Akata or African Booty Scratcher? Appreciating the differences and Building on Commonalities

The term “African Booty Scratcher” might mean very little to many ethnic groups in the United States, but to young African immigrants in New York City and many other city with a high concentration of African immigrants, it holds meaning that reflects on discrimination they experience from their African-American counterparts. On the other hand, the word “Akata” is a word commonly used by Africans to refer to African-Americans. The word loosely translated from its Yoruba origin means a wondering cat without a home. These two terms, in their literal translation summarize the tension that exists between African American and African immigrants in the New York City, and in other metropolis regions in the United States.

Mostly young people in both groups feel the effect of these terms as they try to find ways of living together in the same communities, going to the same schools, and facing similar prejudices. It will not be uncommon for young Africans, during their years in school, or as they learn to assimilate/survive in America, to be called an “African Booty Scratcher” (which is derived from the film “The Gods Must Be Crazy”). On the other hand, Africans will refer to African-Americans as the wondering cat, “Akata” In highly African concentrated areas like the Bronx and Staten Island, the two communities do not often see eye to eye, which not only affects their development, but it makes it harder for any type of assimilation to take place. They might have different cultural identities and practices, but at the end of the day, they are facing a similar struggle with economic independence and social mobility. These two groups that are more or less identified by the same race and face the same types of discrimination based on the color of their skin and their broken relationship makes them ineffective forces both in politics and economics in national affairs.

Nesbit Njubi in his article “African Intellectuals in the Belly of the Beast: Migration, Identity and the Politics of Exile” points out that both African immigrants and African Americans face the same stereotypes. One of the glaring examples for this is the shooting of Amadou Diallo in 1999. Diallo, a 23-year old Guinean immigrant was on his way home from a meal with a family member when he was confronted by four street-clothed policemen and gunned down right in front of his apartment in the Bronx.  He had been mistaken for a rape suspect. Obviously the policemen did not stop to ask him if he was African or African-American.  Even though the shooting brought both communities together to protest this outright discrimination, it was not long until the tensions returned. As an article in New York Times pointed out in 2009, a couple years after the shooting of Diallo, the post-9/11 environment was not friendly to African immigrants, especially those originating from Islamic countries. Zain Abdullah, an assistant professor of religion, race and ethnicity at Temple University, attributes this tension to the deep seated psychology affects of the slavery and the separation of African-Americans from what they term as their homeland. He states “many African-Americans feel that the influx of Africans coming in represents a kind of invasion. Culturally, African-Americans have always imagined themselves as Africans, or at least of African descent, but they might have never encountered Africans from the continent. The actual encounter is shocking.” While this might hold some truth, it does not give the whole picture as to why two groups who are identified in the same race are hostile towards each other.

So the question  is can these two groups learn to appreciate their differences, and learn from each other, while building each other up on things that they do have in common? African and African Americans come from different experiences. Their historical trajectories are not similar, yet, they can find commonalities in fighting for both economic and social mobility in their communities. They could learn to appreciate that whether you eat fried chicken or chicken stew, it is all essentially chicken.


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