Afrophobia is harming all of us. How do we counter it? (#84)

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Gig Mensah
May 23, 2023
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How did Afrophobia get started, what are the signs it actually exists, and, especially, what can we do about it?

Just because it’s snugged under the rug doesn't mean African American Afrophobia doesn’t exist

As a multicultural African born in South Africa to a Zambian mom and a Ghanaian dad, I always assumed African unity would be easy to achieve. Additionally, the pride of the continent instilled by my parents had me feeling Africans were as valuable as any other ethnic group. However, as I grew and became aware of societal issues, I realized I had been part of a society that carried the inferiority complex of Africans stemming from the lingering discrimination from our battle with racial oppression. Discrimination against Africans showed up everywhere, with the media perpetuating narratives of an Africa engulfed by famine, poverty, and corruption; and through the lack of representation of African people.

So when I became a journalist, I naturally felt an interest in writing stories highlighting the injustices that threatened my childhood beliefs about African validity. By sharing the stories of how Afrophobia impacts Africans, I hoped to contribute to counteracting the uninformed social constructs which for years have built walls between Africans and the rest of the world, and have at times stifled Africans' ability to associate with our heritage.

In developing a proposal for a podcast series on the African continent, I sought inspiration from historical African content. While researching, I stumbled upon a TED Talk by Marcus Harvey, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at UNC Asheville, titled Africanity and the Problem of Afrophobia.[1] Harvey's talk was well thought out and insightful. However, it reignited a frustration I had been harboring for a while concerning Afrophobia.

In his TED Talk, Harvey begins by establishing Africanity as a mythological condition of sub-humanity – inherent in people of African descent such as African Americans. He referred to Afrophobia, a fear of Africans, as though it was instigated and expressed only by White people. While this is valid, White people aren’t the only ones who harbor such views, with some African Americans long disengaged from their African origin also demonstrating Afrophobia.

JessicaAnne Fernandez and others identified this phenomenon as “internalized racism,” a historical litany of racist stereotypes perpetuated by White society, then internalized and expressed by African Americans.[2]

Black man holding sign: at what age does a black child realize they're scary?

And while this is a concerning social issue, coming across commentary on African American Afrophobia was for me a rare find. Engagement around the topic of African American Afrophobia almost seems to be thrown under the rug, as if being Black requires us to protect our construct, hide our prejudices, and turn a blind eye to our self-perpetuated injustices.

However, as a pan-African, I cannot ignore discrimination inflicted on us by African Americans when my core beliefs include the ideology that people of African descent have common interests and should be unified.

In the same breath, however, while I acknowledge that not all African Americans are Afrophobic, I want to emphasize that African American-inflicted Afrophobia is still a very real, ongoing issue requiring a thoughtful, ongoing conversation. I am hopeful this blog post will help serve that purpose.

Therefore, I am writing to encourage more conversation about Afrophobia and provide a perspective on what African American Afrophobia means for an African living in South Africa.

What is meant by African American Afrophobia?

I never quite accepted the growing prevalence of Afrophobia until I noticed double standards in the way people interacted with cultures that were not of their own, with the African culture being at the back of being seen or celebrated.

As an observer, it's not hard to discern that the United States – and American culture – is ubiquitous and aspirational in Africa. While this phenomenon has been true in many places across the globe, academics have noticed a persistent prevalence of American culture in some areas in Africa. For example, Dr. Christopher Williams noted that American fashion, music, and film were exhibited amongst many young people in South Africa, sometimes more than their indigenous cultures, and contributed to a positive perception of the United States.[3]

By laying this foundation to describe the concept of Afrophobia, I'm attempting to demonstrate that a sort of irony exists between cultural awareness of Africans about western cultures and the awareness of western people about African cultures. The younger me was introduced to globalization as learning about the world's possibilities, to the extent of even aspiring to adopt outside cultures, yet  I realized global media seldom showed Africa in an aspirational light. I was often disturbed by the persistent one-sided inferior view of Africa and the unjust lack of interaction with the continent.

Pondering the existence of the one-sided inferior African view, I discovered, as many scholars have too, that this one-sided view is a result of the taint of colonialism on the continent. Colonialism in Africa brought about inhumane racial oppression, destabilized political organization, appropriated economic production, and perhaps least talked about, brought forms of cultural alienation and invasion.[4]

As battering as our colonization history may be, Africans reclaimed our identity and cultural artifacts and have improved our politics and honed economies that attract foreign investment.

But to put it bluntly, the world has chosen to overlook African progress, upholding the one-sided partial view instigated by colonial masters. This ignorance has created and perpetuated Afrophobia, the perceived hatred or disregard of the African other, leading to discrimination against Africa and African people. Stereotypes of backwardness, famine, poverty, corruption, and war overlook positive progress, even in a globalized world, where access to travel and interaction with Africa is within reach. And digitization makes information regarding Africa easily available.

Black man's fist bound by rope

Unfortunately, among those who’ve turned a blind eye to Africa are African Americans. Many hold notions that Africa and its constituencies remain inferior. Such sentiments appear intentionally or unintentionally through Afrophobic commentary in professional environments, government, workplaces, and mainstream media. The discrimination in itself often inflicts trauma on Africans. That being said, discrimination has to come from somewhere, and in many cases, it comes from the person’s social constructs.

From the slave trade to today’s lingering Afrophobia

Black people's past under racial oppression – from the slave trade in the 17th century to colonization – is uncomfortable to revisit. However, it is necessary to delve into it to understand how self-doubt of African identity within African Americans and Africans, seeded by White people, contributed to internalized racism and consequently African Americans’ lingering Afrophobia.

Around 1619, the myth of Black people's racial inferiority began with the first shipment of slaves from West Africa to the first English settlement in America, Jamestown, Virginia. Africans were kidnapped and forced to endure horrific conditions, such as being tightly packed in ships amongst their feces and blood. After the first shipment of slaves, the trafficking of Black Africans to America continued for two more centuries, with enslaved Black people in America and their descendants enduring violent chattel slavery conditions.

During this period, Africans were not the only communities to be captured for slavery. Generally, the 17th century was a period of enslavement throughout the world, but American slavery was unique. assesses that slavery in Spain and Portugal could befall anyone “and could be overcome after a completed term of labor or assimilation into the dominant culture.”[5] However, America’s dependency on forced labor, following the economic gains after its first shipment of African slaves, grew into a permanent status centrally tied to Black people. Chattel slavery was justified and perpetuated through the White-originated rhetoric that Whites were superior and more intellectually and morally evolved, while Black people were inferior subhumans, needing guidance and supervision.

White people perpetuated the same anti-Black rhetoric in the African continent. During the 17th century, when the need for Africans in American plantations declined, the need instead put African labor to work in Africa. The inhumane labor of Africans, induced through colonization, persisted through delegitimizing African people. Colonizers battered African literacy, spiritualism, culture, and people. Africans were made to wear western clothing and practice western religion, and were educated through institutions that emphasized western superiority.

close up of black chains

Meanwhile, in the US, after the slave trade ended in the late 1800s, some civil rights such as the right to vote were afforded to African Americans. Nonetheless, segregation between White and Black people, enforced with open violence on Black people, prevailed until the 1960s. Despite official segregation being abolished, the ideology that Black people were inferior continued through the 1960s and lingers today among some groups. The attack from American leaders was not just on Black people in America but in Africa too.

During the 1960s, John F. Kennedy showed support towards African nationalism, but many US Presidents who followed Kennedy perpetuated the African inferiority ideology. Lyndon Johnson, who served as President after John F. Kennedy, labeled Africans as cannibals. Tim Naftali, a clinical associate professor of history at NYU, shone a light on decades-long presidential racism, after uncovering the original tapes of conversation between Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon in 1971, where Reagan referred to Africans as monkeys, who were “still uncomfortable wearing shoes!”[6]

And for a more recent example, during his administration, Donald Trump allegedly used derogatory terms to describe countries in Africa and their migrants in America. He made it clear that Africa remained a low priority for the US. And it is needless to emphasize that America still faces a “problem of the color line,” which directly equates to a problem of African Americans being African first.

Scholars like Adaoi Chiamaka Iheduru have suggested that continued negative representations of Africa and its constituencies have created inertia among African Americans regarding their ancestral homeland.[7] Like racism from White people, it may exist overtly or covertly, such as unconscious use of a racist term from a “nonracist” White person who’s a victim of an anti-Black societal construct. Similarly, “anti-Afrophobic” African Americans may use terms that carry Afrophobic connotations.

So if you are not intentionally Afrophobic, how might you be doing it unintentionally?

Intentional Afrophobia is the obvious harmful attitude towards people of African descent through discrimination and hate speech. African journalists such as Ohimia Amaize have used their platforms to grow awareness around African American Afrophobia that I perceive as intentional.

In an article from July 2021, Amaize details being discriminated against by Black boys in the United States.[8]

"They heckled me, bursting into raucous laughter, referring to my hairy legs exposed underneath a pair of colorful Ghanaian Kente patterned shorts I was wearing.

“Immediately, it became clear that these were not questions borne out of sheer curiosity, but ignorance nurtured by stereotypes about Africa and Africans."

Then there is covert Afrophobia, which is concealed or subtle discrimination against African people. As a journalist who spends a lot of time surfing through various forms of media, I find that covert Afrophobic commentary uncomfortably shows up frequently.

For example, South African YouTuber Benitta Danielle, who recently migrated to the States for college, made a video about how little African Americans/Americans know about Africa.[9] Her respondents were a group of five African Americans. Upon questions surrounding currencies, countries, and languages, most respondents answered questions incorrectly. However, one particular respondent, attempting to be light-hearted and funny, stood out. When asked questions related to country names, currency, and languages, this person referenced terms from the movie Black Panther, which is based on a fictional African land Wakanda. This was an example of an African American whose information about Africa comes from fiction or mainstream media, which is already notorious for perpetuating African stereotypes, denoting unwillingness to actively seek knowledge about Africa.

Or take Coming to America 2, which premiered in March 2021; it chooses to represent Africans with the same backward stereotypes: Africans gallivanting in beautiful landscapes, speaking in nonexistent African accents, just as the original movie's inception in 1988. Coming to America 2 blatantly ignores discussions that raise awareness about the African continent by influential Africans in America, such as The Daily Show host Trevor Noah, Senegalese American singer Akon, and Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Or how about referring to Africa, which comprises 54 countries, as one entity? It almost seems like African American spectators ignore that it contains more people than America and Asia combined, consisting of various languages, cultures, and religions. Although it might not be intentional, it is degrading to hear Africa referred to as an entire country, ignoring its diversity of people.

Or maybe it shows up in conversations about music like Afrobeats (characterized by its infusion of Western African musical styles like highlife and American Jazz), Africa’s biggest music genre export, which to many African Americans has become the only music genre in Africa. I came across an interview on Audio Mack of South African rapper/hip-hop artist Nasty C, who made serious strides in the US rap scene, revealing how it felt to be homogeneously referred to as Afrobeats artists by Americans. Like musicians across the globe, African artists can also fall into categories like jazz, pop, classical music, rap, and so forth. For Nasty C, who is identified for embracing the US style of rapping in his homeland, I find it quite insulting, yet comical to listen to those who can’t distinguish his rapping upon listening to his sound.

When Africans try to point out the discrimination they experience, they are bashed for holding their own stereotypes against Americans, which is true but doesn’t justify maintaining Afrophobic sentiments. Additionally, due to different experiences concerning racial oppression (where Africa is seemingly more liberated), they are called out for their inability to understand or connect with African Americans.

What is the impact of Afrophobia?

As Chimamanda Ngozi once stated, the biggest impact of the stigmatization and discrimination brought by depicting Africa with a one-sided degrading story results in the loss of human dignity for the discriminated.[10]

Apart from human dignity, the tide of Afrophobia has damaging effects on youth. The African continent has some of the world's largest youth populations, who increasingly use the internet for information, networking, and job creation. Young people also account for most Africans moving to the United States for study and work opportunities. Through digital devices, they are likely to encounter degrading messages on digital platforms.

Afrophobic policies such as President Donald Trump's 2020 travel ban disproportionately affected African countries, and African youth felt marginalized and disempowered. For example, last year, a South African student planning to study at a US academic institution told me in an interview that Trump's restrictions on student visas (four years to complete studies with extensions) made her dream of studying in the US seem less achievable.

person holding sign: 1968-2020 ain't shit changed

Finally, a considerable impact is the strain of social interactions between Africans and African Americans, which hampers our collective social future.

So why do we still battle continued Afrophobic sentiments in 2022, and how can we fix it?

First, I wish to acknowledge that a strong contingent of African Americans has heavily identified with Africa since the 1960s. With the rise of the Black Power movement in the 1960s that centered around Black people creating their cultural institutions and embracing their heritage, a host of African Americans adopted natural hair, braids, African wardrobes and jewelry, and other artifacts associated with the diaspora. 

Yet there was a paradox in this that must be acknowledged. While “the homeland” was embraced by some, many African immigrants found it difficult to gain acceptance by African Americans in the US.  The tension between the two groups has not been completely bridged.[11] 

A partial result of this tension – or perhaps even the cause of it – has been disengagement, withdrawing from connecting with African literacy.  Disengagement, which is an act of an individual unpersuaded by any forces, is often taken on by African Americans concerning relations with Africa. The problem with disengagement is that it acts as a barrier to addressing differences between the US and Africa. In addition, it prevents African Americans from fully engaging in learning about Africa, leaving leeway for the overt or covert use of Afrophobic commentary.

On the other hand, inaccurate African rhetoric, which has for centuries formed the basis for conversation around Africa, has pulled away some African Americans from wanting to be associated with an “inferior” Africa. As argued by Nigerian-born scholar Tunde Adeleke, slavery “accomplished the destruction of the ethnic identity of African Americans.”[12] I translate this to be slavery-related anti-Africa rhetoric has created a disconnect between African Americans and Africa.

For me, an ideal way of fixing African American Afrophobia is to have Black history more mainstream, and African narratives, knowledge, and news more accurately depicted. However, we sadly still have more advocating to do to get there.

In the meantime, African Americans should attempt to constructively engage with Africans in a manner that seeks to reverse our unfavorable social order by gaining knowledge about their origins, reversing the weapon of detracting African knowledge used by oppressors to divide Africans.

And while seeking knowledge about Africa, how about mobilizing to address Afrophobia collectively, like the Black Power movement or the nationwide resurgence of interest brought about by the Black Panther movie. When Afrophobia is addressed collectively, there is no room to stand on the sidelines and continue to make excuses for “unintentional” Afrophobic commentary or lack of knowledge.

Like the people involved in the Black Power movement, I believe it is on all of us to reject narratives perpetuated by White oppressors of our ancestry and where we came from to bring about empowerment and racial pride. 

Black lady holding sign: I wake up Black

Gig Mensah's headshot

Gig Mensah

Gig is a South Africa-based freelance journalist with a BSc in Geographical and Environment Science from Monash University. She is passionate about telling stories that amplify awareness of social justice and environmental issues. She has contributed to various publications, including Orato World Media, The South African, and IOL.

Connect with Gig:

Website: The South African


The views and opinions expressed in this or other blog posts at are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Leading Consciously. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion, and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything.

Questions to ask yourself

  1. Had you heard about Afrophobia before reading this blog? Are you aware of any of your own misconceptions or negative reactions when hearing about Africa?
  2. Why do you think Afrophobia would be a bigger issue for African Americans than for those in other ethnic/racial groups?

Leading Consciously concepts and skills
covered in this blog post:

  • Bridge differences
    • Learn to recognize dominant/nondominant dynamics
    • Check for stereotyping tendencies, unconscious bias, and blind spots in your behavior, especially as a dominant group member
    • As a nondominant, ferret out tendency toward internalized oppression or viewing dominants as beyond your ability to influence
  • Conscious use of self
    • Accept responsibility for own contribution
    • Seek to understand others’ perspectives

#Afrophobia   #InternalizedOppression   #Stereotyping   #KnowYourHistory

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[1] Harvey, M. (2018, March). Africanity and the problem of Afrophobia. TedTalks.

[2] David, E.J.R., Tiera, M., Fernandez, J.(2019) Internalized racism: A systematic review of the psychological literature on racism’s most insidious consequence. Journal of Social Issues, 1057-1060.

[3] Williams, C. (2020, October). How South African students see the United States: Reflections on teaching US foreign policy at the University of Witwatersrand. African Portal.

[4] Van Der Puye, F. (1998) Media and the preservation of culture in Africa. Cultural Survival.

[5] Slavery in America. (2014). Equal Justice Initiative. Historical Racial Injustice: Slavery in America

[6] Naftali, T. (2019, July). Ronald Reagan’s long-hidden racist conversation with Richard Nixon. The Atlantic.

[7] Iheduru, C. A., (2016, June). Examining the social distance between Africans and African-Americans: The role of internalized racism. Browse all Theses and Dissertations, 30.

[8] Amaize, O. (2021, July). The “social distance” between Africa and African-Americans. Jstor Daily.

[9] Danielle, B. (2021, November). How much do African-Americans/Americans know about Africa? **Hilarious**. Youtube.

[10] Adichie, C. (2009, October). The Dangers of a Single Story. TedTalks.

[11] Whittington, Y.E., Castle Bell, G., Dapherede Otusanya, A. (2021). Exploring discursive challenges between African Americans and African-born U.S. immigrants from the standpoint of African Americans. Southern Communication Journal, 71.

[12] Adeleke, T. (1998). Black Americans and Africa: A critique of the Pan-African and identity paradigms. The International Journal of African Historical Studies, 505-536.