African Americans, Africans fight barriers

Tim Paluch

Editor’s note: This story is the third in a four-part series on relations at Iowa State among people classified in the same racial group.

African Americans and international African students may share a similar skin color, but their cultures are very different.

Carlie Tartakov, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction and adviser to the African Student Association, said people tend to bulk the two groups together, which creates unnecessary problems and tensions.

“It denies people’s heritage by stereotyping and lumping everyone together,” she said. “The perception makes it look as if we were the same based on our color.”

Tartakov said the differences between African American and African students should be expected.

“We are different cultures,” she said. “Why should we understand each other any more than we would someone from the Ukraine?”

Robert Price, junior in management information systems and president of the Black Student Alliance, said the relationship between African Americans and Africans on campus is improving.

Discussions during a meeting last week with members of both groups showed signs of a better relationship, Price said, adding that there will be more planned activities in the future to encourage positive dialogue between the two groups.

“Instead of focusing on our differences, we are now focusing on the similarities between us,” he said. “If you’re on campus when you’re an international student or a minority student, you’re still a minority in the majority population.”

Jennifer Ray, sophomore in apparel merchandising, design and production and BSA member, said the groups need to work together more to increase dialogue between them.

“For some reason, there seems to be a barrier between African Americans and African students, and there is no reason for us to be divided on campus,” she said.

Ray said African students are invited to attend the Harambee celebration, which is an African American Veishea celebration.

“We’re asking them to come and bring a dish that is traditional in their culture,” she said.

Miranda Mhango, senior in accounting from Botswana, said she believes the relationship between the two groups is improving.

“We haven’t reached where we want to go yet,” she said. “We’ve begun to talk about our similarities as well as our differences.”

But Mhango, an international peer adviser with International Education Services, said the issue of bringing the two communities together hasn’t been viewed as important.

“Although we are starting to talk about how we can get African Americans and Africans to unite more,” she said, “so far, even in the dining centers we don’t sit together.”

The problems Africans in America face are similar to those faced by African Americans, Mhango said.

“In the eyes of most Americans, Africans and African Americans are grouped together,” she said. “They look at me the same way they would look at an African American, all just black people.”

Simisola Fasehun, junior in computer science from Nigeria, said the two groups have a lot in common and should work from those similarities.

“We all have to go through some of the same problems,” she said. “We are all regarded as the minority. If you see us, you just see black.”

There are many cultural similarities as well, such as love of dancing and singing and the importance of family, said Fasehun, president of the Nigerian Student Union. She said there is more to the relationship than the assumption of the two groups being the same because of skin color.

“We were raised in different countries,” she said. “Until you get here and meet people, it’s going to be hard to get along with everybody.”

The meeting last week was a step in the right direction, Price said, as more open discussion is breaking down old barriers.

“We have begun to talk more about the reasons why we haven’t been working together rather than our actual differences,” he said.

Tartakov said the perception that Africans and African Americans are molded from the same culture is false, and the two groups need to educate each other about their respective cultures.

“We talk about it in terms of appreciating each other’s diversity and then moving on to ways in which we can come together,” she said.

“It’s a matter of educating ourselves, all of us, about each other.”