Justin Alvis | Columnist
Saturday night I’m in East London with a few of my friends (African-American as well) I met in my study abroad program. We had just left the club and met these group of British-African boys outside and engaged in a conversation with them.
Twenty minutes into the conversation, they ask us “so where are you guys from?” My friends and I glanced at each other puzzled because we told them we’re from America when we first met. I answered “well, I’m from Cleveland, Ohio.. It’s sort’ve in the middle of the US.”
One of the boys laughed and said “no, where are you originally from? Where is your ethnic origins?”
“Well, my family is from Alabama and then migrated to Ohio after the war” I said. I had no clue where he was going with this conversation.
He then goes on to say “You’re obviously from Africa, do you not know your origins?” My friends and I, all students at HBCUs, looked at each other and rolled our eyes because we knew that we were going to have to treat these boys and take them to our freshman year African-American history class.
Apparently, they weren’t aware of the origins of African-Americans and how we were stripped away from Africa and brought to America to help build the economy that exists today.
It wasn’t just them, though. Numerous black people around Europe that I’ve met have all asked me the same question after I tell them I’m American. Afro-Europeans have this superiority complex about themselves because they may be a little more educated or “cultured.”
My big sister warned me about this before coming as she was asked the same questions when she was abroad. I just didn’t think it would be so often or that I would be made the butt of the joke.
What’s funny is the external colonization of Africa happened in Great Britain before the US. In fact, the racism here is actually worse because no one speaks about it. It’s so inbred into the society and swept under the rug it’s almost as though blacks here “know their place.”
All this being said, I was so shocked that they didn’t understand why we wouldn’t know our exact origins.
Reflecting back on the moment, we may have been a bit irrational in our delivery but the discussion was definitely necessary.
The African diaspora is so unique and widespread that it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly what village, tribe, or country you came from. We are all connected from Chicago to Brazil to London to Asia to Jamaica to Germany.