Thursday, April 28, 2011

African American Arrogance

"Black Americans have long been oppressed, so it was startling to me that they would ever be the source of dismissive attitudes toward another black community. However, what I had completely forgotten is that black Americans are still Americans, a nation firm in its resolve that no person or thing on this planet -- or in the heavens -- matters as much as they do. Undoubtedly, it is that fundamental belief that has led them to be the global force that they are, regardless of how skewed that belief structure may be."

I read this article on theRoot by Alyson Renaldo titled "Black Canadian Like Me". In it she discussed the  influence and importance of her West Indian heritage as she grew up in Canada. I relate to this so well for this is also my story. It reflects my experience and existence here in Canada.

What was also right on point was her experiences in the USA with Black American attitudes. Growing up in Toronto, I made a number of visits to Buffalo, New York and Springfield Mass., to hang out with friends and family. When I lived in Windsor, right across the river from Detroit, I spent a lot more time in the USA. Not only in Detroit, but I visited places in Maryland, Arizona, California, Florida and Nevada. For the most part, I have had positive experiences and made some close African-American friendships.

Interestingly, in the interactions with my Black American brothers and sisters, both real life and online experiences, it is evident that I have a different perspective and attitude towards life. What I have come to clearly realize (and accept) is the fact that, as the authour states above, "Black Americans are still Americans". It was quite revealing reading the comments section of this article. I understand that no-one likes to be criticized (especially Americans), and the reactions to the article by the Black American readers were so... "American". Some people dismissed the authour and the article, claiming that she was jealous of the accomplishments of Black Americans. Some claimed she was just ignorant of America and the article was of no value. Some even implied that Black Canadians and/or those of West Indian heritage didn't comprehend slavery!

I am cognizant of the fact that I am neither American nor "African-American", so my thinking, attitudes and perspectives are not restricted or shaped by their prejudices or world view. We are all products of our environment and African-American attitudes are rooted in American attitudes, which are rooted in a foundation of White/European superiority... hence the truth of the above statement. Needless to say, I have my own prejudices and perspectives shaped by my own experiences, being born in England, growing up in Jamaica, living in Canada and travelling within the Americas, Caribbean and Africa.

One of the primary factors I believe which differentiates those of us from the West Indies (and Africa) from Black Americans, is that being in the majority in our countries, we were able to fight and win political independence from our slave/colonial masters and formed our own governments. From that foundation we have travelled the world as independent minded, culturally and socially conscious people. Jamaicans such as Marcus Garvey to Bob Marley for example, embodied this spirit of independence, as well as cultural and social consciousness. I find in this way we are more similar in attitudes to Africans than African-Americans.

At the end of the day it doesn't make us better or worse, just different... and through our differences, we have much to offer each other... if we care enough to invest in the effort to listen and learn about each others' cultures and perspectives.


  1. Asa, I think there is a tendency to broad brushed blacks who live in America with one sweep which I might add has been done to--too many of us in the diaspora. That includes Black Canadians.

    I was reared in Rochester, N.Y. since age 6 months and regularly visited the Canadian side mainly because of the Peace Falls and other points of interest. It was a little over a hour's drive and of course we had relatives in Buffalo, N.Y. whom we visited quite often.

    My experience doesn't reflect what you've discussed in your piece although I don't deny or refute your observances or experiences and that of Alyson Renaldo. "Many things are true at once" (Elizabeth Alexander)

    I had relatives who spoke of how significant Marcus Garvey and that ideology of doing for yourself were to American blacks and there is a family history of involvement in that movement. I was told that blacks grieved for years after he was deported and there are still many descendants today that revered what he tried to do in these U.S. and formed groups after that model.

    I believe Bob Marley meant "One Love" not only for inter-ethnic relations for there is only one human race but for blacks who were forcibly taken from the continent of Africa as well as those who willingly migrated to other parts of the globe.

    This is all said with love and concern about the differences that divide us.

    Peace and Blessings!!!

  2. Sis. Carolyn, I would expect that your experience wouldn't reflect those of Black Canadians, since you were raised in the US. Although we may share the longest border in the world, we are 2 distinct societies, no matter how close in distance we are. When I lived in Windsor, I could leave my front door and be downtown Detroit in 20mins. Once I crossed over that bridge or tunnel, there was no doubt I was in a different world. When I lived in Toronto, I could be in Buffalo or Niagara Fall, USA, in 1 and a half to 2 hours. Same thing... different worlds.

    During a recent family get together, with relatives from the US, England and Canada, we were discussing how those of us in Canada and England have closer ties to "back home" than our US relatives. My 3 yr. old son who was born here in Ottawa, has already been to Jamaica twice, first when he was 4 months old. He is already aware of his family in Jamaica and his roots there.

    Here in Canada, the term "African-Canadians" never caught on. We may be aware of our African roots, but we consider the "Islands" home, even for those of us not born there. In my opinion, African-Americans are far more "American" than "African", which stands to reason, since we are all more or less products of our society... where we are raised.

    Let me share this experience. When I was in Africa, initially whenever I would meet someone they would assume I was African-American. When I informed them that I was from Canada with Jamaican roots, their attitude towards me noticibly changed. They were friendly enough to begin with, but afterwards they greeted me as a brother they hadn`t seen in a long time. This was most noticable in Ghana, so I asked my Guide about this. He explained that most African-Americans don`t make the effort to socialize with the local people when they visit. They usually stay among themselves within the tour group, go to the tourist sites and markets to buy trinkets, dresses and drums, give out candy and chewing gum to the children, and that becomes their "African experience". They are more interested in having their passports stamped that they have been to Ghana, than getting to know the people or culture. He used this term: "They come across as being arrogant... like they are better than us". (Hence why I entitled the post "African American Arrogance".

    Broad strokes indeed... however maybe there is some truth to it.

    Question: are you watching the PBS special, "Blacks in Latin America"?

  3. Hi Bro. Asa, Yes I did view the Cuban episode and how colorism which I feel is the first cousin of racism fuels discriminatory behaviors. Although, I read about the issues surrounding race and skin hues with a few anecdotal encounters; it was amazing to listen to the people and how they viewed their situation.

    "Broad strokes indeed... however maybe there is some truth to it".

    Oh..I never refuted what you were saying. I'm just saying that "many things are true at once"
    and that all Black Americans don't think or behave that way.

    The sentiment Dr. Gates expressed at the end struck a chord with me. He did broad brush with this statement, yet, there is some truth there. :-) Blacks in America are the only ones in most of the diaspora who identify themselves by race and ethnicity first and then country. Whereas in countries like Cuba,they are Cuban first and then their ethnic identity follows.

    Hmmm.....I'm sure our history and ongoing racial issues have a lot to do with it. Of course there have always been pockets of blacks who have maintained just the American identity and that group seems to be growing.

    Peace as always.....

  4. I am in agreement with what you are expressing. All blacks cannot be put in the same pot because of colors. Our upbringing and its surrounding shape our differences. I respect black Americans but I do not share their expectations and sometimes feel at odd at the way they see the world as often as them against us.