Front Street

Thursday, April 13, 2006


I’m finding that more and more Senegalese, Nigerians and other Africans are moving to the United States. Great numbers have moved into my neighborhood over the years. At the time, I wasn’t certain how I felt about their constant presence. I got worried when a few of my African-American and Hispanic neighbors moved out of the neighborhood, and African immigrants started to move in; But still, since they are here, I’m forced to acknowledge them. I once had a cordial friendship with an African woman who was Muslim and braided hair for a living. Her husband who drove a gypsy taxi, kept a good eye and a strong hold on her. She whispered to me that he didn’t want her to pick up any "bad" American habits.

I wanted to know more about where she came from and her past life; but one caustic look from her husband usually clamped her mouth closed. I’m sorry to say that I don’t know much about Africans, outside of the fact that most are Muslims, that the women carried their babies tied to their backs, they braid hair and the men drive taxis or sell things on the streets for a living. But in my observations of them, I find the men to be a little domineering and controlling, especially the married ones; and the women to be passive and oppressed. This of course can be defined as my ignorance shadowed by stupid stereotypes. But on the other hand, the feeling is probably mutual; my friend once uttered to me while her husband was out working, that most Africans think that African-Americans are lazy, complain too much about racism, that the women are mostly whores and we as a whole, lack culture because we don’t know our heritage, our language or which tribe we originated from; that we are "akata". I felt hurt by her blunt and derogatory remarks. I saw her less and less after that.

A couple of years later, I started dating an African brother from Nigeria, who was more assimilated and actually preferred African-American women to African women. He felt that African women were backwards, unsophisticated and un-educated. We were walking around one day in my neighborhood and ran into a few of his friends from his village whom he hadn’t seen in twenty years; two of them were women. I got dirty looks and smirks and they spoke to him angrily in their native tongue. When they left us finally, I ask him what was said about me. He refused at first, but with my relentless prodding, he finally told me. The women wanted to know, what was he doing with "the American slave…cotton picker". He said that he told them that I was nice and for them to not be jealous. This didn’t make me feel any better. We had a long discussion that night about Africans vs. African Americans and the many layers of sensitive issues that plague us.

African-Americans have a long and illustrious history of championing African causes and since more and more Africans continue to arrive in the United States, they automatically benefit from Civil Rights and Affirmative Action, even though they do not participate in civil rights issues in large numbers like African-Americans. Basically, I feel that Africans should stop feeling superior over African-Americans, because our ancestors were dragged here against their will, but yet through resilience and stubbornness, they persevered; and due to their trailblazing the Civil Rights Movement, this made it possible for Africans to live decently in the U.S. and benefit from services and other entitlements. I also feel that if the two were to over come the mutual stereotypes and band together as a formidable group domestically and internationally, we will have the ability and the potential to reach such a daunting level of influence in this country, that it would be phenomenal.