Black Americans and Africa

Disclaimer: this is a bit of a departure from what I normally write, but I wasn’t sure what other platform to use to pose this question, so here you go.

When most Kenyans find out I’m a mzungu, which typically refers to a white person but in my case means an American, a lot of whispering and pointing usually ensues. Why? Because it’s very rare for them to encounter what they call Black Americans. In fact, we’ve been places where people have never personally met a Black American before. I find it funny when I hear missionaries say that they’re going places where the people have never seen a white face before, because it’s actually even more rare that they would see a face like mine, that of a Black American.

I’ve only been in three African countries so far, but in my experience, the African people are exceedingly willing to embrace us. In Kenya, once people get over their amusement at having met a Black person they thought was Kenyan but speaks like a mzungu, they generally welcome me to Kenya, claim it is my new home, invite me into their home, and call me their sister.

Kenyans love Black culture and they know loads more about it than I do. Take any matatu (bus) in Nairobi and the last sound you’ll hear before you go deaf from the loudspeakers will be that of some Black American rap, hip hop, gospel, or R&B artist. Even the decor in the bus, if not football (soccer) themed, will include images of Tupac, Biggie, and Bob Marley (I know he’s Jamaican, but they love them some island folk too). They like to copy the language they hear in our music and movies, and they love playing with my hair (I’m a 4a and that’s not as common here as 4c).

My question is, why as a Black culture don’t we embrace our African counterparts as readily? Why don’t we know very much about their cultures? Why don’t Black people vacation here? I know that as a people we’re not known for traveling overseas with our families for vacation and whatnot, but still, I don’t see traveling to Africa on any Black Americans’ bucket lists.

Why is it when people sign up for mission trips to African countries the majority of the people are any shade of color but brown? I went to South Africa in 2006 with a large team of nearly 50, and there were only about five people of color excluding myself. That’s it. I love being able to partner with all people of every race and serve the Lord, but I’m confounded as to why my people aren’t more involved in missions.

To me, especially when it concerns missions, it would seem like we are an ideal people group to connect with Africans. The simple fact that they generally have a keen interest in our culture, we share a skin color with them and could possibly have common ancestors (a number of people I meet joke that I could possibly be from their tribe, though the consensus is that I’m pretty much a Luhya – that’s Ray’s tribe – because I have the calves and the bone structure of a Luhya 😉 ). I know that part of my family history on my dad’s side goes back to Madagascar, but there could be a number of connections anywhere! That’s incredibly exciting to me.

Now, some Kenyans and even white missionaries who have been here for many years have also asked me “Why don’t more of you guys come over here?” Some have suggested that Black people might be embarrassed to associate with Africans because of the stereotypically well advertised poverty situation that plagues the continent. They feel that Black Americans have established their lives elsewhere, so they don’t want to be reminded of where they come from. Maybe they just want to move on and forget the continent that birthed their ancestors, but they fail to see the beauty the lies in the people, landscape, food, and culture of this place. Africa is so much more than media portrays. So much more.

Personally I believe the socioeconomic status of the Black population in America has a lot to do with it and that, as I mentioned before, we’re not a traveling race because we can’t usually afford to travel. Even so, savings accounts are great when it comes to saving up for vacations and most mission trips involve fund raising opportunities, so the financial burden isn’t as great as it may seem. If you eliminate the financial factor, I believe a great number of Black Americans would be more willing to come, but there is still a large sub-population that could care less. I just want to know why.

Let me just put one more thing out there. Black Americans have a really great advantage when it comes to engaging in cultural activities and the like around here. People don’t know you’re not Kenyan unless you speak. Game reserves, hotels, and most businesses like to charge “special” prices for wazungus (the plural form of mzungu). They see the skin color, and the price can automatically be raised to double or even quadruple the actual cost. Because my husband’s Kenyan, I usually just walk alongside him, speak the little Swahili I know, and people naturally assume I’m Kenyan and charge me the Kenyan price. It’s pretty nice.

I think I could go on and on with reasons why I believe Black people should come to Africa, but maybe you can save me some time and help me out.

What do you think?

10 Replies to “Black Americans and Africa”

  1. Kelly

    Great post! There is a running joke here that i am “black american” because i speak quite a bit of swahili and have somewhat assimilated into the culture though my skin in obviously white. It is a super interesting perspective for your to have though, and i enjoy hearing about it more.

    • Sambrosia Wasike Post author

      Ha! That’s awesome, Kelly. It’s really cool that you’re adapting to the culture so well. I’m trying to give you a run for your money in the Swahili area, but you are in Tanzania, so I’m sure we’ll still struggle to understand each other. Ray said when he went there last year, he even couldn’t catch everything guys were saying.

  2. Michaela

    I love the idea! When I went to Ecuador last year, we went to area called Esmeraldas. Half of the region is black, so I looked like a native. Black people speaking Spanish was a bit of a shock to me. A couple times when I wasn’t right with my group, people thought I was from Esmeraldas. At first they didn’t believe me when I said my family was from the US!
    As far as why black americans don’t visit Africa, I tend to agree a little with the missionaries. Most of the students I work with are black and for the girls, they don’t like being dark. In fact, one of them has told me she wished she was lighter. So possibly, associating with Africa could be a negative thing for them.
    Personally, I would like to go someday. My aunt also is trying to vacation there in the next couple years. For me it’s just really expensive and God has opened that door yet.

    • Sambrosia Wasike Post author

      I hope He does open the door for you someday, Michaela. It’s truly a wonderful place. Where is your aunt going?

    • Sambrosia Wasike Post author

      Hehe, it’s a type of hair classification system. If you Google it you should be able to find a number of charts on it. There’s even a couple books at the Salina Public Library that have information on it!

  3. Tihi

    Good point! I remember when Dave was in Bulgaria and my uncles car broke and we had to find a shop on the road the moment they heard Dave speak in English they charged us quadruple the price of what it actually would have cost to fix the car.

    • Sambrosia Wasike Post author

      Yeah, it’s so sad that people do that, but America has really flaunted to the world that we’re a rich country, so anytime we go anywhere, people expect that we have loads of money.

      Even when Ray and I first came back to the States, everyone thought we had so much money and asked us for loans, it was just a given to them that we’d come back loaded. Little did they know we were totally broke. haha. They soon discovered the truth.

  4. Yulunda G.

    Hello Beautiful Soul!

    I am longing to take my immediate family to Africa. The challenge right now for us is making the financial commitment. Especially knowing they may get wind of me being Black American and bump up the prices.

    But, God knows the desires of my heart and I trust that He will ultimately drive us there.

    And, I cannot wait!

    • Sambrosia Wasike Post author

      Amen, sis. At least you have the desire and I’m sure God will grant you the desires of your heart in due time. Blessings!


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