Who is the African Diaspora and Why and When Distinctions Are Necessary
I’ve been to two events in Washington D.C. recently where they called for a conversation with the “African diaspora” only for me to get there and they are talking about Black Americans instead of the 1, 1.5 and 2nd generation African immigrants that I personally identify with.
There is no doubt that both groups are part of the larger global African diaspora, but for the purposes of coming together to discuss engagement and policy, it’s essential that the distinction is made in order to have more effective and focused discussions. This nuance does not separate us, but rather allows for more targeted outreach campaigns and engagement policies.
Historically, the African diaspora has been those of African descent, whose ancestors were bought and kidnapped from the African continent and transported all around the world to build up colonial empires. From the complicated history of Liberia, to Marcus Garvey’s Back to Africa Movement, to the symbiotic relationship between the Civil Rights Movement in the US and decolonization in Africa, there is no denying the continued ties of the historical African diaspora with the African continent.
Alternatively, we also have the more contemporary African diaspora that grew rapidly throughout the 70s and 80s and boomed in the 90s. The diaspora came from across the continent for various reasons including education, fleeing crisis such as droughts and conflicts, and rampant unemployment due to the effects of IMF and the World Bank’s structural adjustment policies in the region. African immigrants to the U.S. carved out communities for themselves throughout the U.S., notably the Ethiopian/Eritrean community in Washington DC and the Senegalese community in New York City.
Another notable African diaspora in the US are Afro-Caribbeans. Citizens of countries like Haiti, Barbados, and Jamaica, that are predominantly Black, are also certainly part of the African diaspora. After all, Haiti took steps to become a member of the African Union; although they were denied, they still maintain their observatory status in the organization. Even Brazil, and other Latin American countries, has a vibrant African diaspora — both recent and historical — that can trace their origins all the way back to specific cities along the West African coastline. In fact, they’ve preserved their culture so well, Tomi Adeyemi, author of Children of Blood and Bone — a novel inspired by Black Lives Matter, was able to travel to Brazil to learn about Yoruba religious tradition.
While we might relish the nuances of these distinctions, it should be noted that police — and others — don’t discriminate based on nationality — something that became glaringly clear when unarmed 23-year old Amadou Diallo was shot by 4 NYPD 41 times and they were later acquitted of all charges. His family has since set up a scholarship fund that bears his name from the 3 million dollar settlement they won against the city of New York.
Just as Black Americans, Afro-Caribbeans, and Afro-Latinx are very much part of the fabric of the larger African diaspora, contemporary African immigrants are also a growing fabric of the American landscape. Many 1.5 (came here as children) and 2nd generation African immigrants, also find themselves moving easily between the various diaspora communities in the US and their countries of origin. Despite what the French government might think, members of the African diaspora can certainly move between and belong to various communities, nationalities and identities at the exact same time.
The point is that the African diaspora is vast and extremely varied. It’s a beautiful thing to behold. And more often than not, coming together — regardless of our cultural or historical ties to the African continent — is needed and uplifting. When we gather for celebrations, supporting each other’s movements, and preserving our shared heritages — these distinctions are not quite so necessary. For example, all members of the global African diaspora are a critical part of the growth of Africa. Conflating the groups is not an issue when we talk about Pan-Africanism, Afropolitan and other terms and ideologies that simply call for us to be united in moving our causes and communities forward, because those are all inextricably tied.
When our communities gather for events like AfroPunk, Pan-African Weekend, the Black Love Experience and other such events, it doesn’t matter if you came from the continent yesterday or if you came 300 years ago. As the saying goes, “We are all African” and it doesn’t matter where you fall in the spectrum of the African diaspora.
But when it’s time to talk about the details and put the logistics into place, it’s absolutely essential to be clear which group you are talking about. The largest onus goes to organizations like the African Union, particular from a communications and policy perspective. How you approach and interact with the recent African diaspora is vastly different from how you should engage with Black Americans and even Afro-Caribbeans and South Americans. The various groups have different ties and thus different sentiments and priorities towards the African continent. When it’s time to talk logistics of African development and changing Africa’s narrative, the priorities and personal experience of these groups are so vastly different that you couldn’t do justice to any by trying to lump them all together. These groups have varying associations with Africa and the messaging and activities that work for one group will be of no interest to the other. Any policy to engage the “African diaspora” would be significantly more effective were they focused and geared towards specific groups, as opposed to the general and global African diaspora.
As mentioned already, there will be times to convene as a global African diaspora to discuss how the different groups in the African diaspora can work together for the good of their various communities and for the continent as a whole — the recent events I attended were just not those forums. Rather, they were washed down conversations because each group had their own agenda and who the organizers were trying to discuss with was confusing at best. Before conversations that call the various diasporas together can be effective, each group must decide what its priorities and needs are, how to work together in their communities and how to engage with other communities — and those are conversations that are better discussed in smaller, focused circles.
So yes, let’s have convenings where we gather as Pan-Africans committed to similar goals and celebrating our heritage, but when it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get work done, we must clearly identify which diaspora we are talking about, otherwise, we’ll continue sending out vague messages and pulling in halfhearted participants in Africa’s growth.
Planning a gathering for Africans in the diaspora? How do you typically market it and who are you trying to target with the terms you use?
*All photos from the 2018 Black Love Experience.