(Op-Ed) My African-American Identity: Embracing Both Africanness and Americanness
Updated: Jul 31
Guest Contributor: Bruna Melo
Once on the Oprah Winfrey Show, actress Raven-Symoné went on record all to say that she was not “African-American” and disliked being labeled. She remarked, "I'm tired of being labeled. I'm an American; I'm not an African-American. I'm an American." Despite the obvious self-defeating idea, given the fact that "American" is objectively also a label, it is worth reflecting on the African-American identity crisis that her quote perfectly encapsulates.
It is common for Black Americans to--slightly--reject their classification as African-American within the Black diaspora. It is found to be offensive and unrepresentative of what the Black community in America truly is, as most have no tangible connection to a part of the label that has been forced upon them. Black Americans in no way feel African, or better yet what they find to be their interpretation of Africa. Here lies the essence of Black America’s struggle to accept Africa as their own, and not someplace that does not belong to them.
I sense that Black America’s perception of Africa is not that dissimilar to that of a White America’s: underdeveloped and tribal. That is especially clear with Black America’s undeniable acceptance and glorification of Afro-Caribbean culture (ie: Jamaican), but reluctance to indulge in purely African culture. The manner in which the idea of Africa has been white-washed to Black America by White America is the mere result of colonization. Although Africans were not colonized by America, the tactics of colonization can be found used in early American slavery. Enslaved Africans were not solely physically taken from their land, but mentally as well, an effort found used in colonization. From the teachings of Christianity to the English language and customs, early slaves were driven to whitewash their beings and therefore do the same for future generations. It is important to note that present-day White America is not the cause of Black America’s hesitation to claim Africa as an avid part of them, yet it is significant because of White America’s past control over Black America, that today Black America has no connection to Africa.
From my perspective, Black America should accept the legitimacy of Africa within themselves. A willingness to acknowledge their African heritage is precisely what colonization yielded. That is not to say that Black Americans should not deem America their home, however, there need be recognition that there is little difference, or superiority, in comparison to Africans. While Black America continues to use African-American Vernacular English, creates beats and dances--all of which derive from African culture--they must become proud of that label, because it represents the part of Black America that was not allowed to flourish within its own right.
The opinions expressed in this op-ed represent those of the author(s), and Inclusion Advocate's publication of it alone is not meant as an endorsement.