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FunTimes Magazine

The Name African American: Convenience or True Ethnic Identity?

Mar 10, 2016 08:00AM ● By Joseph Warkreh T-Toe
I was born in Africa, Liberia to be specific and I became an America citizen in 1998. Yes I am proud to be an American. But I am also proud of my African roots and identity: language, culture, family, education and all of the anthropological dynamics that helped mold me. My Americanism has in no measure changed or tarnished my Liberian ancestry. If I were to be politically correct, I would have referred to myself as a Liberian American as in Irish American, Italian American, Chinese American, to name a few.

On the contrary, as I and others in this country can strongly lay claim to our ancestry roots, most African Americans have difficulty making similar claim. Small wonder there are some who refuse to accept any anthropological connection to Africa. Indeed, finding themselves in an identity quagmire - they are not white Americans or Native Americans yet they do not want to be labeled as Africans. Even though they may find these labels abhorrent, for social and political expediency, the label African American has become an acceptable compromise since 1977.

According to research, "Many African Americans expressed preference for the term, as it was formed in the same way as names for others of the many ethnic groups in the nation. Some argued further that because of the historical circumstances surrounding the capture, enslavement and systematic attempts to de-Africanize blacks in the United States under chattel slavery, most African Americans are unable to trace their ancestry to a specific African nation; hence the entire continent serves a geographic marker."

However, for a lot of African Americans, putting distance between themselves and Africa seems preferable. Since any association with Africa and its people psychologically evoke the dehumanizing experience of their forebears coupled with the entertainment industry's repeated casting of Africans in derogatory or subhuman roles in film and television, most African Americans find it very difficult to accept Africa as their ancestry root. The movie Tarzan while entertaining, gives credence to that mind-set. Even though Tarzan is white, he is seen as an embodiment of how whites perceive Africans.

Conversely, I remember one of the top television shows in the early 1980s was the epic movie Shaka Zulu. In spite of the dramatic heroics of the lead character, some African Americans failed to extrapolate and digest the message that once there were strong and powerful African kings capable of assembling large armies to rebuff and defeat invasions by the white imperialists.

Sadly, experience showed that the heroics of Shaka Zulu were never a source of pride amongst young African American students but a resource for ridicule towards anyone with an African accent. I knew an African friend at the time in Philadelphia who had a Master's in education and worked with the school district as a substitute teacher. He spoke of how he was called Shaka Zulu and made fun of by the students once they recognized his African accent. How sad!

But thanks to organization like the African Genesis Institute, young African Americans are experiencing reeducation about the positives of their ancestry root. Better yet, the Institute gives them a lifetime first time experience by taking them on an all expense paid visit to Africa at the end of their program.

Besides, here are a few things that African Americans need to learn about Africa: It is the cradle of civilization; Egypt, which is featured prominently in the Holy Bible especially in the old testament, is in Africa; the continent is rich in human and natural resources and unlike what you see on television, there are modern cities like Abidjan, Nairobi, Cairo and Johannesburg.

Thanks to the Institute and other programs the reeducation of the students is yielding overwhelming results. The students' perspective on Africa is nothing short of excitement and enlightenment. I wish there were others investing in the reeducation of young African Americans to combat the negative stereotypes ingrained in so many of our youth.