Introduction to the African Diaspora across the world
What do we mean by the term “African Diaspora”?The word “Diaspora” has its origins in the Latin word “diaspeirein” meaning “disperse”. Accordingly, we understand the term African Diaspora to refer to the “dispersal” of Africans outside of the African continent. Here the word “dispersal” can be used in two ways: Firstly, to describe the actual process of dispersal. Secondly, and more commonly, to describe those individuals living outside of Africa who have been dispersed, either through choice or through force, and now live elsewhere.
In its second usage the term is therefore an umbrella term to describe a variety of individuals and groups, who can be described as members of the African Diaspora. We acknowledge the depth and breadth of the different groups under the term “African Diaspora”, who may have come from opposite ends of the continent, have left under different circumstances, and may be integrated into their communities to different extents.
Who is included in the expression “the African Diaspora in Germany”?
The term “the African Diaspora in Germany” refers collectively to any individuals or groups with African heritage now living in Germany. As such, the term includes individuals with German nationality and/or German parents – a group that can be described as the Afro-German community, African-Americans now living in Germany, as well as individuals who are nationals of an African country that are currently living in Germany.
We appreciate the controversy and sensitivity surrounding these terms, and the reality that many of the words used have ambiguous meanings and are subject to personal interpretation. Our intention here is simply to provide a working definition for the purpose of our programs.
Since the late twentieth century, the term Diaspora (Greek διασπορα, a scattering or sowing of seeds) has described people or ethnic groups who have left their traditional ethnic homelands by force and have scattered all over the world. The term is often used in relation to a minority ethnic group or a religious group. Originally, the term Diaspora referred to the populations of Jews exiled from Judea in 586 BC by the Babylonians and in AD 135 by the Romans. Since early modern times, the confessional minorities of Christianity were part of a Diaspora. The term describes the process of dispersal and the dispersed ethnic population.
Today ‘Diaspora’ refers to, among others, the Jewish Diaspora in the modern sense (Jews who live outside Israel), the Christian Diaspora (Christian minorities in East and South East Asia or Catholics in Northern Europe and Protestants in Southern Europe) ), the Irish Diaspora (Irish refugees due to the Irish Potato Famine and political oppression), the Armenian Diaspora (the dispersal of Armenians after the genocide in 1915-16), the South East Asian Diaspora (the scattered refugees from South East Asia due to several wars such as World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War), the Islamic Diaspora (the Muslim minority in Europe and North America) and the African Diaspora..
The African Diaspora has been formed by the movements of Africans and their descendants to regions throughout Europe, the Caribbean, North America, South America, and Central America. The majority of the African Diaspora descends from people who were taken into slavery but there is also a rising number of voluntary immigrants and asylum-seekers.
Apart from problems which the Diaspora faces, the situation of the Diaspora poses the question of cultural identity. On the one hand, many are caught between voluntary or forced dissociation and exclusion, and on the other hand, many assimilate to a degree causing them to lose their own ethnic language or religion. These two effects from the African Diaspora have left many searching for their place within their new culture.
Below is a table illustrating the world’s top twelve countries with members of the African Diaspora.
Identity of the African Diaspora: An Evolution of Identifying TermsThe terms used to describe the people among the African Diaspora have changed throughout the last couple of centuries. Identities have taken shape often reflecting on the region in which African descendants currently live. A majority of people, who used to fall under the same category of ‘black’, searches for a term which identifies them as people who are part of a culture and not one that necessarily reflects their race and skin color.
The modern debate over an identifying name took shape during the African slave trade when first Africans were shipped to the Americas and the Caribbean. The vast majority of Africans wanted to be called African. However the non-African population referred to Africans either as slaves or free. Thus began the reference of people as an adjective and not a noun. Soon Africans and African descendants rejected the term ‘African’ because a negative connotation evolved through the ideas of European descendants. ‘African’ came to symbolize a sub-human identity because Africans were seen as ‘barbaric’ and ‘ape-like’. With the end of the nineteenth century, adjectives started to transform into nouns as identifying terms for African descendants. The term ‘Colored’ became customary when describing all people who were ‘non-white’. However this was replaced with the term ‘Negro’ in the early twentieth century due to the fact that segregation was on a rise and signs above public facilities appeared all over the United States indicating which facility could be used by the ‘Colored’ or by the ‘Whites’. Segregation fueled racism and the terms, ‘Colored’ and ‘Negro’, were perceived as racist by the time of the 1950s and 60s’ Civil Rights Movement. Currently the only acceptable use of the term ‘Colored’ is in the organizational title of the NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).
In the 1960s many African Americans were rediscovering their African roots. Hairstyles such as the Afro were becoming popular and slogans such as ‘Black is Beautiful’ were chanted by many. “Say It Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud”, was a song by James Brown which demonstrated the rise of ‘Black Pride’ in the 1960s. With this rise of Black awareness, the distinction on who was ‘Black’ changed. Although ‘Black’ still referred to the color of one’s skin, now it referred only to African descendants and no longer encompassed dark-skinned individuals such as Italians or Mexicans. However this term was still problematic because it referred to anyone who was from African descendants such as people from the Caribbean even though they possessed a different culture. Not all African descendants welcomed the surfacing of the term ‘Black’ because they felt it was similar to the term ‘Negro’ which was now seen as a racist term. But for the most part many accepted the term ‘Black’ and it is still considered acceptable in the USA and other parts of the world today.
The term ‘Afro-American’ developed during the rise of hyphenated terms to describe American minority groups in the 1970s and 1980s. Soon the term evolved into ‘African-American’ and finally into ‘African American’ with it losing the hyphen. The hyphen was removed because many believed that it implied a sub-category. ‘African American’ was adopted quickly by many because many African descendants in the USA did not identify themselves as ‘Black’. However, this terminology does not satisfy everyone because many also believe that there is nothing African about them. It is now widely accepted as the politically correct terminology for Americans of African descendant although it is understood that one term cannot contain all the information required to represent a population of over forty million people.
Today members of the African Diaspora associate themselves with Africa through the terms with which they identify. Many African descendants believe that the usage of ‘African’ when being identified is a way of circling back to their roots of Africa which carried a stigma for a long time. When polled by the online Village forum associated with the Blacknet website, 40% of African descendants living in Great Britain wished to be called African British while almost half that number, 24%, wished to be called Black. Many believe that the English language has oppressed African people by constantly using adjectives instead of nouns when referring to an ethnic group. With the desire to be recognized and connected with their heritage and not described according to their skin color, many prefer the reference to Africa when identifying them.
Afro-Latinos acknowledge their black identity but do not accept it as a way to be identified. Although many people would expect Afro-Dominicans to share the same level of identification with blackness as African Americans do, many Afro-Dominicans believe that being black places them into the same social category which African Americans associate with racism and discrimination. Afro-Latinos in the USA also do not identify with the African Americans. For many Afro-Latinos, African American means that someone is born in the USA with African ancestry and not Hispanic heritage. However, the longer an Afro-Latino remains in the USA, the more likely he/she will identify him/herself as being black just like the African American.
These diversities and complexities of members of the African Diaspora make it difficult to claim a common identity. Although many share broad similarities, African descendants do not believe these similarities are enough to associate all under the same umbrella. Every region of the world that African descendants live in has unique aspects for understanding the logic behind the terminology desired by them. History, culture, and political institutions have all been factors which have shaped racial identities throughout the world. For further information:
“African British Identity Tops Poll.” Online. DSL. 10 December 2008.
Crémieux, Anne. “Americans of African Descent: Names and Identities.” Online. DSL. 10 December 2008.
Gordon, Edmund T. and Mark Anderson. “The African Diaspora: Toward an Ethnography of Diasporic Identification.” The Journal of American Folklore: “Theorizing the Hybrid”, vol. 112, no. 445 (Summer 1999): 282-296.
Middleton IV, R. T., 2005-04-07 "The Challenges of Building a Pan-Black Afro-Latino/African American Identity: Dominican Views of Blackness" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The Midwest Political Science Association, Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, Illinois Online <.PDF>. 2008-10-10 from http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p85596_index.html