Over time, many people have asked me about the unsteady relationship between Africans and African Americans, and this question has come from diverse perspectives and people. Those questions made me think about issues I might not have otherwise considered.
It was instructive to learn about being an “Other” when I went overseas. I have often been the stranger that West Africans have observed, talked with, or asked questions of. I have learned more about myself and ‘my people’ as I have explained and described my community to others. This in turn has caused me to understand that community better, and to ask myself questions that I might not have done, otherwise.
When Americans, Black or White, understand more about Africa, they will understand more about themselves. By this I mean when Americans come to terms with the existence of Africa, and its shared history with our part of the world, it will free us from some of our illusions. The women who were first raped on American plantations were not yet “black” women, they were African women. From records we can deduce that they were “Ibo” women; Calabari, Ibibio, Efik and other Niger Delta women. They were Wolof, Fula, and Diola women. They were “Congo” women; perhaps Baluba. They were Bamileke, and from minority groups in what is now northeastern Nigeria. They were Bamana, now known as Bambara, or from Mandinka related groups in Guinea. Some were from what is today Mozambique, some were shipped out from northeastern Madagascar. They were actual people from actual places, and for those who left, family was left behind. When black Americans talk of who sold us, do they think of their relatives who fled to other regions, or begged protection from a nearby potentate? For every great, great, great grandfather who arrived here, he left his brothers and his cousins, his father and his mother. Their descendants are still living somewhere in the continent that Europeans named Africa. They are third, fourth, and fifth cousins to people who became Black Americans. They are no less related than people of Italian, Danish, or German descent who left cousins in Europe, many of whom are known.