Dilemmas of young Africans growing up in the Diaspora

After discussing with some friends whether Africans in the Diaspora should feel or have an obligation to help loved ones back ‘home’; It brought about insights into a growing ‘cultural gap’ that exists with many young people (born of African origin) in the UK and certainly within the rest of Europe. There were many divisions at first within our discussion; but we came to a conclusion that whilst ‘blacks’ are not obliged to visit, help or undergo working life back in Africa, if they do ‘feel’ obliged; then they should not be scorned.

The topic of Identity is becoming more and more complex for young people born and raised in the west. One explanation put forward is that the young Diaspora wherever they come from become more integrated into host countries and gradually lose connection with their countries of origin. Unlike their parents who have direct emotional connections back home, young people find that their emotional demands are within easy reach, from within their immediate environment.

In the UK, more black people are identifying with the terms ‘black’ and ‘Afro-Caribbean’ ahead of ‘African’. Those who call themselves ‘Africans’ (not just via the ethnic minority sections of various university and job application forms) as an affirmative portrait of one’s identity highlights a recognised affirmation of connection to the continent. So the terms ‘Black is Beautiful’ and ‘Black and Proud’ (which dominate some of the discussions within some of the Afro-Caribbean barber shops and hairdressers) means one thing; but to be ‘African’ and proud can mean another. The question of Culture and Identity remains both a blessing and burden with regards to the question of ‘Where is home?’ for many young people of African origin living within the UK. Whilst travelling between London and Brussels, I have met more and more young blacks insisting to me that though they are Black and their parents are of African origin; they don’t feel inclined to help Africa since the host country is now their home. ‘Home is where you lay your head’ according to some brethren; a statement I personally do not fully disagree with. As a result; ‘Africa’ is compartmentalised into the box of ‘Where I am from’ and not necessarily ‘Where I belong’ or ‘Where I am going’.

Whilst it can be said that we are living in a day and age where a young person’s perception of ‘Africa’ is gradually changing and becoming more positive; certain trends still remain the same. ‘Africa’ in terms of media coverage is collecting a sense of ‘positivity’ especially in the areas of the growth of African Film (Nollywood and South Africa Film Industries), Business Investments, Music artists, Tourism expos and Art exhibition gradually receiving appraisals within western media. However, there still seems to be a ‘ceiling’ to where these appraisals end.

For example, the London definition of ‘representing your roots’ for an increasing amount of young blacks may be to go to the Independence Day celebration or support your nation if they make it to the World Cup or African Cup of Nations; but anything further requires more national pride. Furthermore, whilst many Africans within the continent may continue to attack the negative propaganda western media is feeding Africa’s Diaspora; the old English saying goes ‘there are two sides to every coin’. Indeed; there is another side to the belief that western media are sole cause for negative diaspora perceptions of the continent.

Who said Africa’s negative perceptions only comes from the problematic elitisms of western Media? Our own parents, aunties, uncles, older brothers and sisters have contributed to the negative perception of some of our children in the diaspora.

Some of our elders usually have something bad to say about their own upbringings, experiences and troubles from ‘home’ which also affects the mind-sets of our children. These conversations do not only take place at the hairdressers or the barbers; but also at home. And the desire of the young; especially towards ever wanting to live or travel to ‘that nation’ called Ghana or Sierra Leone or Nigeria becomes tarnished. The mother tongue issue also reveals some insights; I’ve been privileged to have met quite a few European born and raised Nigerians, Ghanaians and Kenyans who wished their parents conversed in their mother-tongue more at home. I also have met blacks who understand their mother-tongue efficiently but ‘’refuse’ to speak it. It’s not that they can’t speak it but they don’t have the confidence to due to their own elders mocking their accents or abilities.

“When I don’t speak my mother-tongue; they’ll complain that I’m losing touch with my culture; when I try to speak the language – they tease me instead of encourage me. It’s not an excuse but for a teenager this can be very off-putting.”

These are some off the words of the few young Africans in the diaspora that have or had the desire to speak their mother-tongue but were later down-heartened by their own. The same children that we desire to grow interested with our cultural heritage are discouraged from the very same people who point the finger to them; their loved ones. But what does this have to do with ‘feeling obliged to help’ Africa?

According to Junior Mutabazi, several scholars have argued that an increasing number of young Africans born or brought up in the Diaspora, compared to previous generations of African migrants, are increasingly finding reasons to stay put and contribute to the economies of their host nations instead of their countries of origin.

“The young African Diaspora have pointed to reasonable life comforts such as employment, investment returns, and social security opportunities accessible in host countries as opposed to negative perceptions associated with Africa, including political instabilities, lack of trust, and poverty to be additional explanations for the lack of financial connection with Africa.”
Junior Sabena Mutabuzi, 2014 UK Parliamentary Trainee

Many a time, the Black Diaspora in search of identity and ancestral heritage are sometimes taught to re-value and appreciate their home in Africa; but when it comes to spending our future there it may be a different story. Some argue: “It is better for a young African to be in the Diaspora yet wanting to make an impact back in Africa than to be in a land far away having no knowledge of your ancestral roots? Whilst some say home is where the heart is; others say home is where you make it to be. Meaning; where I live is where I belong; and here is where we find our priorities. Within sociology and anthropology there is a term known as ‘Moral Economies’. These are the ‘moral’ obligations that make a community feel obliged to perform to another; I wonder whether this term be used to analyse some of the black Diaspora communities towards their continent?

I am encouraged to see a growing number of young people of African origin taking an interest in developments back home; perhaps this is due to the growing news that Africa is the next place to invest in and how things are improving in some countries socio-economic wise. However one can argue that this is where it starts and stops. If one (living in the Diaspora) is to make a difference; one must travel. One must travel to see his or her own place of origin before arriving to any personal conclusion; because at least a personal conclusion is better than one that has been defined by the hearsay of parents, aunts and uncles or negative media. Even merely attending the many tourism expos and Africa ‘conferences’ hosted in the diaspora about the wealth and colours of the wonderful continent has it’s limits – to talk is good but to go is better. We all have a role to play in projecting the beauty of our beloved motherland not just to foreigners but our children too. God has blessed us with this beautiful continent; not just to keep to ourselves – but to share with the generations of tomorrow. Let us be encouraged.

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