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Exploring the Complex Relationship Between African Americans and Africans

The relationship between African Americans and Africans from the continent is complex and multifaceted, characterized by shared history and sometimes misunderstandings and tensions.

In September 2019, Ghana’s president Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo declared a year of return for Africans in the diaspora during a speech at the UN General Assembly meeting. The Year of Return —a spiritual and birth-right celebration to mark 400 years of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in the history of the black man— was well received by African Americans in the diaspora.

Since that declaration, Africa and particularly Ghana, has become a favorite destination for African Americans with “Detty’ December crowning it all every year.

Despite the numerous advantages this new relationship between the two groups has brought to the continent, it has also exposed other different layers of their relationship, highlighting interesting dynamics that have already started different conversations.

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African Americans and Africans from the continent have always had a complex and multifaceted relationship, characterized by shared history and sometimes, tensions. One significant aspect of this dynamic is the historical narrative held by some African Americans that seem to blame Africans for their ancestor’s role in the transatlantic slave trade.

Historical Context and Perceptions of Blame

The Gilder Lerhman Institute of American History estimates that the Transatlantic Slave Trade resulted in the forced displacement of an estimated 12 to 12.8 million men, women and children from Africa to the Americas from approximately 1526 to 1867. However, the total number of people taken from Africa is believed to be higher due to deaths during capture and transport to the coast, with estimates of the total number of Africans affected, including those who died before reaching the Americas, being significantly higher.

This displacement which broke the cultural ties between enslaved people and their roots involved a variety of actors, including the role of European traders and that of some African societies. The involvement of African entities has led a section of African Americans to harbor feelings of betrayal, viewing them as complicit in the enslavement of their ancestors.

But understanding this blame requires acknowledging the complexity of African societies’ roles, many of which were victims themselves, and the significant part European colonial powers played in instigating and perpetuating the slave trade.

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In terms of culture, there’s a perception among some Africans that African Americans lack a distinct culture. Some Africans perceive African Americans as lacking a distinct culture, viewing them through the lens of assimilation and loss as a result of the influence of one-sided Western media narrative. This overlooks the rich cultural traditions African Americans have developed, which blend African heritage with their unique experiences in the Americas. These contributions to music, literature, cuisine, and the arts have significantly influenced global culture.

On the other hand, African Americans’ perception of Africans is often clouded by stereotypes of poverty, underdevelopment, and backwardness. These views are significantly shaped by Western media portrayals, which predominantly focus on Africa’s challenges—such as political instability, poverty, and disease—without adequately representing the continent’s diversity, cultural richness, and socio-economic progress. This one-dimensional portrayal fails to acknowledge the vibrant cities, burgeoning tech industries, and rich cultural landscapes that characterize many African countries today.

This skewed perception not only reinforces harmful stereotypes but also widens the cultural and emotional gap between African Americans and their African counterparts. It diminishes the opportunities for African Americans to see Africans as equals and potential partners in global Black solidarity and cultural exchange.

Bridging the Divide

Efforts to bridge these divides have taken various forms, from educational initiatives that aim to provide a more nuanced understanding of history to cultural exchanges that celebrate shared heritage. The annual observance of events like Black History Month and Africa Day can serve as platforms for dialogue and mutual appreciation. Furthermore, the rise of digital media and social platforms has facilitated connections between African Americans and Africans, allowing for direct communication and sharing of cultural experiences.

Examples of Solidarity

Despite these challenges, there are notable examples of solidarity and collaboration. The Pan-African movement, which gained momentum in the 20th century, sought to unite African people worldwide against colonialism and racism. More recently, movements like Black Lives Matter have found resonance and support among Africans and the diaspora, highlighting shared struggles against racial injustice and inequality.

While perceptions of blame and cultural disconnection exist, there are also growing opportunities for understanding, solidarity, and celebrating a shared heritage. Both communities can move towards a more unified and empowered future by focusing on education, dialogue, and mutual understanding.

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