Welcome to the second installment of “Black Girl Magic”. This week’s Magician of the Week is political science freshman, Muslim Student Association Sister’s Coordinator and ITA Digital Media Assistant Fatoumata Ceesay. Her magic is her personal exploration of intersecting African and black identities. Her campus involvement centers on developing community and building bridges with the various multicultural groups on this campus. Listen to her thoughts regarding what the discrepancies between those who identify as black, African and African-American can be and how she identifies herself.
As a self-identified African-American, I’ve often wondered about the difference between Africans, African-Americans and black people. How could there be so much distance between people who look similar, and go through some of the same struggles, at least in America? It occurred to me that the greatest difference between black people and Africans is the history. Black people originated from Africa, but due to the enslavement of their ancestors, the furthest most black people can trace their ancestry to is early American slavery. Unfortunately, black people are not able to connect back to their African roots. In contrast, Africans come directly from Africa. They have the opportunity to experience African values, cultures, beliefs and ancestries. However, the line gets a little blurry when it comes to African-Americans.
In my case, my parents both come from Gambia and I was born in America. I grew up in an African household, but I was exposed to American values as a young child. Furthermore, I don’t feel the natural desire to go back to the “homeland” because as far as I’m concerned, America is home. I’ve been subjected to microaggressions, racism and prejudice because people automatically assume I was black. Even to this day, as I walk the campus of UW-Madison, I can feel the stares of people who see my dark skin and put me in their dark-equals-black category, without any regard to what country my family is from, or our culture. Because of the constant misjudgment, I often feel stuck. I’m not fully African, nor am I fully black. It makes me question what exactly African-American means. Every time I go through this period of introspection, my perception changes of the issues around me.
A big part of the Black Lives Matter movement is looking back at what black people have been through, and how not much has changed in today's time. I’ve always thought that because I didn’t share the same history as black people, I’m more of an ally. However, after interviewing fellow freshmen Maame Brewoo, Nasitta Keita, Tashiana Lipscomb and Nyairy Daniels, I’ve realized that I’m still a victim of racism today, and that connects me with the people who have been through this struggle for generations. The common toils between two separate people should create a bridge that binds them together, but sometimes, there is a persistent disconnect that drives them apart. When asked if there was “bad blood” between Africans and black people, all of the ladies claimed that they’ve heard of it; some just haven’t seen anything in action. According to Keita, there is a misunderstanding between the two groups, due to a difference in culture which, in turn, creates conflict. Lipscomb claims that there is a general lack of people wanting to understand the different cultures. I can definitely understand the lack of an attempt on both sides. When some of my family members (who are African) talk about black people, it’s usually in disbelief because of how they live their lives. I feel like I have to defend black people around them, because my family doesn’t understand issues like the Black Lives Matter movement. Although I can’t say this about every African out there, I know there are some who just can’t be bothered with learning about what black people have to go through.
General misunderstanding also makes talking about certain problems a concern, such as appropriation. I personally don’t think black people can appropriate African culture, but time and time again I’ve had to defend my views from Africans who feel like they can. Generally, the four ladies I interviewed agree that black people cannot appropriate African culture, because it is a way for black people to feel closer to a home they were taken from. Brewoo claims, “there’s a very blurred line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, but historically we’re from the same place,” which makes African culture impossible for black people to appropriate. Lipscomb added that Africans don’t gain anything from cultural appropriation, nor do they receive credit (in contrast to white people “creating” looks like cornrows, or making bindis “look cool”), which is why black people cannot appropriate African culture.
I often feel like an outsider looking into my own family because of my liberal views. Nonetheless, I still know exactly where I come from, and even though I may not be fully African, I still have my family’s African values and traditions passed down to me, which is something black people were deprived of in America. Daniels expressed her sadness in not knowing where she came from, and expressed her interest in finding out, but doing ancestry research takes time and money. However, I don’t think she has lost anything from not knowing where her ancestors originated, because black people have created an enriched culture for themselves, which is important. Overall, there’s a gap between both groups of people who share similarities, but I feel like that gap can be narrowed. All it takes is that first step in the right direction. Whether that will happen now or later is up to each individual. I may not be fully one or the other, but I know some parts of me resonate with both groups of people.