On Africans, Caribbeans and unity.

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I made a Facebook status earlier today that said the attitudes of *some* Africans, and especially Nigerians towards Caribbeans had me questioning the idea of a global African identity. I also said (and I was called out for it, maybe rightly so), that the rise of Afrobeats and general popularity of (West) African culture in the mainstream has, in my opinion led to a rise in my African peers being openly negative towards Caribbeans and our culture.

If I’m honest, I was a bit in my feelings about various things I’d seen on the interwebs from my African (mostly Nigerian) brothers and sisters about Caribbean people and African Americans. There word ‘akata’ was flying around a lot. There were a few ugly stereotypes about Caribs being uneducated, lazy, drug dealers and having no respect for their elders.

But forget a one off internet session gone wrong. The tension between African and Caribbeans in the UK, and apparently between African Americans and Caribbeans and Africans (I know, it’s exhausting), in the U.S, has a long-ish history.

Truth be told, when Africans first came to the UK in the 70’s and 80’s, Caribbeans weren’t the most friendly. at worst, we were downright ignorant and abusive. That’s me being honest. Not all of us, but enough of us to make a generalisation. I wouldn’t and can’t deny it, because as someone with a Nigerian first name, I used to be on the receiving end of some of what was seemingly light hearted banter during my teenage years. People would sometimes assume I was Nigerian and then the name calling and bad West African accents would ensue. Obviously, I took it in my stride and had the privilege of brushing it off because I wasn’t actually African and so it only hurt on a very superficial level. Around that time, many African kids my age seemed to hide their African identity, no doubt in part due to the ridicule received.

Caribbean, and specifically Jamaican culture was mainstream. In the same way that African American culture was seen as ‘cool’  to white Americans, white Brits thought that Caribbean culture was ‘cool’. So being a Jamaican in the most multi-cultural, diverse parts of the country wasn’t something that garnered ridicule (outside of London is a different story). On the other hand, African culture was still relegated to  historical ideas of being primitive and unappealing – both amongst white and Caribbean people. During those times, you would hear whisperings from African friends about what their parents thought about Caribbean people. But because Africans felt more or less outnumbered (I’m not sure if they actually were or if Caribbeans had been here longer and were just louder and more dominating), people rarely came out of the closet.

Fast forward to 2016, and headlines of mainstream newspapers have titles scream “Africa is on the rise”‘. There has been a resurgence, even amongst African Americans and Caribbeans of connection to African culture. West African and especially Nigerian culture is more mainstream. High fashion magazines are doing spreads with what they presume to be ‘African’ fashion, Afrobeats artists are rotating on MTV, and politically and economically people are paying more attention to the continent  – deservedly.

What I’ve noticed, is that this also correlated with more African people of my generation being open about their disdain for Caribbeans and African Americans and their culture. Now thankfully, I know very few people personally who have strong feelings about this. But there are little comments from people I consider to be friends that sometimes make my ears perk up.

In a similar way that white people sometimes view me as an exception to their general beliefs about black people, I’ve found some Africans view me the same way. I can be an honorary Nigerian with a Yoruba first name because I am a doctor and I come from a ‘good’ family. Unfortunately, the same warmth of feeling is not extended to Caribbeans as a whole. As a whole, in the eyes of some (I want to stress the word some) Caribbeans are the black sheep of the family. We don’t go to university, we have multiple children with multiple men and we sell drugs.

All my friends who are Caribbean have gone to university, most of them don’t have children, and I personally know only one person who has smoked weed as a regular hobby. I know my friends aren’t reflections of the whole community but the problem with these stereotypes is that it militates against any solidarity that we could have.

Let’s not be too serious – every group has banter and infighting. I can take a good bit of banter from my African friends and vice versa. It doesn’t pay to be too easily offended. I have a lot of friends who are Nigerian and none of them have ever said anything to me about Caribbeans that is intentionally offensive. It’s not so much in the blatant rudeness that might be seen in a trolling tweet but about underlying attitudes that reveal themselves in assumptions made about people. In the same way that white people may be extremely pleasant to me, when one of my white friends who at the time I was close too, asked me after 5 years of friendship ,after meeting my parents (who are both well educated) and being together at university “How comes you’re so well spoken?” (and then blushed and quickly followed…”because you’re from London”). It stung. Because it revealed that even though she was my friend, she thought a certain way about ‘my’ people.

The truth is that the African community in the UK no longer needs the Caribbean community for solidarity. They are larger in number and have more economic resources than we do. If they decide that we are not part of them as a whole, we are the ones who lose.  I’ve tend to found that for a variety of reasons Africans from the continent tend to see themselves less as black and more as their particular ethnic group. This can be seen as  a good thing because they are constructing their identity outside of the framework of white supremacy and I applaud that. The boundaries of black and white are in place because of the system and they can sometimes be fairly random in how they are applied. Prior to European influence on the continent, country borders such as Nigeria, Ghana etc, did not exist. The borders were based on ethnic group and not a random line decided by a coloniser.

Unfortunately, in the system of white supremacy it doesn’t matter whether the ship took you to an island or you were misled into selling your mate to someone for pittance. You’re both still black. And you can both get screwed over. It makes sense for us to foster a sense of unity and work together to achieve the economic and social power that we need.

As a child who grew up being told by my parents that I should be proud of being African, it hurts when the same people that you thought were your ‘people’ make remarks that suggest that actually, you’re not African and the perceived similarity or solidarity that you feel is mostly in your head – not only that, but your people are in general embroiled in negativity.

I’m not trying  to deny the significant cultural differences between Caribbeans and Africans (and obviously the differences amongst African cultures which are likely even more pronounced).  But there’s a difference between recognising cultural differences but still seeing us as one people, and feeling like Caribbeans are a completely separate people.

I’m just saying I don’t think any unity can rely on a few people in each group who believe that solidarity is necessary for our progression as a group of people. And that’s why I’m questioning whether I can with all honesty call myself “African”.

 

13 Comments

  1. January 11, 2016 / 10:10 pm

    Don’t let the ignorance of a few people keep you from identifying as what you know you are. You KNOW you’re African, you’ve been taught that you’re African. Who cares what others think? Imo the attitude stems from people, and that is both continental Africans as well as Africans in the Diaspora, not knowing how much African culture has actually been preserved in spite of “it” all. Of course there are cultural differences, but as an African from the Diaspora I’m constantly amazed by the amount of cultural similarities I have with continental Africans. Don’t be discouraged, Africa is in us. It can’t be denied nor erased.

  2. January 12, 2016 / 4:14 am

    Funnily enough I have always thought that African-Americans have some kind of attitude toward Africans. I’ve seen it in the way they act whenever they come to my country as tourists. It used to annoy me at first because we just look the same but then I stopped bothering altogether. While recently working in the hospitality industry, I met an African-American woman who was part of President Obama’s team for economic growth for Africa and she was just the warmest person I’ve ever met. She equally seemed genuinely happy to be in Kenya!
    About the Carribeans, the much interaction we have with them in my country is their music. Nowadays there is an upsurge of Jamaican riddims which are simply raunchy and do a very bad job of furthering the stereotypes you’ve talked about that Carribean people are uneducated, weed smokers and to add on that, women who don’t care about dignity. I wish they could just treat women right in those music videos. However, the women participating in them are also somehow to blame.
    Let it be noted that Africans sometimes identify too much with their respective tribes. Countless times I have been made to feel identity less because you can’t really tell from which tribe I come from by my second name plus I’m a mixture and therefore, can’t speak any of the two tribes dialect in me except the national language.
    Perhaps it gives them a sense of belonging but to me, some of these tribal issues in Africa are fostered by too much identification by tribe and the stereotypes formed of other tribes with time. We need unity as a whole African community (Carribean, African-American, African). Great post.

  3. January 12, 2016 / 3:47 pm

    I think you need to remember that alot of Caribbean bully African kids and adults in the United Kingdom .I had that experience growing up ,had no idea that there were of African descent Until it was to late and the damage was done.
    So africans have a good reason to be hostility to Caribbeans people, as they think there better then Africans because there been hanging one with white folk for longer.
    And also Caribbean is only a few islands with Africa being a continent .Without Africa there would be no West Indians .
    Jamaicans and African Americans especially start to dominate the black story like they the only one that suffered.Africans dont expect to hear from people who left Africa who the hell there our.A story is never one sided.Love your blog hun and please get back to your youtube channel you havent updated it I;miss you playing your ukulele and that lovely voice.

    • February 17, 2016 / 6:12 pm

      Aaaww thank you lol i hated my youtube channel I always had such bad lighting. I defo hear you on the fact that some Africans were bullied by Carib kids going up and that stems from what we were taught as Caribbeans about our African heritage. It’s sad! Unity is so important! Thansk for reading and commenting.

      • February 18, 2016 / 11:20 am

        I enjoy your blog and youtube.I understand YT is to much word,but your blog a refreshing change.

        • thatgirlwiththafro
          May 20, 2016 / 12:01 am

          Thank you so much, I want to try and get back into youtube so watch this space!

  4. January 15, 2016 / 1:13 am

    Hi girlwiththafro,

    I have been reading your blog for about a year now and wondered about the password protected content.

    I’d like to read those as well. Is there some special criteria for one to get a password? Please let me know if there’s anything I need to do to enter into that elite group.

    Alright, that’s all. I really enjoy reading your opinions.

    Best, Yanang

    • February 17, 2016 / 6:10 pm

      Hi Yanang, I only give out the password to people I know personally. It’s simply because it’s content that given my line of work, could be a bit problematic. Nothing too controversial in my eyes, nut other people could find it to be. Sorry! Most of the content here is public. Thanak you so much for continuing to read my blog, it always surprises me that people do. All the best,

      Shade

    • thatgirlwiththafro
      May 20, 2016 / 12:06 am

      Hey, happy to email you the password, where can I email it to?

  5. Oh dear
    February 23, 2016 / 2:58 am

    TBH I hadn’t heard of this disparity between Caribs and Africans until I had African friends who weren’t very nice to me( I’m from Carib) and started to speak about our toxic relationships with others. I think it’s because I don’t fit those Carib stereotypes- I’m hard working, run a business, own properties and have done so since my early 20’s. What I do know for sure is African ( Nigerians) really know envy where as my Carib friends would be more encouraging and share wise words. My 2 cents.

    Camroonians are such friendly and warm people as is those from Mali and Uganda, Kenya. Ghanians are a bit hit and miss for me. I stay away from Nigerians- I’ve had too much trouble with them in business and personal life. lol

    • RT Soca
      December 23, 2016 / 10:53 pm

      I can really agree with you. Nigerians are some bunch of wicked people. They call us Caribbean people slave babies which is prejudice. They tend to say that we are not pure black people due to us being mixed with white. They feel that we are lower than them. If I was to have my own business I would never employ them because they would cause so much problems. They have very snobbish attitudes and are aggressive and violent. It is best that we Caribbeans stay away from them. They call us AKATA when they behave like AKATAS themselves.

  6. Kwame
    December 11, 2016 / 8:43 pm

    I’m glad you know who started it first. Well I don’t Black-American at all (i don’t hate them either, I avoid them). For Jamaicans, I always thought we are one people especially me being a Ghanaian (Akan). When I watch Jamaican clips or videos, I always see “red, yellow, green and black color” so I thought they like Africans clearly I was wrong. I really hope people from Haiti, Barbados etc are different from Jamaicans

    • RT Soca
      March 12, 2017 / 12:43 am

      Hello Kwame. I am sorry if you had a bad experience with Jamaicans. There is quite a few of Jamaicans that like Ghanaians and have been to Ghana. Jamaicans should not be hating on the Ghanaians because I find that your people always open your arms towards the Afro Americans and the Afro Caribbeans. Plus your people are warm and friendly. Barbados people are much more gentle than Jamaicans. Jamaicans are more aggressive. What you can do is to get to know some Barbados people. The black Americans are not easy at all. They really hate on the Africans and the Caribbeans.

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