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African vs. African American: Same Color, Different Views

I used to be based in West Africa for NPR, and one of themes that's stayed with me is the disconnect between Africans and African-Americans.

I did a story once on the "slave castles" in Ghana — that's what they call them. They are the seaside jails where Africans were held before their (African) captors put them onto ships for Britain and America. The locals told me how amazed they were when black Americans would tour a site and be moved to tears — and how the visitors didn't appreciate that ambivalent reaction one bit.

One castle director said Ghanaians are taught about slavery through an economic prism, as part of the 18th and 19th century "triangle trade" across the Atlantic. He said Ghanaians' view of blacks in America came mostly through the media — they saw rich movie and music stars, and had little understanding of the daily racism many African Americans endure — and so, they just didn't get why these Americans felt so bad about these slave castles.

This is why I was intrigued when I read about the creation of the Black Immigration Network, a coalition of activists that seeks to encourage African Americans to support black immigration. Our conversation today centered on the hotly contested issue of the economic impact of immigration, and you could back and forth for hours about that. But as the black immigrant community in this country grows (census figures show it's increased rapidly since 1990) there are bound to be all kinds of awkward encounters ... and more attempts at understanding.

Our society lumps these disparate groups together for the color of their skin, but they have very different views on so many things.

— Jennifer Ludden