"I'm not African, my parents are…"

Hello! Welcome back to the Life of An African Girl in America. You’re probably wondering why I’ve started that way- I never start my blogs this way. Just wanted to start different. 

“When I was younger, I always told people, “I’m not African, my parents are…” I told people this because Africans were looked down upon. I used to care about what people thought about me. But as I got older, I stopped caring.” – Sidi Thiam (my 20 year old brother)

Can you read the title again? Okay, cool. So our topic today is interesting in so many ways. You don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say this line: “I am not (insert any ethnicity), my parents are.” In this post though, we’re going to talk about Africans. I hear this more from African youth. In the back of my mind, I really thought things have fully changed. Meaning- our youth have embraced their culture. If you look at people’s social media bios, you will see their country’s flag. Some of the youth I know will put Senegal’s flag in their bio. Some will wear a chain of Africa. Some will dress in their African attire and caption their photo- “for the culture.” All of this is beautiful. It makes me proud because I can see a change.

When I was younger this was not the case. For my Africans who grew up in America, you remember the term- African Booty Scratcher? Oh those days were terrible (if I have triggered you, I am deeply sorry). I almost hated being African when I was younger. I didn’t even have African friends, just cousins who I considered my friends. Fortunately, I grew out of that. I went to school with kids whose knowledge on Africans came from movies, television shows, music, friends, and family members. However, looking at our youth today, I envy them. I envy the fact that they are able to embrace their culture and where they are truly from (IN A GOOD WAY, please don’t come at me). 

Who can we thank for that though? I think growing up, the rise of social media increased a positive perception of Africans. But, we have to also remember the negative views. I won’t touch on that just yet. During middle and high school, I had a Facebook account. But I never saw “positive views” of Africans. I was a different child. This was before I was listening to Afrobeat and Mbalax (senegalese music). My first two years of high school, I was into heavy metal rock and obsessed with straightening my hair. You can say this was my “I’m not African, my parents are” phase. This was my phase. I am not saying this is anyone else’s phase as well. I call it a phase because I grew out of it. I started noticing non-Africans embracing other African cultures. I noticed how when other African people introduced themselves, they would proudly say, “I’m African.” I noticed my taste in music changing, no longer the heavy rock metal, but the smooth and nice Afrobeat. I noticed how I was complimented every time I wore my traditional African attire. So, I became more aware and in tune with my identity. I was born in America, but I am indeed African. 

But what about the youth that are still saying, “I’m not African, my parents are” ? What happened? Why are they not embracing their African culture? For the record, I’m talking about youth born in America. Here’s what I think: they’ve either never been to their parents country of origin or they have and just do not feel like they belong. It took time for me to realize how hard it is for African youth who were born in America. Their parents may have educated them on their culture and country of origin as best as they could, but it just never clicked for them. I understand this. How can you identify as something that you do not resonate with? 

At first, I was frustrated when I heard young people say it. Over time though, I understood why. Just like me, they were born in America. However in my case, I did go to Senegal. I came back to Philadelphia, learned English and assimilated into the “American” culture. I had the privilege of identifying as both African and American. I live in both worlds. But, as for some of our youths who were born in America, they may not have this same privilege. Again, how can you identify as something that you do not resonate with? I am not saying my young African people cannot still identify as African just because they’ve never been to their parent’s country of origin. They can. An example is my younger brother who I quoted in the beginning of this post. He was born in America, but has never been to Senegal or Mauritania. However, when he was younger, he did use the phrase, “I am not African, my parents are.” What changed?

Here is my question though, is this a phase? What is going on now in these middle and high schools for our African youth? My goal is to dive deeper into this by looking at the research that may exist. If it does not exist, I will definitely conduct research on this (hopefully). 

I think we’ll continue to hear this line for a while. Do you think there will be a change? My hope is for older Africans to be a great representative for our African youth. How can we help? How can we be mentors?

This is not the end of our conversation. If you have thoughts or questions, do not hesitate to reach out! I am all ears, and excited to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Thank you for reading! More posts to come!

Written by Diaka Thiam 🙂