Black History Month: Does African American Culture Really Influence Modern Africa?

Is it just me, or do some of us Africans (and other black immigrants, honestly) get real big headed during Black History Month? You see it too right? Our chests puff up and our necks stretch an extra five inches! We make statements like “ it’s good that African Americans give credit where credit is due” or “Of course na! They wouldn’t be where they are today if not for us!” (as if we said, “Oya, let’s get on our boats, help them fight through years of legalized racism, and come back in time for cocoyams and stew.”) Or better yet, shout when celebrities (keyword celebrities) like Erykah Badu make public their African ancestry and we begin to boast saying “Well of course she is successful! She comes from such and such tribe!”

Whether you see it or not, this one problem is clear as day: black immigrants enjoy sharing in the success of African Americans but tend to distance themselves when it comes to sharing their struggles.

Don’t just take it from me! Black Studies professor Dr. Vilna Bashi Treiler identifies this as Ethnic projects:

“Social actions groups undertake to foster a perception of themselves as different from the bottom or similar to the top of  the racial hierarchy”.

In other words, using our claims to ethnicity as a resistance against racism and as a tool towards a possibly more attractive racial status. Except, this doesn’t work well within the U.S American context because to those at the top of the racial hierarchy, black is black.

“Our lack of desire to understand one another feeds the delusion that one is better than the other. It is dangerous to be so prideful…”

But alas, we still try and it has become one of the reasons for the divide between Africans and African Americans within the diaspora. Our lack of desire to understand one another feeds the delusion that one is better than the other. . It is dangerous to be so prideful that we forget the ways that African Americans influence our culture just as we influence theirs.

Take for example the rise of the afrobeat King Fela Kuti that alllllllllllllll West Africans hold dear to their heart. Fela was well known for his musical artistry that challenged the corruption in Africa. During his visit to the U.S on his 1969 tour, he was greatly influenced by Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. Afterwards, his music became increasingly politicized and his compositions advocating for freedom from oppression and colonization became a deep part of African music and the movement towards independence.  

African fashion as it is today, is also influenced by African American culture. African American fashion has even led to a shift in many of our traditional ideals. We all have that one uncle who wears his hat tilted to the side, a huge gold chain, and combines his native tongue with what he thinks is Ebonics.

Or as @augustinaa_x put it best- Introducing the African Uncle Starter Kit

(if you don’t, well this just became embarrassing).

But how did this style slip its way into urban Africa?

The increase in political turmoil in many of our countries pushed people to move away from rural societies and into urban societies . They were in search for jobs and a paths to a better life. These urban societies were typically more exposed to the effects of globalism and the infectious influence of the West. To experience something other than our terrible realities, consumption of western music, films, and T.V. increased. (And let’s face it, from what ethnic group do all cool things come from in America? African Americans!)

It was refreshing to see so many artists and leaders who had features just like ours on T.V screens. The fact that even a black man could obtain the American dream of rags to riches intrigued us as it was a concept many of us found difficult to imagine in our home countries. Fashion is one of the best ways to emulate who you desire to be. So it was no surprise how quickly street wear (with deep roots in Hip Hop music & culture) picked up among African youth. It was our connection to the hope of achieving something like the American dream for a black man, or anything better than what was going on at home.

The influence of African American culture on modern Africa is vast and probably in many other ways than I have listed. So if we thrive by inspiring one another, why do we still have such a divide among us? How can we work towards unity? Because, lets face it, before we can fight the war that is outside, we must first win the one inside our homes and our hearts.

To talk this out, I sat down with political artist and African Art professor, Adewale Adenle. Adewale’s work connects his background to observations intermingled with primary emotions and personal experiences that are basic to his growth, especially as they continue to influence socio-political discourse in his homeland (Nigeria) and intertwined with policies in his adoptive country, the US. Check out our conversation in the video below:

Think there’s something we missed? Comment below and share your thoughts! Let’s Talk it out!