By, George B.N. Ayittey
There is a huge divide between the two groups that is masked by skin color.
For the two groups to get along, they need to understand what divides them
and make efforts to bridge it.
There are vast differences between the two groups relating to culture,
attitudes, mentality, behavior and general outlook on life. The only thing
the two groups have in common is skin color.
There is no question that black Americans were subjected to the most
inhumane treatment during slavery. Even abolition did not bring much relief.
They were denied their political and civil rights; the struggle for these
rights was long and arduous. They faced discrimination in jobs, housing,
police harassment; you name it. Much progress has been made in America but
racism still remains a problem although not as severe as it used to be. Jim
Crow laws have been repealed and equal rights are vigorously enforced.
Nonetheless, much more work still needs to be done. Racial discrimination —
like crime, unemployment, poverty, or inflation — cannot be eradicated
completely; only minimized. The benefits of their struggle, however, have
flowed disproportionately to other groups; for example, black Africans and
Most black Africans in the U.S. are *foreigners, *whose experiences are
vastly different from black Americans and are not likely to be able to
relate to those of black Americans – especially, the younger generation of
black Africans in the U.S. They do not relate to the civil rights movement;
they were not even born during the civil rights era. Nor are they likely to
be exercised over instances of racial slights.
Black Africans in the U.S. are either here to seek education, as political
refugees, to seek economic opportunity. They speak with a *different accent,
*which makes it easier for whites to distinguish them from black Americans.
The reasons why whites treat black Africans differently are due to the
1. Black Africans are foreigners and, as such, are more approachable to
whites. I have had many whites, upon knowing that I am from Ghana, approach
me and say, “Oh, I have been to your country” or even attempt to speak to me
in one of Ghana’s native languages. Well, he may not speak it perfectly but
it is an ice-breaker.
2. Black Africans are not likely to use incendiary racial vitriol or
cuss words and, as such, do not pose a threat to them.
3. Black Africans are not of the complaining lot. Most of them seek
economic opportunities in America or have escaped oppression and social
miserly at home. If a white boss asks a black African to do some dirty job,
he is not likely to complain because he is thankful he has a job. Back home,
he might be starving. White bosses find black African workers to be more
It is for exactly the same reasons why whites found President Barak
Obama *acceptable*to them, rather than, say, Rev. Jesse Jackson or Rev. Al Sharpton. There is
an ocean of difference between either one of them and President Obama. Obama
was not part of the civil rights movement. He made known the fact that his
father was Kenyan, a foreigner. That did not discourage white Americans.
Obama does not play the race card and he is not always complaining, using
vitriolic language. He speaks good English too.
There are also other differences between black Africans and black Americans.
The first is *culture. *Most Africans are strongly attached to their culture
and homeland, even if they become naturalized U.S. citizens. By culture is
meant their traditional culture, food, dress, music, language, etc.
Traditional culture imbues Africans with certain *values;* for example,
strong community or family ties or awareness, respect for elders, social
behavior, mannerisms, how to speak to strangers, the elderly, etc.
For black Americans, sadly, there is no discernible culture besides the
hip-hop culture. The black family has disintegrated. Most black households
are headed by single mothers. Then there are teenage pregnancies, school
drop-outs, etc. I can go on but I guess you know what I mean. There are many
black Americans who are in limbo, as far as culture is concerned. It is
difficult for them to accept the white culture that oppressed them for so
long. That is perfectly understandable. They would like to return to their
“African culture” but they do not have a good understanding of African
culture. They left Africa too long ago and have lost it. There are some
black Americans who are making serious efforts to re-connect with Africa and
re-claim their lost culture, though.
The second difference is attitudinal. Black Africans in the U.S. make the
quest for *education* a priority. There was a case of a Sierra Leonean who
lost his High School Diploma. He went back to school, retook the entire
examination again to get another diploma, instead of just asking for a copy
of the old one. Unfortunately, education doesn’t seem to be a priority for
young black Americans. I am speaking from experience, as a University
Professor. Of course, I encountered really sharp black American students
Then there is differing attitudes toward *government. *In their struggle, it
was the government which gave black Americans their civil rights, voting
rights, affirmative action, welfare, etc. As a result, black Americans tend
to see the government as the *solution* to their problems. Black Africans,
on the other hand, have this ingrained cultural contempt for government,
which they see as *the problem. *A Lesotho traditional chief expressed it
the best: “Here in Lesotho, we have two problems – rats and the government.
Most black Africans will affirm that their governments are
*dysfunctional. *Tell a Nigerian to rely on the government to supply him with electricity and he
will probably slap you.
The area that I have clashed most with black American leaders, including
Rev. Jesse Jackson, is that of *relations or policies toward Africa. *Black
Americans originally came from Africa but do not understand contemporary
Africa. They tend to project racism and white supremacy as the source of
Africa’s problems. Therefore, they tend to see oppression only when it wears
a white face. They were very instrumental in the struggle against
colonialism in 1950s and 60s, as well as the campaign against white
apartheid in South Africa. These campaigns were against *white oppressors.*But there are *black oppressors *in Africa too, which black Americans tend to ignore. They
were nowhere to be seen mounting a campaign against Hutu tribal apartheid in
Rwanda, Tutsi apartheid in Burundi, or Arab apartheid in Sudan. In fact,
black Americans seldom spoke out against the enslavement of blacks in
Mauritania and Sudan even in these modern times.
Again, I do not hold that against black Americans. I just try to understand
them. You see, throughout their history and experience, they have only seen
white oppressors and exploiters. They never lived under such brutal tyrants
like Samuel Doe, Sani Abacha, Idi Amin, etc. So black tyranny is something
black Americans cannot relate to.
They also tend to analyze Africa’s problems through a racism/white supremacy
prism, which is not relevant. Racism is not particularly relevant in Africa,
except in some southern African states such as Zimbabwe, South Africa and
Namibia. The more relevant issue in Africa is *tribalism,* which, again,
black Americans can’t relate to.
Finally, if the black race is to make it, it won’t be through racial
solidarity through skin color. Rather, it will have to be through *positive
action. *It involves replacing the entire *black leadership – in both
America and Africa!* These leaders have served their usefulness and
over-stayed their welcome. But they stay and stay and stay, even when their
ideas are obsolete and no longer relevant. Yet, they keep recycling
themselves – appearing, disappearing and then appearing again and again.
Enough. We need *new leaders. *The Rev. Jesse Jacksons, Al Sharptons, the
Mugabes, the Ghaddafys, the Mubaraks, etc. have done their bit. We are
grateful. Now vanish. Haba.
This is important because the progress black Americans have struggled hard
for is being undercut by the buffoonish and murderous antics of black
African leaders. Since 1960, they have caused the deaths of more than 20
million people. In the Congo DR alone, more than 5 million people died from
war and war-related diseases. In Sudan, the civil wars claimed an estimated
4 million lives. Then there were the civil wars in Angola, Mozambique,
Biafra, Liberia, Rwanda, Somalia, and on and on. And get this: The 20
million lives lost since 1960 *exceed *the total number slaves taken through
West African slave trade ran by the Europeans (10 million) and through the
East African slave trade operated by the Arabs (8 million). Think about it.
How should we react when a white racist tells us that we were better off
under slavery and colonialism? In fact, the black American journalist, Keith
Richburg, was so disgusted by the Rwanda genocide that he wrote he was *glad
*his forefathers were taken out of Africa as slaves!
I hate former Zambian president, Kenneth Kaunda, but in 1996, he made a
remarkable statement that I will never forget for the rest of my life. He
said: “Black people will never gain the respect they crave with the
condition of Africa as it is.” Remember the Japanese in the U.S. were
interned and treated like slaves in the 1930s. And today?????