Students at King David School in Teshie, Accra, Ghana perform a dance to welcome Malik Washington and others visiting from the United States.
"I'm not Black or American, I'm an African."
These were the words I proudly uttered, as a young adolescent sitting in the kitchen of our home. The response however, wasn't quite what I expected.
"You know, there are a lot of Africans who would resent you saying that," my mother replied.
The Africans she was referring to, of course, were those born on the continent. But what I would come to realize, is that she wasn't so much discouraging me from defining myself as an African as much as she was challenging me to examine what made me African.
Fast-forward to a few days ago.
"Are you black Americans or white Americans?"
That was the question put to me and other African-Americans, in a junior high classroom in Accra, Ghana.
For some of the visitors, it was utterly offensive. For others, it was simply shocking. How could we, black people, be confused for white?
For me, it was utterly simple.
The question came as no surprise since so many African-Americans don’t see themselves as African. That, by default, just leaves them identified as just “American”. The very term “American”, after all, implies “white”. Everybody else gets a hyphen.
Many African-Americans, in fact, don’t know what to think of themselves.
African? American? Both? Or neither? “Black” seems to be an accepted hybrid term that falls short of claiming either entity yet still denotes exceptionalism in this society.
Nonetheless, this ambiguity isn’t entirely neutral, as black people generally seem prone to distance themselves more from Africa, than America – either consciously or sub-consciously.
Every individual should seek to define his- or herself in a way that suits them. That’s what makes you, you.
Sure, giving our children traditional African names or occasionally dressing in kente cloth or standing for the Black National Anthem is fun, but actually embracing Africa is another story.
For black people in America, there is nothing that keeps us from embracing the African continent. There is, however, a chain that binds us to Europe and Western standards, that causes us to view Africa as the “other” rather than the “origin” that it is, not just for black people in the US, but for the entire World.
Like anything else, the way we define ourselves isn’t all that black-and-white (no pun intended). But we must take a serious look at how we, as African-Americans, view Africa.
African-Americans that look down on Africa, look down on themselves.
Writer Malik Washington is a graduating senior at Howard University and is author of the blog Normative Chaos.