Home > Uncategorized > The African name effect

The African name effect

Scholars have been studying West Indian and Afro Latino immigrant populations for decades, but the more recent, rapid rate of African immigration could re-focus attention on black immigration in a unique way: Generally, Africans are the only sub-group of black people in America that you can identify without actually seeing them.

If you were going through the phone book and saw the name Singh, you could safely assume it belonged to a person of Indian descent; Song, probably Korean; Rodriguez, Hispanic.

But Powell? Carson? Parsons?

Try Ogunlesi! Emeagwali!

The Ogunlesis and Dioufs and Gerimas and—yes, I’ll say it—Obamas are coming fast and changing the socio-economic landscape of America in unique ways.

Apart from being identity markers, the name signals of African immigrants could also have important economic and social effects. Efforts to boost black businesses usually come in the form of specialized business listings and networking mechanisms. With African names, one could look through the regular Yellow Pages and easily pick out a black dentist, lawyer or plumber.

Socially, this trend could enhance the role model aspect of affirmative action and other initiatives aimed at giving African-American kids positive black role models. If an ambitious young black person saw that the Chairman of Citigroup is a man called Richard Parsons, big deal. If he saw that the man who led a group to buy Gatwick airport in London is named Adebayo Ogunlesi, that could trigger a pause.

BUT, the African name also signals otherness from “African-Americans,” so the power to inspire will depend on the extent to which that “African-American” kid sees that African surgeon listed in the phone book as kin.

Categories: Uncategorized
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  2. Cheryl A Mason, MD
    April 13, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    Let me take a deep breath…okay. As a Black person in America I don’t know why any black person from the continent of Africa would identify him or herself as African American. I don’t get it unless it is rush by them to be accepted into this American melting pot.
    I’m not sure how much history of African-Americans, Africans know but this knowledge of our unique history doesn’t appear obvious from the reading above. But I’m not surprised because they didn’t teach it to us either.
    As Blacks in America we had the culture whipped out of us. We were inculcated with shame about ourselves and anything black including deep dark Africa. We were killed for learning to read or write.When we had our own schools they were deemed sub-standard so they made us believe that sitting next to white school children would make us smarter. From there we began a down hill drift into ridicule of the educated among us as acting white. After all the put up white children and white people as the smart ones so why wouldn’t we conclude that being intelligent was acting white. Anyway my point is this:
    1. Africans come here with their history and culture intact just like every other immigrant group. This makes a big difference. They also come here with the same opinions of us that the white man has spread across the globe, that we are lazy, dumb, shiftless, oversexed, drugged out and looking for a handout. they don’t know any more about us than what the white man’s media devices have told them.
    2.No African from Africa is an African-American. None! Only those Black persons taken from mother Africa and enslaved on the shores of these here United States is an African-American PERIOD. The US Census Bureau even know that. Look at the form if you weren’t born Black in the US you are EXCLUDED from selecting that category. black Hispanic etc they check another box and it ain’t African-American.
    3. African-American desire and I would say long to know our African roots. The possibility of that happening is few and far between so we claim our allegience to our mother country by selecting African-American. We had been labled as non-human, colored, negro, nigger, nigga, spokes,buckwheat, sambo, cattle, property etc. now we can name ourselves and we did Black for the recognition of kinship with all persons of black African blood) and now African-American. do you think we would be even in the name game if we knew our specific country of origin? NO!
    4. so why would any one from African who knows they were born in Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Tanzania, etc call himself African-American? You are Nigerian-American, Kenyan-American, etc. You are never African-American because you know your country, you know your culture, you know your language, clothing, cloth, art, song, food, women, men and religion. You are never African-American because you know your roots.
    5. And as far as that name recognition that you think will be so good let me tell you what happens here. African-Americans have been adopting African names since Ron Karanga invented Kwanza maybe 30 years strong now. Finally we could name ourselves(recall Roots and the beating Kunta got until he called himself Toby)and we started creating names for our children. Well now these children with the Neo-African names get their resumes thrown in the trash by personel because they know for sure that that person is Black. Teachers of all persuassion make fun of our childrens names form the first day of school onward. I’m sure you’ve noticed what the Teabaggers have done to President Obama’s name as they refuse to even call him President, its eith Mr. Obama or Obama.
    6. I love my African brothers and sisters and I’m glad we had a chance to talk.

    • LadyLite
      August 27, 2010 at 10:03 pm

      I agree with many of your points, but there are a few things that I’d like to expand upon.

      #1-As far as who is an African-American or not, I don’t believe you or I have the right to inform people of how they can identify themselves, just because we don’t understand their reasoning. That is why this documentary was created in the first place, to give people who are singularly labeled as “Black” in the United States a space to discuss their “identity-making” process. If a Black person who was born in another country chooses to call themselves African-American, that’s their prerogative. The whole idea of race in the United States is quite arbitrary anyway and the Census form reflects that; the race boxes go from White, to Black, African American, to ethnic or national distinctions (Asian Indian, Japanese, Samoan, etc.)This shows how the diversity among both Whites and Blacks is ignored in this country. I have yet to meet a Nigerian who considers being “Nigerian” a race so why would they write that in on the Census form (the form has a space that says “some other race”)? “Nigerian” is a nationality and there are ethnic groups within that. If anything, they may write “Yoruba” or “Igbo” or any other ethnic group. If I had my way, the census would list Geographical or Ethnic Groups and then allow people to write in a race, just like they have started to do for Latinos. So in my case I would write, “Yoruba/Ogba” (ethnic groups)& “Black” (race). I was born and raised here so I’m American, and the Yoruba and Igbo groups are in Africa so I’m also African. As I see it, everyone in this country could be hyphenated once, twice or more!

      #2-There are thousands of people like me who were born in this country and have never seen their parents’ homeland. Now yes, I have a good understanding of the Nigerian and specifically Yoruba and Igbo cultures, but I can’t say that I consider Nigeria home. Intellectually, I recognize it as my ancestral home, and I am happy to represent, but that’s not where my heart longs for. I long to see and meet my family members who live there, but the place is still foreign to me.

      #3-Not just Teabaggers refer to President Obama as simply “Obama”. Many of his supporters refer to him that way was well; It seems to me that it can be used to either express a higher level of intimacy, or disrespect.

      On a final note, I know that it is a unique situation to know that your ancestors were brought by force to a place you now call home, however, it’s likely that many of those slaves were related to the people who are now coming to this country voluntarily. If African immigrants could trace back and find these lost relatives, that would add a whole different dynamic to the discussion.

    • neoafricanamericans
      August 29, 2010 at 5:52 pm

      @Cheryl: Thanks again for your comments. You raise some interesting points and I too would like to comment:

      1. Is President Obama African-American?

      2. It’s interesting you should mention that people with African-sounding names have their resumes thrown out. Others have argued that employers prefer Neo-African Americans.

  1. January 21, 2012 at 12:55 pm

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