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We’ve all got some superpowers but what do we do with them?

As an African living in America, the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of my condition are the challenges I face living in a host country. There are some relatively  minor problems like the  deciphering the myriad of euphemisms that pepper the speech of the average American, and  then there are major issues such as lack of comprehensive immigration reform and astronomical out of state tuition fee’s students deemed “non-resident” have to pay for university. With these and other issues to maneuver, it is easy to get caught up in the negative and adopt an underdog mentality which comes with feeling that the odds are stacked against you. On the other hand, there is a phenomenon that is present in certain situations, one that for illustrative purposes and also in order to sound cool and hip I will call “African Privilege.” What is “African privilege” you ask? Well it is the privilege of being black, but not African-American in the United States– A circumstance that often excludes Africans from the certain challenges that African-Americans face in America today. One in which Africans experience a more patronizing type of racism, but is still racism nonetheless.

One situation where “African privilege “pervades is in social settings. Somehow due to our foreignness and therefore supposed exoticness, Africans have somehow become an in-between for white people who might ordinarily be uncomfortable with black people. There is the famous anecdote in Stanley Meisler’s Kofi Annan: A Man of Peace in a World of War Personally, where Kofi Anan the Ghanaian former UN secretary general, is refused a haircut as a student by a white barber in Jim-crow era south because as the barber put it, “I do not cut nigger hair” Kofi Annan replied “I am not a nigger, I am an African” And the story ends uncomfortably with Dr. Annan getting his hair cut. There are also opinion pieces that I see online with growing frequency like this and this that carry the general attitude that being African makes the pill of black easier to slower for whites. Personally, there have been instances where being African and not just “regular black” has made me acceptable. I have noticed a change of expression on the faces of relatives of my white friends when their sons and daughters made it clear that I was African. People sometimes assume that I am more well-mannered and harder working and even smarter because of my heritage.  While I’d like to think that their assumptions are simply fact, I know that it comes from a generalization that many have of Africans. These generalizations are based in truth. There is a culture of discipline that some Africans and foreigners in general embody, and it is one that I am rather proud of. Examples of “African excellence” like this and this which highlight the hard working spirit and general awesomeness of Africans, are sources of inspiration and joy to me. But I am aware that these successes are do not simply come with being African, but are results of working hard, and taking advantage of opportunities that are afforded to you. That certainly doesn’t mean that there aren’t lazy Africans, African criminals, or Africans whose GPA’s leave something to be desired. Unlike the image of African-Americans, the image of Africans that is presented is mostly positive.

In America, there is a disconnect between African and African American communities which might stem from our preconceived notions of each other. Some Africans widen this distance by consciously striving to separate themselves from African Americans because we don’t want to be associated with the prejudices that people have against them. In doing so we take on the biases of others as our own, and we perpetuate them. It is important that Africans in America be aware of this privilege, and resist these preconceived notions, notions that are only the result of media representations, systemic racism, and over two hundred years of chattel slavery. There are countless examples of black excellence throughout history and today which buck these notions, and render prejudices against African-Americans false. There have been African American leaders like Dr. Maya Angelou, Marcus Garvey, and Miles Hary Belafonte who stuck their necks out, spoke up and advocated against against African travesties like the apartheid in South Africa. There are organizations like TransAfrica, and USAforAfrica that are championed by African- Americans, and were established to help Africa and its people with socio-economic problems.

It is not unusual to hear an African relative warning a young person not to “become Akata”.  A message that is well-meaning, but also rather foolish. We should all work hard and avoid trouble, but trouble is not limited to a certain race or people. As Africans with this “African privilege” and by extension power, we are in a unique position in which our prejudices often benefit us or make us acceptable in the eyes of others. It is important that we be aware of this power and use it for good. Rather than being bystanders, grateful to not currently be the ones undergoing scrutiny and criticism, Africans in America can be allies to our fellow…I’m going to say it…brothers and sisters. With our supposed plentiful education and rising status in America, we have the power to speak out against the wrongs we see in our current home country.  At the very minimum we can at least not add to the problem by questioning these biases, and refusing to let them mar the way we see people.

  • Amor

    Leticia thank you very much for giving your 2 cents on this issue. I agree that Africans are sometimes treated better which itself is problematic as they are seen as more naïve or helpless. That is why some people in America are willing to go miles away to help poor people in Africa while ignoring the poor black people at their doorstep.

  • Bill

    You’re right. Africans are passive and calming to deal with. They’re trainable and non-threatening at all. Fully incapable of fighting a winning war against colonialism or cultural imperialism. You’re the perfect blacks.

    • Amor

      Africans can’t be generalized, even people within a single African country can’t be generalized. And, Africans in and out of Africa fight colonialism and cultural imperialism in different seen and unseen ways. Even black people in America or from elsewhere can’t be generalized.

    • Deana Besala

      On what basis do you think Africans (too general of a category for you to group people) are passive? Trainable?Non-threatning? You should reevaluate your statement and look up some definitions. Everything stated is highly flawed with no foundaiton.

    • Chinwe

      What an ignorant comment. Africans are not passive, and the idea that we are trainable like dogs, implies the kind of master-servant superiority that is both uninformed, unjustified, and inhumane. The African continent and its Diasporan cousins, including Africans who have left voluntarily and those who left involuntarily, are more diverse and varied than your narrow-minded perception can fathom. If you took the time to read this, and many other posts, you would recognize how this platform is built on the rejection of the that very “single story” and why treating Africans differently form “Black” people is problematic. Ultimately, your comment, and mindset, reaffirm for me, and many other members of the African community, why it is important to have these conversations. We cannot allow outside perceptions of who we are, how we act, and what we are capable of to keep us from living our lives, expressing ourselves, and being African. Feel free to stick around and educate yourself, or find somewhere else to express your hateful speech.