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What is an African?

CNN is currently inspiring dialogue about what makes someone an African-American as opposed to an African, African-American.  There has been debate amongst Africans about what an African is.  Is it someone who is born in Africa, or can someone who is born to African parents in the diaspora, but never raised in Africa, still claim that they are African?

Africans define themselves by who their parents are for the most part, although there are some who feel that if they are born in the diaspora, they are no longer African, just born to African parents.  Even more hotly contested, are the people who have one African parent.  Some claim that if they are not full-blooded Africans, they are not worthy of the title.  The latest Playboy playmate, Ida Ljungqvist, is half Tanzanian and half Swedish and was born and raised, for a while, in Tanzania, yet people claim that she isn’t African.  Why must anyone have to choose a side of their heritage?  And if they don’t deny it, why deny it of them? White and Asian Africans also find that they are constantly called upon to prove that they are African.  How many generations of African-born do they need to be to finally be called African?

Africans who are born abroad and try to claim their African heritage sometimes meet great hostility from Africans born and raised in Africa.  Is it jealousy?  If they claim not to be Africans, they are met with derision and jeers.  If they claim Africa, the response is almost spat out that they are ‘not really African’.  What are your thoughts on the matter?  What makes an African, an African?  At what point do they stop being considered African.  How many generations born away from home qualify one to be non-African (or an African if born in Africa)?

I am an African, born in the Diaspora, raised on the continent, and proud to say I am African.  There is no richer heritage one can have, and I am proud to be a descendant of it.


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20 Responses to “What is an African?”

  • Arnold says:

    June 2nd, 2009 at 8:37 am

    I am an African born in Liberia, West Africa. I lived the first 11 years of my life in Liberia and then moved to the US where I have lived the last 29 years of my life. I am married to an American who happens to be black, we have a son and he will proudly tell anyone he is an African-American.

  • Michael says:

    June 2nd, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    As a biracial ‘Afroean’,who grew up in Kenya, I think part of being African is mentally, emotionally and to some degree culturally identifying with the pleace and people. I have seen many black african born people who are NOT African =, th eonly identifying factor was their parentage and perhaps a passport. I am married to an african -american which would technically make my kids afropean americans ! I have worked, stufdied and played with many africans of various colors and most of them had a real connection to their country irregardless of complection or origin.
    My 2 cents..

  • Mazuba says:

    June 2nd, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    Very true.I agree with ur points.I was born in the us and left to live in germany for four years,then lived in my country for 7 yrs,moved to Ethiopia for four and have now come back to the us and have been here for almost 2 years so far.I am african,frm zambia and consider myself African.

  • Mwabange says:

    June 2nd, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    That opinion about what makes a person African will vary from person to person. At the end of the day, its the blood running through your veins that determines who we really are and where our ancestors are originally from. At the same time, humans always crave for a sense of belonging, and often tend to seek this in a place they can relate to. Which is why, it is easier for someone who was born in America for example to say I’m American then it is for them to say im African. The simple fact that they cant relate to Africa in any way shape or form makes them believe they are American, but the fact of the matter is the blood running through their veins is African blood. I think there is so much more to it at the end of the day, and the fact that we now live in such a multi cultured world is not making it any much easier.

  • Munashe says:

    June 2nd, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    i believe that the issue of Africans taking offence to their counterparts from the diaspora is that those from the diaspora albeit a relative few look down on them because they feel they are superior in some way.I’m a zimbabwean but i lived in Belgium for 4 yrs,the states for 5 and ethiopia for 4.I did my A levels in a zim mission school and i remember how much people were against me because they assumed that i thought i was better than them because i was “rich” it stems from envy is what i think

  • Rhoda Gachui says:

    June 3rd, 2009 at 2:59 am

    I believe everyone is African. Africa is the cradle of mankind; the mother of all humanity.

  • Andrew Mwavua says:

    June 3rd, 2009 at 8:13 am

    So far, the human genome project and DNA sequencing / mapping proves that everyone has an African mother (article was published in National Geographic last year). So I guess Eve was African!

    As far as for a distinction between continental born and raised Africans versus those born and raised in the diaspora I would use the following labeling regimen: continental Africans are simply that – Africans. Africans born and raised in the diaspora are American Africans, European Africans, etc. As for our black brothers and sisters in America, they are African Americans or simply Black Americans, depending on their individual preference.

  • Atswei Adjetey says:

    June 3rd, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    Though Canadian-born, I still claim myself as a Ghanaian. My first language wasn’t English, but Ga, my native tongue, helping me in further latin-based laguages (i.e French) and even English. Because I was raised in a western country, doesn’t mean that I cannot claim my origination of roots. Whether bi-racial or “pure”, it is part of you, like the South African saying Ubuntu: “I am cause you are”.

  • Mercy Akongo says:

    June 3rd, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    First of all i`m proudly African though i live in Sydney at the moment. Talking of who is African and who is not brings questions to my head. How do we define Africanism? To me, a person is always an African though they may have American, British etc citizenship or Residency. Somehow, every black out there originated from Africa. Some were forced out of Africa and had their children in these continents but it doesn`t rub the fact that they are African!

  • Mawa says:

    June 7th, 2009 at 10:39 pm

    I am a liberian born african, and i’ve been in the US for about 11yrs now. Sometimes most of my african friends tell me that i do not have a strong african accent and that i sound like the African-Americans, and they even go as far as calling me “She’s like the African-American, she doesn’t have have an strong accent like us…” jokingly. But it is sadden sometimes, because i feel that if they think of me like this what would my people who are in Africa think of me when i go back to visit and start a career over there. To me anyone with a black skin is an African, no matter where you are born or raised. A blk&White person does not have to be discriminated because they have another race in them or do not have a nappy hair or whatever. Continent borned africans can be such jerks sometime, i think sometimes it’s all out of jealously. And they wonder why a lot of North african do not associate themseves with the rest of the west/east/south africans. Are they not africans too? why don’t continent borned africans discriminate north africans, i mean after all they do not have nappy hair right? i’m just stating…lol. Black or mixed, as long as you have some kind of BLACK flowing in your veins, you are an african to me. People need to quit it and stop “hating”lol.

  • What is an African - Mashada Forums says:

    June 8th, 2009 at 4:41 am

    [...] further and define themselves in terms of the broader diaspora. Read this and share your thoughts. Jamati Online | What is an African? [...]

  • didi says:

    June 12th, 2009 at 4:20 am

    “African” means “black”!It is simple as that!Why are you trying to complicate things?I live in europe but whites dont call me european.They call me british of african origin.Arabs,afrikaners,pakis,coolies,…who live in africa are not africans coz they arent blacks.Can you imagine an african living in india being called an indian?Dont be naive and silly!Because of our low self esteem we feel valorised whenever a white,an asian or a chinese person claims to be “african”.African means BLACK!

  • londeka says:

    June 12th, 2009 at 7:18 am

    i believe being african is an expression of who you are,im a proud south african and i believe africa is the mother of all,so being african is simply embracing,loving ,cherishing and being free to express yourself.being african means beauty which works in hand with love of self.just like being korean,australian malawian means truly being you at you highest,by classification i am african but on broader terms i am a spirit soul that thinks classification is a state of mind,but even within that i am still african and my roots i shall embrace.

  • What is an African - Page 2 - Mashada Forums says:

    June 17th, 2009 at 12:11 am

    [...] further and define themselves in terms of the broader diaspora. Read this and share your thoughts. Jamati Online | What is an African? I recall some dude(actually ma professor) telling me about "African of the soil" n [...]

  • Jackie says:

    June 29th, 2009 at 11:15 am

    This topic always seems to pop up every few years. I am an African-American and also have Caribbean heritage (both of my parents were born in Jamaica). When I lived in South Africa, an Afrikaaner once told me that she is more African than any African-American or “black person who was born in the States.” This person, like many others clearly do not understand the difference between nationality and heritage. By nationality, I am American. However, I am of an African ethnicity, though I do not know specifically which ethnic group(s) I belong to due to the unfortunate legacy of slavery. The term “African” does not make much sense to me when one is talking about one’s ethnicity, UNLESS he or she does not know their specific ethnic make-up (e.g. Ga, Zulu, Fulani). So the bottom line is that one’s ethnicity is not a theoretical concept. It’s all DNA — thus no one can tell me that I am or not African.

  • NuNu Wako says:

    July 16th, 2009 at 11:15 am

    What makes and African African? What makes an individual African is one both parents are African. Secondly, if that person is born in the Diaspora with two African parents, what makes that person African is the tradition, heritage, culture, values, and African morals that are instilled in that individual which directly ties them to their specific country of origin. Being African is not about knowing where tribal group you belong to but acknowledging your ancestor and wanting to understand, know the richness encompassed in this vast continent.

    The disconnection between African-Americans and Africans is undeniable. Not all African-American and when I say African-American, I am not speaking of a child born into one parent African another American; I am speaking of Black- Americans. Majority dont want to be affiliated with Africa and dont have the wants to learn about Africa -so why should they even have that tag line of being called African-American? They dont know anything about Africa, are not raised with the same traditions, values, heritage, morals, etc. so how do they relate besides being affiliated through slavery which is part of their history but not of a natural born African?

  • lyconia says:

    August 10th, 2010 at 11:04 am

    i think the word african and what makes a person an african is more like cotested word,i believe an what makes us african is our diverse and unique culture the pride that we held inside and the history that makes the part of our future

  • Peter Barrett says:

    August 16th, 2010 at 12:47 am

    I’m African. I was born in the United States and my family has been here for generations like most African Americans. I have Louisiana Creole ancestry as well and I grew up in the AME(African Methodist Epsicopal Zion church. The term African has a long history in the United States. The AME churches were founded by freen men of African descent in eth 1700s. Many of our orgnizations during that time used the term African. AME,AME ZION,African Baptist, Free African schools, Free African Society etc..
    It was discussed to remove the term African and no longer use the term in the 1800s to conform to America. When we didn’t get equal right we reclaimed who we are in the spirit of Sankofa.

    Most of our early founding Fathers of the Africans American society were mixed race and still considered themselves African. We have used many terms and Afro American was used in the 1800s as well.

    I have traced my DNA to the Mandinka people which makes sense since that branch of my family comes from an area that was heavly Senegambian slaves. I’m not Mandinkan, Ibo, Sereer,Wolof or Nigerian, Ghanian,Cameroonian, etc.. My nationality is American, but my ethnicity is African.

  • nelson tidawa says:

    March 2nd, 2011 at 11:22 am

    being an african as far as im concerned goes beyond place of ones birth or present is all about values,believe system as well as upbringing.

  • THANDOKAZI says:

    July 20th, 2011 at 2:00 am



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