The discourse regarding race seems to be ongoing but yet I would argue that it has yielded very few positive results. It is apparent that the more difficult problems of institutional racism, effective segregation, economic inequality and everyday racism continue to exist in American society.
But even so, my experience as an African woman living in America has allowed me to take note of perceived differences between the way African Americans and Africans inhabit their bodies. I am well aware that it would not be fair to make such general assumptions on people who are in no way homogeneous, but my narrative is only meant to highlight my lived experience of embodiment in contrast to the African American black body.
There has always been a tension of sorts between Africans and African Americans. I, along with many African friends, have failed to develop deep and long lasting relationships with African Americans whether at work or at school. This is again not to say that it has been true for everyone, I have a few African Americans friends, but it is a trend that is very much present in our shared black community. Because a shared complexion does not necessarily equal a shared history or set of beliefs, it shouldn’t have come to a surprise that contacts did not develop into friendships. In the contrary, I find our dialogue and conversations difficult, heavy with baggage, assumptions and innuendos.
Slavery is what unites us but the divergence of its outcome divides us very profoundly. Today’s Africans are largely descendants of the few blacks who escaped slavery and remained in Africa, while African Americans’ lineage stems from African slaves torn from their home land. The fact that some Africans in power at the time financially profited from selling their own people is a betrayal many African Americans refuse to forgive or forget. I must point out that many African historians have heavily contested this account of history.
But even so, we (Africans) did not experience what Douglas calls Euro American’s legacy of slavery. To read and hear about racism is one thing, to experience and feel it, is entirely different.
For the purpose of avoiding mere harmful enumerations of the differences between African and African Americans lived embodiment, especially since I do not offer any solutions, I refrain from writing about them. The more important point worth making however is that my observations seem to corroborate the assumptions of many before me, that race is not a biologically determined category of physical existence; rather I find it to be socially constructed. Thus the manner race is socially constructed has a profound affect upon one’s lived experience.
We, (the human race) seem to make sense of our place and position in the world by interacting with others. As a result, we always see ourselves, as Al-Shaykh and Douglas’ articles show, from a distance, removed from us and from our perceptions of how others view us. The black body is no different. It constructs itself out of the image society reflects back to us.
As Kelly Brown Douglas’ article suggests, the experience of slavery has had a profound impact on the way African Americans inhabit their bodies. In addition, African Americans do not even need to have firsthand encounter with a racialization act in order for an embodied black experience. This apparent through friends and acquaintances’ tales of family members profiled by the police or racial slurs directed at someone they know. Those events too reinforced the way identities and bodies are constructed.
Thus my perceived differences between Africans and African Americans can be explained by my belief that the body largely represents its use as a physical manifestation of social and historical experiences. But if I am right, it could also mean that America’s race relation problem is unsolvable, as it would require a history re-do… so for that reason, I hope to be wrong.