The Ongoing Rift Between African Immigrants and African Americans

The existing tensions between Africans and Black Americans can also be seen through the lens of American exceptionalism and imperialism, argues Bernard Dayo.


The Ongoing Rift Between African Immigrants and African Americans

The friction between Black Americans and African immigrants is now glaringly, and painfully, playing itself out on social media platforms such as Clubhouse. Could Pan-Africanism be the way forward?

Because Black people don't exist as a monolith, relationships with each other are mostly defined by common experiences. Arguably, no communities within the Black diaspora have exhibited animosity between themselves than Africans and African Americans. To understand the friction between these communities is to closely examine white supremacy as a culprit. White supremacy is a system, or power structure, established to prioritise the feelings, interests, care, attention, and prosperity of White people even at the expense of other racial groups.

Its role in colonisation, violent capture and forceful removal of native Africans from their homelands is well documented. In truth, a significant number of African Americans today would have remained in Africa were it not for the disruptive event of the transatlantic slave trade. And although this has since been abolished, it has left internalised racism as a by-product for Black people to grapple with. To stay in context, Black Americans and Africans.

Source Of Tensions

African immigrants in America not only have to navigate systemic racism, but also microaggressions within African American spaces. But the migration regime that has enabled Africans to arrive in America to seek education, economic opportunities and others was made possible by the Civil Rights movement.

''I don't think this represents how all Black Americans think but I think the reason for this tension between Africans is that some Black Americans feel African immigrants come to America to take away opportunities,'' says Chanel Johnson, a Black American residing in Baltimore, Maryland, ''We are talking about opportunities in colleges that award scholarships and other educational or welfare packages to Black immigrants to thrive. We are also talking about opportunities away from academia. I also think dealing with racism and discrimination as Black Americans is pushing some of us to see how we are neglected and impoverished by the system.''

Although the friction between Black Americans and Africans predates social media popularity, a platform like Clubhouse for instance, is showing how this discord is ever-present. The voice-only app launched last year to massive reception, allowing for real-time conversations. Along the line it has produced xenophobic attitudes, misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia and antisemitism. Black Americans and Africans are no different when it comes to propping up long-held sentiments against each other.

''This in-fighting is such a regular theme on Clubhouse that whenever I enter the app and see no room with an inflammatory title targeting Africans or Black Americans, I always think something is wrong,'' shares Nigeria-based Tracy Imafidon. ''I have been in a room where a Black American man was openly xenophobic towards Nigerians and said we always cause problems wherever we go, even in America. On the contrary, Nigerians are doing well for themselves in America and becoming successful, whether it is school or work. And maybe this is what is eating Black Americans up? On the other side, I have also witnessed Nigerians and Africans be rude and uncouth towards Black Americans, using police brutality against them.''

Before Clubhouse, these kinds of interactions existed on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Interestingly enough, anything can act as a trigger. The cultural meltdown around the release of Beyoncé's Black Is King visual album last year, where Africans criticized it for flattening various African experiences pitted them against Black Americans. Or even this tweet that proclaims Black American culture as the blueprint for other Black cultures.

Common Struggles Much?

Despite the differences in realities that Black groups have, the news cycle has shown how Black people around the world and their political struggles are intersecting across white supremacy, imperialism and capitalist exploitation. The establishment of the police system during colonialism and slavery was primarily to subjugate people and protect capitalist interests. With anti-police brutality movements like Black America's #BlackLivesMatter and Nigeria's #ENDSARS, Black people are finding commonalities in their struggles.

Chris Edeh, a Nigerian-American currently residing in the UK, is more curious about solutions. ''What I have noticed about these divisions is that you don't actively need White people to divide Black people. We as Black people have internalized what white people have said about us and we use it against each other, and this is why we should embrace Pan-Africanism and read the works of Pan-Africanist thinkers. This doesn't mean we should ignore our differences. There are different groups of White people, but history shows how they had one thing in mind — capitalist expansion and accumulation of wealth via slavery and colonization. Likewise, Black people need to be united for the goal of liberation. I'm talking about having a Pan-African consciousness.''

Not all Black people subscribe to Pan-Africanism, an anti-slavery and anti-colonisation movement formed in the 19th Century and built on the premise that people of African descent should be in solidarity to achieve common goals. And while Pan-Africanism pushed for the liberation of Africans and those in the diaspora, the era of independence installed African dictators who once espoused Pan-African ideas but still went ahead and oppressed their own people. It's also why Pan-Africanism failed to deliver socio-economic prosperity for Africans.

''I don't believe in Pan-Africanism as the approach to address issues within Black communities,'' argues Joan Agyapong, a Ghanaian feminist living in Accra. She adds: ''Africa itself is too polarized and there's also the need for the continent to decolonise or break away from colonial notions that have been instilled in us. What I will recommend for individual Black communities is to continue to build enough political and revolutionary power to combat its issues on small levels. And you know what? It's already happening. We all in Ghana admired the END SARS movement in Nigeria and what it sought to achieve. I think it's rather lazy to suggest Black universality as a revolutionary praxis when today's Black realities contain more nuance than before.''

The existing tensions between Africans and Black Americans can also be seen through the lens of American exceptionalism and imperialism. America as a global power wields much cultural and political clout that it provides a ready infrastructure for Black Americans to be hyper-visible than other Black groups. Unwittingly, their experiences and culture is framed as a kind of 'superior Blackness,' filtering into their interactions with others on the Black spectrum. At least, mutual respect and understanding are necessary for Black Americans and Africans to co-exist courteously.