Shaabab and Boko Haram threatening African nations.

At the last Bridging the Gap event, there was one particular sticking point and that was the concept of African privilege.

“It is believed by some that Africans enjoy a certain level of privilege over African Americans, adding to the tension in our relationship. There are some who however refute this idea, stating that there is no such thing as African Privilege, and the successes Africans enjoy are simply a result of hard work.”
Photo courtesy of NAPA Chicago. Bridging the Gap Brunch Discussion Between Africans & African Americans took place in March 2017.
Still, according to Moji, the necessity to unite is stronger than any misunderstanding or misconception we may have of each other and I wholeheartedly agree. She and NAPA plan to forge ahead.

“Our expectations next year is to start conducting smaller boardroom style versions of these discussions, aimed at influencers in our respective communities, addressing ways some of the solutions listed above can be implemented. While there will always be a need to talk over our differences and grievances, it is equally important to note that progressive actions ensure that those conversations aren't in vain.”
What do you think it will take to strengthen the divide between the African and African-American community? Share in the comments
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Nikki Igbo is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and political junkie. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Political Science from California State University at Fullerton and a Masters in Fine Arts of Writing at Savannah College of Art and Design. When not staring in disbelief at the antics unfolding on CSPAN, she enjoys philosophical arguments with her husband, 70's era music and any excuse to craft with glitter. Feel free to check out her freelance services at nikigbo.com and stalk her on twitter @nikigbo or Instagram at @nikigbo.

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