When Anthony Eromosele Oigbokie came to America in 1960, he heard racial slurs – not from Klansmen in white
sheets – but from dashiki-wearing blacks.
"Just because African-Americans wear kente cloth does not mean they embrace everything that is African," says Oigbokie, a
Nigerian business owner in Tampa. "I caught a lot of hell from the frat boys" at Tuskegee University, a historically black
college in Alabama.
"They were always trying to play with my intelligence. This was a time when folks were shouting, "Say it loud: I'm black and
I'm proud.' Yet, when I called someone black, they would say, "Why are you so cruel? Why are you calling us black?' If they
saw me with a girl, they would yell to her, "What are you doing with that African?' "
Three decades later, not much has changed. Africans and black Americans often fail to forge relationships in the classroom
and the workplace. They blame nationality, ethnicity, culture, economics and education.
complexion does not equal a shared culture, nor does it automatically
lead to friendships," says Kofi Glover, a native of Ghana and a
political science professor at the University of South Florida.
"Whether we like it or not, Africans and African-Americans have two
different and very distinct cultures."
"That's a fallacy," retorts Omali Yeshitela, president of St. Petersburg's National People's Democratic Uhuru Movement, a
black nationalist group whose name means "freedom" in Swahili. Yeshitela is from St. Petersburg and was formerly known as
Whether blacks live on the Ivory Coast or the Atlantic Coast, Yeshitela contends, "we're all the same. There are no cultural
differences between Africans and African-Americans."
Na'im Akbar, a psychology professor at Florida State University, sides with Glover. "The only way we'll ever begin to
appreciate each other is to recognize and embrace our cultural differences," says Akbar, who was born in America.
Slavery is the tie that binds, but the legacy also keeps the two groups apart.
Some local blacks argue the closest they've ever come to Africa is Busch Gardens. The fact that African leaders profited
from selling others is a betrayal many blacks refuse to forgive or forget.
"A lot of us do harbor a lot of hostility toward Africans," says Tampa poet James Tokley. "Many Africans have no idea what
our ancestors endured during slavery."
Glover agrees that while some Africans suffered under colonial rule and apartheid, not all can relate to the degradation of
In Ghana, he says, "we did not experience white domination like the Africans in Kenya, Zimbabwe or South Africa. We do
not understand the whole concept of slavery, or it's effect on the attitude of a lot of African-Americans, mainly because we
were not exposed to it. To read about racism and discrimination is one thing, but to experience it is something else."
Much bad blood stems from interactions between Africans and whites, Oigbokie says. For example, he ate at some segregated
restaurants in the 1960s.
"A lot of African-Americans were upset that white people would serve me but not them," he says. "They felt the system gave
us better treatment than it gave them."
Many black Americans are ignorant about Africans, Oigbokie adds. They share comic Eddie Murphy's joke that Africans "ride
around butt-naked on a zebra."
"They think we want to kill them so that we can eat them," Oigbokie says, laughing. "I remember a black person once asked
me if I knew Tarzan. I told him, "Yes, he is my uncle."
Glover, who also teaches African studies at USF, says these perceptions are rooted in "all the negative things we've been
taught about each other."
"A lot of African-Americans were taught that Africa was nothing more than just a primitive, backward jungle from whence
they came," he says. Meanwhile, Africans have picked up whites' fear of blacks. "Our perception of African-Americans is
that they are a race of people who carry guns and are very, very violent."
Africa's tribal wars oftentimes mirror black-on-black violence in America, and some ask how is it possible to form friendships
with all this intra-racial friction.
"I have seen us come together in great magnificence," Yeshitela says, citing, as an example, Marcus Garvey, founder of a
back-to-Africa movement in the 1920s. "He was very successful in bringing about the unity of African people."
Africans admire the American struggle for civil rights. Yet, when some come to America and discover black is not so
beautiful, they insist on maintaining a separate identity.
"When indigenous African people come to the United States, they adopt an attitude of superiority … about individuals who
could very well be of their own blood," Tokley says.
Some African customs,such as female circumcision, shock Americans. Other traditions have been forgotten, or, in the case of
Kwanzaa, invented in America.
Africans tend to have a strong patriarchal system, with differences in attitudes about family and work.
"The women's liberation movement has barely caught up to Africa," says Cheikh T. Sylla, a native of Senegal and the
president of a Tampa architecture firm.
"That's why I think many unions between African men and African-American women don't tend to last. Most
African-American women are like, "I'm not going to put up with the notion that you are the absolute head of the household,' "
says Sylla, who does not mind his American wife's feisty ways.
Sylla says he's baffled by blacks' unwillingness to take advantage of America's many opportunities and their willingness to
blame most problems on race.
"When most Africans come here, their first priority, by and large, is education," he says. "Right here you have a tool that
allows you to open doors within American society.
"There was no king in my family or any other type of royalty in my
lineage. I had to work to earn every single penny I own, and it was
brutal. The African-American experience is so profound that at times I
don't think I can appreciate it. I understand it must be recognized as
a matter of history, but it cannot be held as a justification to one's
inability to succeed."
In 1990, the median household income of an African immigrant was $30,907, according to the Center for Research on
Immigration Policy in Washington, D.C. That compares with $19,533 for black Americans.
Africans who immigrate to the United States come largely from the educated middle class of their countries. The research
center reports 47 percent are college graduates and 22 percent have a professional specialty. Only 14 percent of black
Americans graduate from college.
"Most of the friction between African people centers around the class
issue," Yeshitela says. He says when blacks and Africans fight over
jobs, they are buying into a conspiracy to keep them at odds. "I don't
like the artificial separations that won't allow the two of us to get
together. It is not in our best interest to always be at each other's
throat." Especially since the two groups are in the same boat now,
"If you visit Nigeria or Ghana, the masses of the people are locked in the same circumstances as poor African-Americans,"
he says. "Both groups seem content to do nothing other than what they are currently doing.
"However, the denial among Africans comes from living in a place where
all the bodies that surround them look the same as they do. That makes
it easier for them to fail to see that the folks who are controlling
the whole economy of Nigeria are the oil barons – and they don't look
anything like (black) Africans."
Another point of contention, Akbar says, is that blacks appreciate
their heritage more than Africans do. "We have to convince them to
preserve the slave dungeons in Ghana or to continue the weaving of the
kente cloth." Tours to Africa are booming. Feeling rejected at home,
many middle-class blacks turn to Africa, Yeshitela says. "But in the
final analysis, culture won't free you. Any ordinary African will tell
you a dearth of culture is not the source of our affliction.
"We're faced with a situation where 3 to 10 percent of the total trade in Africa happens in Africa. The rest is exported from
Africa. The future of all black-skinned people centers in Africa. That is our birthright and someone else has it. The struggle
we have to make lies in reclaiming what is rightfully ours."