Uzochi Nwoko, Harvard University
In today’s society, many Africans and African Americans have negative perceptions of each other that hinder black progress as a whole. As an African American with a great deal of family that immigrated from Africa, I have encountered opinions from both sides of this divide. Oftentimes, it appears that Africans believe themselves to be socially or even intellectually superior to their American counterparts, and often buy into the prevailing racist stereotype that African Americans are somehow less capable and civilized than white Americans. I believe this ignorance to be due to the fact that new immigrants often buy into perceptions common among the people in the land to which they immigrate; because immigrants may not have a lot of firsthand knowledge about many things in the United States, they are forced to believe common opinions, many of which may be racist stereotypes. Visuals of black Americans being thieves, thugs, and morally inept individuals taint our society, and this is the first impression that many immigrants have of African Americans. This does not absolve the many Africans who see their brethren as somehow subpar, of course, but it serves as a possible reason for this insidious viewpoint.
Many African Americans aren’t innocent of this prejudice either, and treat Africans with a great deal of disrespect. Jokes likening Africans to monkeys, making fun of their names and culture, and comparing them to orphans who can be provided with food and water for a mere “50 cents a day” have become alarmingly cliché in the African American community (this is not to say that people of other groups don’t make the same types of jokes, but people of other groups aren’t African American). Additionally, a great deal of African Americans view Africans as conceited individuals who think they are better than American blacks. This assumption that Africans are conceited towards their American counterparts may not always be off the mark, but it’s also hard to expect a group of people who are constantly ridiculed to feel welcome in the African American community. This lack of welcome may also cause Africans to exert the aloofness with which African Americans perceive them to have.
All in all, the dearth of comradery between many Africans and African Americans is a prominent and dangerous characteristic of the relationship between the two groups. When I sat down to think about why this is the case, I realized that it is simply another result of racism. White people used to (and sometimes still do) treat African Americans with the same type of spite with which African Americans today treat Africans, and sometimes it seems like African Americans forget this part of their history momentarily, and reiterate these racist comments and direct them towards African immigrants. By subscribing to these hateful beliefs, we further divide the black community in America, and consequently hold ourselves back. We need to remember that because we are of one race, we face many of the same social struggles in day to day life. In order to better progress as a community, it is imperative that Africans and African Americans work together, rather than subscribe to stereotypical thoughts and mock others with racist clichés. However, there is one cliché that I believe both groups – no, this one group composed of black individuals – should keep in mind: divided we stand, together we are stronger. With each other’s support, black people in America can each be lifted higher, and that would be a wonderful thing.