The blockbuster “Black Panther” movie highlighted the sweeping antagonism that has existed for ages between African Americans and African immigrants, speaking directly to this state of dynamic tension.
One cultural hotspot for this tension is in the word “Akata”, a West African term from the Yoruba tribe with a complicated history. The word is derogatory – not a term of endearment – and some West Africans use it to describe Black Americans and American-born Nigerians.
It is a divisive slur that has contributed to the “otherizing” of native Black Americans and has driven a wedge between those who use the word akata and those who get called the word akata.
Here are five things you need to know about the use of akata by West Africans towards Black Americans:
Akata means “cotton picker” in reference to Black Americans who were taken as slaves and shipped to the Americas to work on cotton and other plantations. It also loosely refers to a wild animal or cat in reference to someone who is uncultured. The slur has subsequently been picked up by other Nigerians and West Africans to refer to African Americans and American-born Africans.
African mothers living the U.S. as immigrants or back in their home country in West Africa usually warn their sons and daughters against marrying African Americans because they are considered akata and thus not cultured enough.
American-born Nigerian author Nnedi Okorafor has written two books about the Nigerian American – also known as Naijamerican – experience. There is also a song by Ikey that asks “akata” to stay away from him. A scene in the movie “Sugar Hill” starring Wesley Snipes shows an interaction between Black Americans and Nigerian diplomats over the work akata that ends up in a fight.
The average African American person does not know or understand the context of akata because they do not expect that a Black-on-Black slur word exists. It comes as a surprise to many to learn of Nigeria-origin hateful rhetoric towards their own Black descendants of slavery.
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The use of the slur is familiar among second-generation Nigerian Americans. This is largely due to an identity crisis from having one or both parents who are immigrants to the U.S., according to studies. Use of the word “akata” depends on the context.