on akata-ism...

i've been holding back on whether i would like to discuss this topic seeing that i made a vow to myself that I would try not to divulge too much personal information on the web....but i felt that it is a topic that has to be dealt with...and dealt with, it shall...well, in the best way I can.


I recently made a vow to myself to stop frequenting the many African Hair Braiding salons that line almost every other corner of the town that I live in. Besides the fact that they charge me extra for having thick hair (well, before I cut it), are getting ridiculously expensive, can't do regular twists (I'm not a big fan of the kinky twists...), and never entertain my feeble attempts at bargaining...I'm finding that more and more my skin crawls at the salon gossip. Of course, gossip is a guaranteed feature of any hair salon and I have been known to indulge in this shameful habit (tsk, tsk). However, the more I frequent such places, the more I realize that the denigration of our trans-Atlantic brethren...i.e. African Americans....is a staple at some of these places (at least, the ones in my community....I'm sure it is not universal).

It is not only amongst our French-speaking African hair braiders does such exist. I have found myself shrinking back at many conversations I have had amongst Nigerians/Ghanaians that center around African Americans (aka, akata in Naija or cotton pickos in Ghana - both of which I find derogatory, since I have never heard those words used in a positive light before.....correct me if I am wrong).

Many find it interesting that I take such offense to such things, seeing that I have some ties to the recently immigrated African community. However, I feel that by being born in the US, I have recently come to the realization that I am, indeed, African American, though not in the traditional sense of the word. More, specifically, Nigerian American - though they never have that option on tax documents and college applications...but if anyone cared to ask...now you know.

Why the "recently?" Well, growing up, like many other first generation Americans of Nigerian extraction, I struggled trying to reconcile the two incongruent parts of my identity....that of being Nigerian and that of being American (I have the two passports to prove it....). And unfortunately, my ties to either community were tenuous, at best - being not fully accepted in the African American community because of my name, rice and stew luches (instead of ham and cheese sandwiches), and my threaded hairdos that my mom insisted I wear (errghhhh - they stuck out everywhere). On the flipside, in the Nigerian community I also stuck out because of my "ascent" (accent), my incessant questions, and my virtually non-existent pidgin English (I have improved since then, thanks to my significant other).

So I stood in between two communities - not realizing that I, my brothers, cousins and fellow first generationers belonged to a community of our own. And we possessed not a mixure of identities, but rather a valid identity all to its own - Nigerian American - to be defined by the individual at his/her own time.....but anyway I digress.

But back to my point. I believe that while living in United States, the category of "Nigerian-American" rightly falls under the umbrella of African American. Being African-American in the United States embraces a diversity of experiences - first-generation African Americans, descendants of slaves, recently immigrated Africans, and mixed race individuals like presumptive Democratic nominee, Barack Obama (!!!). So I personally feel insulted when others under this umbrella of "African-American" denigrate (would I say, traditional?) African-Americans either because of their names (e.g. Tyquesha), food (e.g. chitlins), Ebonics or hairdos that stick out all over the place in a wide variety of Kool-Aid-like colours. The fact that after centuries of degradation from the dominant group, they have been able to maintain their own culture and traditions, distinct from mainstream America - is a testament to their strength of character. I personally think that amongst Africans in the US, the uniqueness of all African-American experiences, especially those different from our own, should be appreciated and not targeted for ridicule.

okay, I have finished my sermon for today...

18 comments:

  1. SOLOMONSYDELLE said...:

    I really liked this post and will direct you to another one - In Honor Of Black history Month.

    Many of my closest friends are African American and I will confess that I can pass for a black american.

    I don't think Nigerian Americans should be classified as African Americans because of significantly different histories and cultures. But the truth is that in the US where race matters, that is the classification that Nigerian Americans and others of African or Caribbean ancestry will fall under.

    That being said, our black Americans have struggled to make it possible for you and I to live here and have certain opportunities. They are deserving of such respect. However, we must all find a healthy balance in our relationship with each other and stop using the difference of history to separate us. For too long, both communities have been relatively antagonistic to each other and the fact is with changing immigration patterns, birth rate patterns and political influence patterns black Americans will need their African and Caribbean brothers and sisters to achieve the solid numbers they need. It is foolhardy to ignore this point.

    Anyway, as always a great post. Hope all is well. Swing by Nigerian Curiosity and share your thoughts on the latest post.

  1. Standtall said...:

    HMMMMMMMMMMMM this is a sermon worth listening to. Honestly at times, I ask myself what the fuss, why creating division when none shd be in existence? Why do we find it add to embrace uniqueness of people and appreciate it? We stereotype ourselves uneccessarily. We create enemity where none should exist. I can go on and on.

    Nigerian-American, African American both still says that you belong to black race. Make sure you strive to be the next Obama. I will gladly support you. (lol)

  1. anonymaus said...:

    What is there to ridicule them about? Nobody is perfect. If it wasn't for the struggle of the African Americans, the many minority groups would be suffering even more today in America.

    Maybe others feel better about themselves by putting others down, instead of concentrating on improving themselves. This is unfortunate, I've heard/ read of Nigerians looking down on other black people for some spurious and unjustified reason. I just think to myself, "one is no better than anybody else", even though we may like to think so.

    Non-blacks hardly ever distinguish amongst the multitude of divisions that exist within the black community. So what is one black person hoping to achieve by being nasty about another black (or any other) person for that matter? Is that the only way they can feel good about themselves, if it is how sad?

    I'm glad you've distanced yourself from such people. I'm new to your blog, and this is one more reason to hang in there and learn from it, thank you.

  1. *Being Nigerian-American, I have encountered similar dilemmas as well...
    *Truth be told, I usually but 'Black, Other' or 'Other' on application forms. I use to put African American, until one of my African American friends said to me ''Dont come up in here with your african self tryna think you black''-that did it for me.
    *Dont think the bad talk comes from Africans alone. I have several African American friends, and the things they say are dreadful. Sometimes they forget Im African because in their words, ''I dont have an accent''-or ''Im so Americanized it doesnt count''. I have ended two friendships I held dear, because they would not stop saying degrading things about Africans-and I got tired of trying to defend my culture.
    *There is this guy that I had class with, and he still makes my blood crawl. Everytime he sees me, he says something about how ''Africans should not be trusted because thy sold his forefathers into slavery''..
    But yes, Africans are too blame too. It would be dishonest for me to say that I havent heard bad talk amongst my African friends as well. It usually revolves around calling them ''Ghetto''. I hate the phrase ''Akata''-It makes me so uncomfortable.
    Bottom line: Both parties are to blame. I just got my hair braided in African American salon last week, and some of the things they said were just.....
    Anyhoo, I will continue to tick ''Other'' on forms-and when they leave room for explanation, I will say ''Nigerian American'' in bold letters!!

  1. Ore said...:

    Great post, Nneoma!

    I also fail to see why one group must denigrate another; and yes, it does seem to me that it tends to happen more among groups that were once oppressed themselves. I guess that old system of 'divide and rule' worked it's wonders and still does 'till today.

    I personally feel uncomfortable with and dislike this kind of rubbishing by one group of another.

    The merciless gossip is another reason why I don't like salons much.

  1. ...totally unrelated to this post, but please never worry about being serious on my ridiculous posts...sometimes i just don't want to be serious when i am writing it...your thoughts are always welcomed and solicited on my blog...fica vontade, as they say in brasil...off to read the post...

  1. ...this post is spot on...although i don't know why i would have expected anything other than...it really is sad that we don't know how to be proud of own culture while recognizing, acknowledging and appreciating another...it makes it so much more interesting that way...black americans have a lot to be proud of...and all need to recognize that...well done with this post...

  1. nneoma said...:

    @SSD - made comment on that post. Nice. In the purest sense of the word, I don't see why Nigerian Americans would not fall under the category African Americans. Like I mentioned, African American is a ver broad category that embraces a number of different histories and cultures. I personally do not see the need for the distinction. What else would you call someone who came from Africa and now lives in America - whether they cam 3 years ago, or 300 years ago? I recognise that Nigerian American is a very different culture from traditional African American culture - but in essence we are all members of the African diaspora living in the US, abi?
    I think that Nigerian-, Caribbean-, and other African-Americans do have the potential to strengthen traditional African Americans - either by numbers or by other markers (knowledge, health, etc.) However, the mutual antagonism that exists on both sides greatly stifles this effort.

    @standtall - hmmmmm (lol)...I agree. Though I disagree on your Obama point. For now, I am just striving to be the best Nneoma

    @anonymaus - I hope you will visit more often - thanks for your comments. It's true to some extent, that some cannot tell the difference between one black person to another. But I have seen all too often the case where some non-blacks do try to distinguish recent African imports from traditional African Americans by making comments like "you're not like them....you're not as sensitive as them....you're people are more educated than them" them being traditional African Americans. Its quite aggravating.

  1. nneoma said...:

    @nigeriandramaqueen - yes, I totally agree about the bad-mouthing coming from both sides. I remember growing up and having to deal with some of the insults from my African American peers would not let me into their community because I was some sort of Kunta Kente, or asked me if my family lived in trees or had refrigerators...I digress. I found that on campus, African students were more likely to bond with other foreigners, white, Asian, etc. than black foreigners because of this inability to merge to communities. So I guess I can see SSD's point as to why it is so difficult to come under the category of "African American"

    @Ore - long time! Yes, divide and conquer is still very much intact. Imagine what would happen if Africa teamed up with their trans-Atlantic brethren to address issues on both continents - I personally think it would amazing - but highly highly improbable. For now, Africa looks to China and African Americans look to the US.

    @gnigeriana - thanks. i think they deserve more credit than we are willing to give them.

  1. Naapali said...:

    I agree with you that no one should be ridiculed on insulted for their origin/culture. I also think it is very wrong and very unfair for recent African/Black immigrants to mock/insult/ or look down on African Americans. Truth is the reverse also holds true in many cases (G. Nigeriana has written about experiences growing up on her blog and you probably have yours). Regardless I feel all of us recent African Americans owe a massive debt of gratitude to the sons and daughters of those that were forcefully brought here, enslaved and castigated for centuries. We all benefit from the efforts of Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parkes, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and millions of unnamed brothers and sisters.

    I however think names like Shaquisha are ridiculous and mark a child for a life of struggle to overcome the inherent bias her name will create.

  1. anonymaus said...:

    Nneoma
    Thanks for your acknowledgement, it is appreciated.

    Those non-blacks you said who try to distinguish "Africans" from "African Americans", what is the purpose of that? From my (limited experience), it's usually a divide and rule tactic. A case example would be the Saudis using Islam to divide, the Hausa and Fulani peoples from the rest of Nigeria Yes, there are differences, but at the end of the day, we're all black people with different characteristics.

    Do you really think they care if you are educated or less sensitive than the local black population? In their eyes, we are seen as just another black face (which brings with it all the inherent problems - that are associated with black people in their minds - this is a generalisation, obviously there will be exceptions ).

    Do you want to be seen as different from African Americans? Does this make a difference to you? Black people spend too much time thinking what about what "others" may make of them. Do other people care 1/10 as much about what black people think of them? I don't think so. So why bother. Maybe with time such differences will become irrelevant in America.

    Just as an aside, what did you think of my post on your piece entitle "Nna I done tire?

  1. nneoma said...:

    @Naapali - thanks for your comments. I hear you about the reverse happening - all too often. Though I don't think we should trade fire for fire (which you were not insinuating, by the way - i just wanted to get that out there).
    In regards to the name - I am sure that we who bear non-English names have heard the same argument over and over again. "Our names sound ridiculous and will be a target for discrimination." I have personally resented that in that I feel that my name represents the culture I hail from. Sure nobody really knows what Shaquiesha really means - but it is a expression of their culture - a valid expression - so I personally do not feel it is my place to denigrate another for that. Yeah, I know, some might call it cultural relativity hog-wash, but it is personal opinion i hold dearly to, knowing what I have gone through because others thought it fit to denigrate my own name and the thought my parents put in giving me that name. As to the discrimination part - that is true - but I think that as time goes on, America will begin to treat African American culture and its various expressions with some validity - as they did with European immigrants, Asian immigrants, and African immigrants. African Americans by taking on these names are just beginning to fully explore the beauty that comes with personally owning your own culture. They have looked to Africa as the gold standard but I think they are their own gold standard in their own right.

  1. Standtall said...:

    Okay mi-lady, I am not saying you should be like Obama o, never you are you and will always be. I am just saying you should inspire to be the first Nigerian(African)-American female president.

  1. Naapali said...:

    @ Nneoma
    - your name has meaning, and thought did go into your name and its meaning.
    Shaqueisha means nothing in any language and the only thought that went into it was it sounded nice at the time (I know I am generalizing).

  1. WAfrican said...:

    I'm a Nigerian American college student born in the U.S. I agree that we should get along with African Americans more, but I seriously think the bulk of the blame belongs to black Americans. Yes, I'm pointing fingers. Africans don't come to the United States with bad opinions of black Americans. In Africa everyone wants to be an African-American. What ends up happening is that they get here and the people they think should be their allies (Akata's or African-Americans) are frequently much more ignorant and disrespectful than whites. Whites will think all blacks are the same, so 90% of their insults (fried chicken, ebonics, slavery) don't really apply to an African. Black Americans on the other hand will say some really wicked stuff (dark complexion, accent, kunta kinte, african booty scratcher, etc). But I still know plenty of my African uncles who have married black Americans.

    Basically, what I'm trying to say is that it's all based on experience. If my parents (and other Africans who have bad opinions of black Americans) had been treated well by the Akatas when they arrived, I doubt they would dislike them as much as they do. My uncle has an English name and wasn't disrespected by black Americans. He has a black wife.
    Lastly, first generation kids will get over the beef our parents have with black Americans because we rationalize black American insolence on blogs instead of thinking straightforwardly like our parents.

  1. nneoma said...:

    @standtall - thanks for the compliments.

    @Naapali - well, i know it will be difficult to convince you otherwise. but lets remember that african americans were systematically taught to break ties to any of their african roots - which includes language. in the absence of any indigenous language, they came up with their own names, pidgin english and customs. personally, after suffering so much at the hands of west, i would find it difficult to give my child a western name. i personally, and many african americans also, see such names as names of protest and non-conformity to an oppressive culture. i am sure that african americans put some thought into choosing names of their children (again, a generalization) and likewise, i am sure that my parents thought that my name sounded pretty at the time. thought is not limited to non-african americans and neither is desiring a pretty-sounding name limited to african americans. but i think at this time i am beating a dead horse.

    @wafrican - thanks for stopping by. didnt really understand your last comment but will address the other one. as to who insults who more, i think that varies - though i will agree with you that many well-meaning Nigerians who travel here are shocked at the lack of a warmer welcome from black americans. the opposite is true too. i think the solution would be for both groups to be more open to dialogue.

  1. Anonymous said...:

    they are lazy , ignorant , hate anything educational and they are just plain free loaders. i dont care, africans arent the only race that despise them , ASIANS , WHITES , LATINOS , crap any race that isnt akata are not to fond of them. goodluck mother theresa

  1. Kola Tubosun said...:

    Nneoma, thank you for the post.

    I don't have anything else to add to what you have brilliantly written. Be it the identity factor of migrating Africans in America or the ignorant discrimination and phobia-like prejudice that some Africans mete to African-Americans already holding the short end of the social stick.

    I stay far away from those Africans too, but you'll be surprised where the word "akata" often shows its ugly head - even among supposedly educated friends.

    Anyway, my two cents. Well done.