Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

What Does Africa Have to Do with Being American?: U.S. African and European American College Students' Notions of, Knowledge of, and Experiences with Africa

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

What Does Africa Have to Do with Being American?: U.S. African and European American College Students' Notions of, Knowledge of, and Experiences with Africa

Article excerpt

Introduction

Many displaced descendants of Africa (a.k.a. Peoples of the African Diaspora) routinely assert that they feel a strong socioemotional tie and connection to Africa (Magubane 1987; Manning 2009; Iton 2010). African and African American scholars have long asserted this tie and connection exists as a complex multi-layered form of Afrocentrism(s) and longings for Africa, void of any specific substantive knowledge about the histories, cultures, politics, and/or experiences of African Peoples in continental Africa (Ani 1994; Asante 1988 & 2014; Karenga 2010). These kinds of socioemotional ties and connections to Africa have continued to grow and develop, and manifest themselves among displaced descendants of Africa resulting in hybrid forms, and dual identities and personalities (Akbar 1979; Asante 1988; Bacon and McClish 2006; Sellers, Smith, Shelton, Rowley, and Chavous 1998). How, and perhaps why, might displaced descendants of Africa in a place like the U.S.A. (whom consider themselves African Americans) continue to yearn for, identify with, and appropriate Africa? What might these kinds of socioemotional expressions and identifications reveal about characteristics that have to do with being American? How might dominant populations of European Americans in places like the U.S.A. respond to the yearnings, identification with, and appropriation of Africa among those in their country whom consider themselves African Americans?

In this paper, the responses of 30 U.S. African and European American College Students' notions of, knowledge of, and experiences with Africa are explored and examined. Using symbolic interactionism, three focus groups and 30 in-depth interviews were obtained based on preliminary finds of students' understandings of the geography and terrain, and the circumstances and conditions of Africa.

Via interviews, students demonstrated different understandings and perspectives about their experiences with Africa, primarily the impact of slavery in Africa, during The Middle Passage, and in the Americas - specifically slavery's contemporary impact on the lives of U.S. Americans.

U.S. African American Students tended to feel strong socioemotional ties and connections to Africa, void of significant knowledge of Africa and experiences with continental African Peoples. U.S. European American Students tended to lack any significant socioemotional tie or connection to Africa or to U.S. African Americans, but possessed significantly more knowledge and familiarity with Africa and continental African Peoples. U.S. African American Students also tended to empathize with the treatment and experiences of enslaved Africans during The Middle Passage and with slavery in the Americas, however U.S. European American Students tended to sympathize with the brutality against enslaved Africans during The Middle Passage and with slavery in the U.S., but did so with dissolution and abandonment.

While all students decried the inhumanity and brutality of The Middle Passage, U.S. European American Students were unable to connect The Middle Passage and slavery in the U.S. to the contemporary feelings, circumstances, conditions, identities, and experiences of U.S. African Americans. I conclude with some suggestions about how all these students can connect with one another via interrogating their collective decry of The Middle Passage in ways that extend deeper understandings and explanations of how, and perhaps why, U.S. Africans Americans embrace and envision Africa as central to their sociocultural identities, everyday experiences, and hopes for the future (Ani 1994 & 2014, Asante 2015, Karenga 2010).

Literature Review

Normative U.S. educational discourse at all levels has perpetuate negative stereotypes and prejudice for Africa and against African Peoples (Harper 2012; Hershey and Artime 2014). These negative stereotypes and prejudice outline a premise erect on the internalization of racial and ethnic bias manifest in the pervasive constructions of hegemonic dialogue rooted in a mixture of white privilege and classism as merited forms of racial, ethnic, and social class entitlement (Brunsma, Brown, and Placier 2013; Carolissen and Bozalek 2017). …

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