1 February 2024 - Nairobi, Kenya: What’s it like being an African youth in the diaspora? According to the new Being African: How Africans Experience the Diaspora report, diasporic African youths experience different types of discrimination — exoticization in France, microaggressions in the UK, and surveillance and profiling in the US.
The latest research report by narrative-change organization Africa No Filter investigates how young Africans experience their diaspora, how they define being African and the basis of their belonging. It also looked into how they negotiate relationships with other Africans and how the prevailing stereotypical narratives about Africa impact perceptions about the continent among diasporic youth.
The report found that while life in the diaspora is marked by various types of discrimination, diasporic African youth have a unique double heritage that makes them proud of African languages, food, music, and history, while also strongly relating to the language and culture of their host country.
Their perception of Africa was also not overly influenced by the many negative narratives about the continent in mainstream media. Instead, they relied on interpersonal relations and social media, and sometimes travel to the continent, to access knowledge about being African. Furthermore, experiences of discrimination and recent racial reckonings in the host countries were also driving an increased interest in Africa.
Moky Makura, Executive Director at Africa No Filter, said: “This report is a must-read for African governments and host countries in the diaspora because it focuses on an under-researched group. The unique, first-hand accounts of life in the diaspora are an opportunity for African governments and host countries to think about how to turn young Africans in the diaspora into an economic, social and cultural asset for their host and home countries.”
The report was authored by academics Lusike Mukhongo, Winston Mano and Wallace Chuma. Here are the key findings:
- Young diasporans experience different types of discrimination in France, the UK and the US, the result is the same: a sense that they do not fully belong in the country where they live. They retreat to their African identity but see it as something to be proud of, nourished, preserved, and developed through visits and historical reimagination.
- The ability to speak an African language was the most highly regarded marker of identity for young diasporans – even those who did not speak an African language wished that they could.
- Recent waves of racial reckoning in the US, UK, and France, and the #BlackLivesMatter campaigns have led to young diasporans learning more about their heritage and identity. They have, especially, turned to learning about African history, wearing African clothing and hairstyles, and using African names. Participants’ African identity was also reinforced at home by speaking and hearing African languages, eating African food, and listening to African music.
- Young diasporans experience poor treatment in their host countries, are often marginalized and do not have equal access to government services and resources, compared to other racial groups. However, the nature of the treatment varies across countries: in the UK, Black people have similar experiences of microaggressions, whether they are Black British, Africans, African Americans, Caribbeans or Afro Latinos; in France, diasporans experience exoticization; and in the US, they live in fear due to police and other racial violence in the country.
- Diasporic youth typically have limited knowledge of Africa but a strong thirst for knowledge, and thus seek information about the continent from a wide range of sources including parents, relatives living in Africa and the diaspora, books, and social media. Those participants who had traveled to the continent believed they had greater knowledge than those who had only lived in the diaspora or moved to the diaspora at a young age, especially with respect to understanding the many diverse cultures across the continent.
- Across the three countries, participants considered global news coverage of Africa to be biased, based on stereotypes, and mostly negative – focused on poverty and political violence – but their views about Africa, and their identity as Africans were not overly shaped by these stories because they were aware of the slant. For example, in the UK, most participants accessed news through BBC, ITV and Sky News, which they believed routinely misrepresented Africa. So, even though the participants paid attention to mainstream portrayals of Africa, they were not easily swayed by them. Nevertheless, they were concerned about the impact of such negative narratives on non-Africans.
- Even positive stories about Africa are perceived to be mainly about individuals, for example, stories about African students winning competitions abroad; successful African inventors; African businessmen and women making money; and a Kenyan woman who takes plastic rubbish and waste and turns it into bricks for housing. This focus on individuals maintains a negative framing of Africa, allowing just a few pockets of positivity.
The research interviewed 70 18–28-year-old Africans from the USA, 20 from the U.K. and 20 from France. Participants were first or second-generation diasporans who were born in the diaspora or had moved there when younger than five. All participants had few or no fixed memories of Africa and relied mainly on information imparted to them in their host countries.
Africa No Filter exists because many stories about Africa still lazily revolve around the single story of poor leadership, poverty, corruption, disease, and conflict. These stories fail to portray the other more progressive side of Africa and collectively perpetuate the narrative that Africa is broken, dependent and lacks agency. The result? Harmful stereotypes that continue to paint a rigidly negative picture of the continent, despite the massive strides we are making. Our mission at Africa No Filter is to shift these stereotypes because they impact the way the world sees Africa and how Africa sees itself. Through research, grant-making, community building and advocacy, we support storytellers to help shift the stereotypical narratives about Africa one story at a time. Our funders are the Ford Foundation,