Magazine article New African

Now Is the Time to Put Our Money Where Our Mouths Are. (Diaspora)

Magazine article New African

Now Is the Time to Put Our Money Where Our Mouths Are. (Diaspora)

Article excerpt

Time, distance, history, politics and the media have kept Continental and Diasporan Africans apart in the past, now the two have a tremendous opportunity to get to know one another as never before, reports Leslie Goffe.

If the numbers of African-Americans who wear kente cloth or adopt Swahili and Asante names and visit The Gambia and Ghana is an accurate measure, then African-Americans have finally come to terms with their Africanness. But Continental Africans say it is going to take much more than a change of name and address to bring them and Diasporan Africans closer together.

"African-Americans have changed their generic name from 'Black' to 'African' but they have not really changed from within", says Aminata Coker, a Gambian-born lawyer who now lives in New York city. "They reached out to dismantle colonialism. They reached out to dismantle apartheid," Aminata continues, "but they have not reached out on a one-to-one basis with Continental Africans. I think it is much more a change from within to accept Africa and to let Africa accept you."

Sadly, accepting Africa has meant, for many, simply wearing a kente cloth-style bow tie to a wedding, or sporting a gele headwrap like those made popular by the singer Erykah Badu. The Afrocentric look -- paintings of the pyramids and tapestries depicting legendary African kings -- have become de rigeur in home decorations.

Interest in things African has meant an economic bonanza for the store owners who trade in African artefacts. But Momodu Ceesay, a Gambian visual artist who now lives in Alexandria, Virginia, says African-Americans have developed a love of African trinkets but have not fallen in love with Africans themselves.

"They would rather hang some African artefact on their living room wall, but keep me, the actual African, at arms length," Momodu says with a trace of bitterness.

Momodu, who has lived in the US since the late 1960s, has seen African-American's attachment to Africa ebb and flow. Time, distance, history, polities and the media have perhaps kept the two apart in the past, now Continental and Diasporan Africans, particularly African-Americans, have a tremendous opportunity to get to know one another as never before.

No longer do they need to base their view of one another on the stereotyped images of shiftless, crime-ridden African-Americans seen in Hollywood films or the equally distorted images of disease-ridden, ethnic-obsessed, destitute Africans seen in the morning papers and on the nightly TV news.

That is partly because the number of Continental Africans that emigrated to the US in the 1980s and 90s soared. In the I 980s, numbers went up because the US government increased the number of visas available to Africans through the federal visa lottery system.

Though those numbers are meagre compared to other immigrant groups, they represent a 163.7% increase over four years. From 1976 to 1997, the number of Continental Africans in the US more than quadrupled from 85,000 to 558,000, according to figures from the US Census Bureau.

The largest African community is in New York city, where more than 84,000 Continental Africans have settled, says a study by City University of New York's Queens College.

For the most part, Continental Africans live and do business amongst, but exist separately, from their African-American brothers and sisters.

In New York, for example, large numbers of Continental Africans are living in Morris Heights in the Bronx which has numerous African restaurants; and Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn which has scores of shops selling African foodstuffs, music and newspapers from Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal.

Many more also live in Harlem. The area of 116th Street between Frederick Douglass Boulevard on the west and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard on the east, has recently come to be called "Little Africa". In 125th Street, not far from the famous Apollo Theatre, there are a string of fabric stores owned by Malians and Senegalese. …

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