Both of my Grand Fathers were in the US Air Force. One actually flew fighter planes in the second world war against the german army, the Luftwaffe. He was BLACK. In my family there are 6 doctors, one Graduate from M.I.T, and a surgeon to top it off. We are fiercely proud of our achievement.
I lived in an all-Black American upper middle class neighborhood where my neighbors and friends were of similar pedigree. My neighborhood buddies and I all played the same games and acted the same way it was an all American upbringing. UNTIL a new family moved across the street into the new house in our modern upper crust subdivision. They were different, they had the same skin color as us but there accent wasn’t familiar. They were from a place called “Uganda “, they wore colorful patterns and the parents were extremely hospitable to the neighborhood.
This is where the “Miseducation of Black Americans” occurred for me and many of our people.
My first visual reference to “ Uganda “ came by the way of a Black wrestler in the World Wide Wrestling Federation known as the WWF by the name of Kamala. He was 6 feet 8 inches tall and weighed well over 450 pounds. He wore face paint and made grunt noises like he was an animal from the jungle. Never mind that his name was James Harris and was from Mississippi and was a black man. That was my first introduction to Uganda through a Black wrestler who pretended to be a savage African who also made a mockery of Africans and Ugandans in particular.
After watching “Kamala “grunt and make guttural noises and speak in a click language. As a Black American child we quickly disassociated ourselves with anything African. We attributed anything wild and savage with Africa and Ugandans to our new neighbors who were the total opposite of Kamala. BUT as a child who doesn’t have the maturity to understand the differences we placed our ignorance above their humanity. Names like “African Booty Scratcher”, “Dirty African”, “Child Soldier” and “Swamp Runner” were used to demean them.
My friends and I were the worst ambassadors to help bridge the gap between Black Americans and Africans in the diaspora. Even we (Black Americans) had to deal with the hostility directed at us through the majority white schools that we attended where we were made to feel inadequate and different. The negative energy we received from the teachers, the administrators and the principals manifested in our own self-hatred of being who we were, “Black Americans”. This type of negative energy drives some Black Americans to deny their very roots. “Why would I want to be Black? Everyone hates us”.
That type of thinking drove my friends and me to make fun of our African brothers and sisters in our neighborhood which caused many fist fights and causing our families to disassociate with each other. As we grew up we attended the same high schools where other Black Americans made fun of their clothing choices.
To my African brothers let me explain this, we (Black Americans) sometimes have a warped sense of thinking. We think if you’d wear expensive shoes like “Air Jordan’s” or purchase designer clothing like “POLO” that then we’d be accepted, and it would protect us from ridicule. We were made to feel intellectually inferior in school so the only avenue for feeling better about ourselves were clothing.
As we made our way through high school I watched them (Ugandans) achieve academic brilliance while everyone else continued to dress well. Their clothing choices were not the best quality but their academic achievements soared, they were proud of it despite their cousins (Black Americans) making fun of them. It became a grudgingly respect in our neighborhood between their families and the Black Americans. I don’t know what happened to my Ugandan neighbors, I wish they could know me now as an adult because I am conscious about my roots.
Sadly many Black Americans and Africans can never get over this dispute between distant cousins. A lot harbor these feelings into adulthood. Fortunately my thinking of my African roots became more profound when my mother uncovered my family history. She mapped the first person in our family to wash ashore to America in the early 1800’s. That was where my Ancestral history stopped, we didn’t know his African name but he was a male at the age of 28. That was my confirmation, it showed me that over 200 years ago someone from a West African tribe was my forefather. At that point the images of Africa as a desolate, starving, war mongering and inhabitable place ceased to exist. I wanted to know more about what my family lost and how it can be regained. Luckily we took a DNA test and found out that my family is “Nigerian “. It may be just on a piece of paper but my life has a point of origin.
I really wish I could apologize for my ignorant statements towards my neighbors and other Africans I offended. Refusing to acknowledge your Blackness or African roots is a way of self-hatred that many Black Americans unknowingly participate in.
My friends who were with me as we said horrible things to our Ugandan brothers and sisters acknowledged their stupidity. When you don’t know your history or your family, ignorance is your best ally. I can now claim that I am no longer ignorant, my cloak has been lifted. I was a son of slaves who built America, I am a Black American, an African and now I am Nigerian and I will never be embarrassed to admit it. I just wish I could find my ex neighbor to apologize.