The term “African-American” is controversial and highly debatable. I have stood on the sidelines firmly glued to words that sprang up from Africans and African-Americans (or Black Americans as some prefer) as both groups expressed their opinions in regards to the term. “African-Americans are classless”, “I cannot trace my roots back to Africa, hence I am Black American” are only two of the countless sentiments that chronicle the tension between Africans and African-Americans. As inciting as the discussions we can derive from these perspectives are, I will focus on another dimension: African African-Americans; my generation who has quickly embraced this American culture which permits me to dare say that although I am African-born, bred and raised sans ever gracing the Land of the free and Home of the brave, I am African-American.
I and my fellow equals to whom this identity can be attributed to, can be labelled as such by virtue of having adopted the African-American culture. Let us have a brief look at the definition of culture.
In eighth grade during a lesson of Arts and Culture presented with the task of defining culture using the minimum words possible, we agreed that “culture is a way of life” and it is upon this very definition that I present my opinion and concept here today.
We know that The Media is a powerful tool and plays a vital role in not only shaping but dictating our world during this Information Age era. It is also no secret that America is a giant in this arena and has its culture being consumed worldwide through the various platforms of mass communication.
What are the implications? The perception is that as we consume American culture more and more, we forget and occasionally disdain our own.
As a Black woman, let me talk about my personal relationship with Afro-American culture specifically.
I grew up with Afro-American influences from art to religion, and despite having a strong sense of my African identity due to leaving my home country and being prompted to mix with other Africans for the camaraderie of being foreigners, I loved African-Americans. I loved them more than me, I knew them more than me.
I discovered hip-hop and it was my daily bread. The genre exposed me to ideals, sentiments, names and to the lives of Black Americans and although I was conscious of my African identity I was oblivious to it. The walk and the talk of the African-American was what I esteemed to be the epitome of “cool” and “Black success”. The likes of Will Smith and Bill Cosby graced my screen before I was convinced to trust the African film industry. With arguments like “Why so much witchcraft?” and “Why is the quality awful?” I boycotted our industry. I was not only drawn to mainstream culture and entertainment but also to less general aspects so do not deduce this to be a mere result of the Afro-American culture epidemic. It was a choice, a preference and now reflecting, I am sorry I knew Malcom X before Patrice Lumumba, James Brown before Miriam Makeba and even my beloved Maya Angelou before Wole Soyinka.
I knew them more than me due to Africa’s failure to talk about Africa. Our inability to narrate our history and our incompetence to document, chronicle and praise our identity and reality.
Now in my young adulthood a self-titled unapologetic Pan-Africanist, I vividly see the challenges and feel both Africa and African-America in my spirit. We preach the same gospel thus I identify, although I witnessed no Middle Passage I am Kunta Kinte, my heart bleeds for Sharpeville and Ferguson with the same intensity. This spirit not only certificates me to stand in solidarity but also outlines my interpretations. And conflicts arise confronted with the “conservative African ideals” versus the “modern African ideals” fundamentals. This in addition to the incapability to wholly connect to my African roots due to the “de-africanisation” of Africa during colonial rule.
I grasp the little identity left and to the horror of my elders pollute it with African-American ideals that are intertwined with diverse and vast philosophies from the melting pot that is America.
And so here lies the dilemma: We are proud of our roots and connected to it within our capacity but shy away from it due to our ignorance birthed from not knowing and comprehending enough, defensive about our alterations as we consider our adaptations to be “progression” and “modernism”. Then we are left with teaching our children that they are African and telling our parents that we are American. African-American…
I treasure the philosophies of the yesteryears that shaped me and simultaneously uphold the enlightenments of the todays that mould me.
If culture is indeed a way of life, then my days that were packed with Black American thoughts, Black American music, Black American dance, Black American clothing, Black American mannerisms and Black American talk among other Black American things do not dismiss me without a label.
I am African but I am “also” African-American.
Clenia Gigi is a a student, avid reader, poet, spoken-word artist, Pan-Africanist, feminist and eternally a child at the face of education.