Opinion: When Cultural Identity Becomes Exclusive*

A note from the author: Akata is often thought of as a racial slur; however, in this context that is not how it is being…

A note from the author: Akata is often thought of as a racial slur; however, in this context that is not how it is being depicted. In this case it is being used as a word the author heard throughout her youth used to describe African Americans in her native tongue. 

 

As a Ghananian bred and raised in the Bronx, NY I can testify to numerous conversations I have heard about “Akatas”, the people of the Diaspora, or African- Americans and their absence of ambition to “better themselves.” Often popular opinion claims that African- Americans are lazy and comfortably reliant on government assistance in order to sustain life or lack thereof. Their mannerisms are often rude, un-friendly and impolite. I could not share the same opinion because my experiences with “Akatas” were very few. I grew up in a neighborhood that fairly represented different nationalities. One of my childhood friends was African-American and she was never rude, un-friendly or impolite. I grew up speaking Twi (one of the national languages in Ghana) and English. I spoke comfortably with my aunts and uncles who lived with me and then I stopped speaking Twi after they left.  From then, I remember my parents spoke to me in English.

Before high school, I did not question my identity or culture. It is not to say that I never experienced discrimination or I wasn’t made fun of. I was, however, even those memories did not initiate a doubt in who I was and where I came from. Thus, entering high school, it was over. I knew exactly who the “Akatas” were in the narratives of my family members’ stories.  To the “akata girls”, I was “African booty scratcher”.  I ate dogs and lived in huts. I shoot darts. My aunt stands in the corner of Harlem saying, “Hair braiding miss.”  I’m sure many Africans can resonate with this. I could not for the life of me befriend these girls from the projects. It was succinctly clear that there was a cultural barrier between us. It also didn’t help that they had nasty attitudes and were so aggressive. The stereotypes of the “Akatas” became “true” to me alas. I completely ignored and denied my culture. I hated being African. In retrospect, how corny was I to let those girls who historically had been removed from their culture make me feel out of place in mine? Needless to say, by sophomore year of  school all these girls started wearing waist beads and dating African guys. Comical.

In January 2015, I relocated to South Africa for my Peace Corps service. I was humbled and honored to find my way to the motherland again. I was so ready to be around black people even if we didn’t speak the same tongue. I discovered that South Africans too thought that I was “Akata” when I couldn’t speak any of their languages. I tried to explain that I was indeed African and my family comes from Ghana. I may not speak their language, but I do have a native tongue other than English. It was my best assumption, they thought I was a “sell-out” and an individual who had forsaken African culture for the “thrills” of Western culture.  I was often confused and thought about W.E.B DuBois’ double consciousness. “This double-consciousness (DuBois, 1903) this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others. One ever feels his twoness, an American, a Negro.”  In this case, I was juggling trying to prove my African culture while wondering why South Africans kept assuming I was “Akata”.

To my fellow Africans, I was one of the “Akatas”.  They struggled to hear the ancestry in my voice and only heard the vernacular of urban culture. I couldn’t speak Twi due to the many years of not speaking at all. When I attempted to, I knew others heard the forced effort in what should be a familiar tongue. I do understand Twi to a certain extent, but I would respond in English and still do. As upsetting as it is, I do my part in trying to reconnect with my culture as much as I can despite what others may think. Thanks to growth, I know better than to EVER NEGLECT my culture. Quite frankly, Ghana jollof steady wins the race.

I use the word “Akata” to merely describe the people of the Diaspora and not as a degrading term. Although, I don’t know how much truth that holds, I will say that it is a divisive word in a sense. I often hear contrasting views on how Africans perceive African Americans. Some have no issue and feel there isn’t any separation. Some may feel indifferent about “Akatas” in claiming ancestry linkage to the continent. Cultural pride may exempt acceptance of African Americans as one of their own.

The word “Akata” can suggest African –Americans are placed in the “others” group. In the same token, if a person of the Diaspora wanted to connect to their ancestral roots, what criteria would suffice to prove “culture legitimacy”? I do think there is a level or respect for the people of the Diaspora to do their own research and acquire knowledge of the continent (outside of Egypt). However, I sometimes think there is not enough respect because of the great difference in our cultures. Separating African Americans from Africans may imply that there is a cultural hierarchy to be held. In reality, one is not better than the other especially when our white counterparts all view us the same. Our opposing perspectives of each other will only continue to deteriorate the future of race lest we inform each other on what we can improve in our black community.

*DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views and beliefs of M-Lifestyle.

By: Priscilla Brown


(M-Lifestyle does not claim ownership of any images used, unless otherwise specified.)


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Comments

  1. King femi says:

    Beautiful piece! I’m sure many Africans and African Americans can relate to this.

  2. King femi says:

    Awesome picee. I am sure many Africans and African Americans can relate to this. We are all one. Just some of us were dispersed and some were not. One love

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