Akátá vs. Afrikàná: The Truth about our ‘Differences’

by Ololade Siyonbola

We work hard because we have someone to answer to. Not only do we need to send money home; our siblings, our mother’s mother, sisters and brothers and their children are all talking about us to their friends. Accountabilty. Family. That is part of the difference. This family not only provides accountability, but also support, wisdom, strength. African Americans are individualistic compared to fresh-off-the-boat Africans, not compared to Europeans. They live in an individualistic society. Not always, but oftentimes, an African American has the option to do with his or her life whatever he or she pleases and tell Mama to “let me live my own life!” It is very rare that an African has this option. Even though Africans kiss whitey’s behind on the job, we detest his individualism. The real Africans do. The lost ones…they try as hard as possible to emulate even his worst traits. An African American is likely to get away with a lesser level of “achievement” than an African is. Who is going to challenge the African American to do beyond his best? Maybe his mother, maybe a community leader if he has one. Who will challenge the African? Every other African.

A tremendous part of this identity is the respect that is crucial to the functioning of the African family machine. Respect for elders is holy territory. Respect for others is also important. In a well oiled African American family, this is the case also. However the African’s definition of respect is much tighter than that of the African American. For Africans, this factor is built into the language, and therefore the culture. For African Americans it is second to a European language of violence and disrespect, so it suffers greatly. African languages have, built in, one way for speaking to elders, parents, etc and one way for speaking to your peers. Our languages have, built in, customs and behaviors for interacting with each other in a respectful manner, how to reverence and honor our parents and elders and each other. This may seem like a minute piece to a larger puzzle, but it is very crucial to the differences between Africans and African Americans because it dictates so much of our behavior. If there is no room in your language or customs for you to curse your mother, you will probably never do it. If there is, you just might. In a language where there is only one word for God, He is likely to be less influential than in a language with ten different words for God.

African Americans might also say that we smell when we first come here. Do we? Be honest. Most newcomers are adjusting to an entirely new environment. New food, new air, new water. All things that affect our bodies tremendously. So don’t forget your deodorant, and chew some gum! You could also eat a pure diet…

Though they do make fun of our accents, it is not really out of malice. The African American soul has been brutalized so violently by it’s oppressors, that it is seeking help—often manifested in negative behavior. We, Africans, are the ones to help heal them as they heal themselves. The African soul has of course also been brutalized. But to a different degree. We had more means to survive this brutality. Language, culture, family. But instead of reaching out, we separate ourselves and cleave to the behinds of the very ones killing us both.

Akatas, if you want peace with Afrikanas, stop trying to get us to do your work for you. Instead work closely with us, so that we can learn from one another. We know that this society is constantly telling you that you will never amount to anything. We don’t agree. Neither would Kunta. Dwell within loyalty. Look at the African sitting next to you as your brother. Decide right this moment that there is nothing you will not do to help him if he needs it. Decide that he is your brother and that you are part of his family. Next time he asks you for something that you are able to provide, don’t assume that he can get it somewhere else. Give it to him. Practice generosity in everything you do. Always try to see how you can give to the next one, be it your time, resources, energy. Next time you go to an African’s house, do not overstay your welcome. Africans believe that charity begins at home. And so does pride. We expect that you should be so proud of the home you come from, that you would rather be there, with your people, than anywhere else. So as much as you will enjoy visiting with us and us with you, please pick up your children to go home eventually. Meditate on RESPECT. How you can honor and reverence every other Black person with whom you come in contact.

Africans, oh Africans! Get your noses out of the air so that you can see your brother standing next to you! African pride is a beautiful thing, and we should never lose it. But it should not be so grave as to keep us from loving one another. Instead of separating ourselves, let us reach out to our distant brothers, so that we may bring them back home. Stop calling African Americans akatas! They are people too. Reach out, reach out, reach out.

This division that has conquered us certainly does not apply only to the Afrikana v. Akata relationship, but also the Afrikana v. Afrikana. In 1884, the European countries went to Berlin to confer, and drew borders all over the map of Africa2. So that today we call ourselves “Nigerian”, “Burkinabe”, “Congolese”. These identities did not exist just over 100 years ago, but now they are the knife that cuts into African unity. As Sudanese events are for the “Sudanese”, Nigerian events for Nigerians, Jamaican events for Jamaicans. Some of my closest alliances have been with people from other African “countries”, nations or “tribes”. Alliances that survived tribal wars and differences that would have torn us apart on the continent. What would happen to Big Oil if from Ghana to Chad to Congo, the governments became one unit and were able to support each other against capitalist policies that devastated their countries? If the battle for oil was fought across borders, against imperialism and not against other civilians, there could be no oil deaths. It would be a done deal. But we don’t even support each other in the Diaspora, so how can we support each other on the continent?

I use the term African American because, as much as I love the word Black and everything surrounding being Black, and acknowledge that Africans and African Americans are both Black, I appreciate that this term—African American—does something to remind those listening of the connection. The connection is Kunta and Lamin Kinte. The connection is in the power of melanin. The connection is Black youths gunned down by NYPD, Black youths gunned down by child soldiers and Black youths tortured by “African” governments. The connection is the slave ship. The connection is being captured in the woods while chopping wood for your drum and being thrown onto a slave ship and being captured in the woods while chopping wood for your fire and being hung from a tree. We are Black. We are African. And of the same bloodline, like it or not. So please, acknowledge the next Afrikan3 you see walking down the street. And when that brother acknowledges you, please respond in kind.□

1) Considering the controversy surrounding the truth of his story as depicted in the book Roots, the date presented is the alleged date surmised by genealogists. The fictional story of Roots is a crucial story regardless.

2) Please see The Scramble for Africa, Chamberlain, M.E., Hong Kong: Longman Group Ltd., 1974.

3) Any person of African Descent.

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romelo February 11, 2010 - 10:44 am

good observation

Violet July 27, 2009 - 12:27 am

Sister, I loved your Article!! I too believe that all people of African descent need to put our differences aside! We did not have a choice to come here so it is very ignorant for some Africans to see us as “lazy”-this is a condition caused from being snatched from OUR culture. We know nothing of OUR background or heritage besides that OUR ancestors were from Africa but YOU do! I wish I Knew where I came from! You also know that the reason why us (African Americans) are here is because the Americans were Allowed to take us by our Own people.

I love African people but it hurts me to know that some of them have this type of view about me because my ancestors were Allowed to be kidnapped from their homes. Although I want to visit Africa I am a bit leery..personally because I feel my presence would not be wanted there.

But it puzzles me….If Africans were taught to be soo respectful

why do they start speaking another language when African Americans

come around, when they speak very good English..Is that not disrespectful?!

Jamara Newell November 21, 2008 - 3:47 pm

Reasonably written, sort of hard to gather the thesis, though I think I grasped and understand it. The tension were rather understated and while accurate from the African perspective inaccurate from the African American perspective. In any a good one I find uplifting in a sense, as Black man who sees himself as Black first I hope Africans wherever they lie contribute to each other prosperity in anyway they can.

abboss November 2, 2007 - 6:49 pm

Execellent but most Nigerians do not set out to disrespect anyone including African American until you get to port of entry and you are unlucky to be attended to by African American Immigration Officer or Custom operative. Or still when you eventually report at your workplace. A helpless immigrant will relate to whoever offer him or her reliefs therefore it is not a matter of 'kiss white behind' but simply reacting to the hostility from members of your own color. Africans were brutalized by the lost of their kins over 400 years only to have a chance to reunite with them but met with hostilities and insults. You will gavitate towards those who assist you to survive rather than to those who blame you for everything wrong in the world. I am as clueless as any African American as to what exactly happened over 400 years ago but I will hold you responsible to what you do or say to me today.

Oloruntoba September 1, 2007 - 2:41 am

What do they teach black students in high schools about black history? slavery.. white folks have made african-americans believe that they were sold by their african brothers into slavery in exchange for wealth.

caucasians are doing everything possible to make africa and africans look bad ..ever watch africa on cable news? Flights, communications, banking and resource management relations to africa is deliberately made expensive.

I have taken blacks back to africa to see what africa is really like (not the CNN VERSION)…. SOME cried.

African-americans have been blinded. The key to their success is africa but they dont realize it.

African media companies are even making matters worse. Why not project the image of africa from africa? God dam it ! any station like CNN in africa.. we need CNN like media in africa that will counter all the nonsence whites folks put on the screen for the world to see…..

abm1900@mail.ru August 27, 2007 - 9:48 pm

Rukiyat, I think that you can develop this article into a book. Please make it a point of duty to do it. I have no doubts in my mind that it's going to make a big impact on African-Americans especially. And that could be the beginning of Africa's Renaissance.

Ejiro August 25, 2007 - 1:15 pm

I have to say that this is an excellently written piece. I disagree though that the differences btw Afican Aericans and Africans in America is due to to any kind of manipulation by outside people. Sure the media plays a HUGE part, but mostly, I think it is due to a massive cultural differences. same thing that White American's have with Europe and the UK. It is romantic to think we are all the same fundamentally becase we are black, but that is puttin too much substance behind the race issue. culture, upbringing and tradition play a bigger part than that and the truth is.. 4oo hundred years after the fact, being black, is almost the only thing we have in common any more. As for slavery, the slave hunters were not simply"allowed" to hunt for their human treasure. They were fought ..EVERY SINGLE STEP.. of the way, with battle and wars that are now legendary in Benin, yoruba, dahomian history among others. think exciled kings, manslughter and mass graves. Of course their was the occassional slime bags who sold aslaves to the strangers, but that is the exception, not the rule.

mumu August 24, 2007 - 6:24 pm

when will rukus akinola stop hating? write ur own!

JP August 24, 2007 - 4:54 pm

You know what, there are similar issue here in the UK between Africans vs Afro Caribbeans. There is tension amongst us here, however from what I see its mainly amongst the older generation. The younger generation generally get on fine.

A majority of what you said though does apply here in the UK

Farahly August 24, 2007 - 2:08 pm

As usual Ruka your woeds are captivating. you have a way with words that a lot of people should envy. It's good you are telling people where the problem came from. Being that the African Diaspora is under Capitalist constraints ou need to let them know how to own there own businesses and most importantly those who do not own to patronize the worldwide African businesses. read "Capitalist Nigger" we'll talk muah luv your work. <3

Joan Lyons August 23, 2007 - 8:36 pm

A very interesting article,well written.

Paul I. Adujie August 23, 2007 - 11:24 am

The point about unity between continental Africans and all peoples of African descent is an excellent one.

Africans UNITE!

Thank you madam!

Most sincerely,

Paul Adujie

Julius August 22, 2007 - 10:14 am

Nice piece, but how long are we going to blame the whites for our situations. I see this as a defeatist concepts that will lead to no good. Yes the Israelites were brutalized by the Egyptians guess what today Egypt can't stand the Israel, so also was Germany determined to eradicate Israel, guess what instead of keeping their ends crossed and blaming Egypt and Gemany for the condition they took their destiny in their hands. Enough of whites did this and that, we can make a difference, and we can start by stop blaming others. Enough of self pity.

Anonymous August 22, 2007 - 8:59 am

Abenyo, if you still haven't gotten it, then you never will.

Akinola aka "house n*gger". If all you can harp about is the fact that one of the facts she made involved your massers then it shows how small minded you are.

Rukayat, your writeup was excellent and struck home. Thank you.

Abenyo August 21, 2007 - 8:12 pm

And what exactly was that point?

abm1900@mail.ru August 21, 2007 - 5:22 pm


What an excellent piece. As a matter of fact, all your articles are excellent pieces and thought-provoking. You are a good and talented writer. I have no doubts about it that you will go places as a writer. You have a promising writing career awaiting you.

I am also a telecoms. engineer like you. I visited your site and was really impressed with what you are doing. To be honest, without any exaggeration, I am overwhelmed that you are able to do so much at such a young age. Personally, I am very proud of you. More grease to your elbow. I am very much interested in your project(s). Perhaps, I can contribute one way or the other. If you don't mind, could you please contact me through my mail: abm1900@mail.ru. I look forward to hearing from you.

Akinola August 21, 2007 - 3:32 pm

When I thought the writer couldn't write anything worse than the piece she wrote prior, she surprised me!

This latest piece reeks of ignorance and racism (which in itself is a product of ignorance). And it shows that stupidity does come in all skin colors.

But then again, this cast-aside writer is an "Activist" by profession!

I wonder how many degrees from "WHITE EUROPEAN"'s educational institutions are required for a "BLACK AFRICAN" to suddenly realize that "WHITE EUROPEANS" are the enemies to be fought under the banner of ACTIVISM!!!

Omowale August 21, 2007 - 1:52 pm

I loved the article sister. Very powerful! If you read this, please contact me by email as I live in NYC & work with brothers and sisters throughout Africa.

Rosie August 21, 2007 - 12:29 pm

I loved this piece. An excellent review of our differences. To Abenyo, Rukayat was trying to make a point by using those terms.

Abenyo August 20, 2007 - 9:30 pm

You address black American's as akatas in one breath and then advise other Africans not to do the same in another…I don't get it.

Anonymous August 20, 2007 - 9:17 pm

Rukayat, I thank you very much for this wonderful piece. As our elders would say, s/he who hath ears, let him/her listen to the words of wisdom. God bless you!


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