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Re: Insults Africans and African Americans Hurl at Each Other

What became obvious from the responses I got from last week’s column is that I merely scratched the surface of a deep issue. The constrain...

What became obvious from the responses I got from last week’s column is that I merely scratched the surface of a deep issue. The constraints of space prevented me from writing more things than I’d conceived for the article. For instance, as one responder commented below, I didn’t mention that “jungle bunny” isn’t an exclusively African-American slur against Africans; it’s rather a white American putdown for all black people. I also didn’t mention that African immigrants sometimes jocularly call each other “Akata” to underscore the fact that they’ve been in America for too long.

Additionally, as you will see below, what I thought was a mere lighthearted piece on the name-calling between two estranged racial cousins is the subject of research by semioticians. A University of Ibadan stylistics professor has been investigating the use of intra- and inter-group ethnic slurs in Nigeria since the late 1990s. I can’t wait to read his book when it’s finally done.

 Ethnic slurs aren’t always ill-natured. Sometimes they serve humorous purposes. The English language, for instance, is full of expressions that stereotype other European ethnic groups. Phrases such as “French kiss,” “excuse my French” (used when someone says something nasty or obscene), “Dutch courage” (for alcohol-induced bravery)” “Dutch treat” (for a dinner where everyone pays for himself), etc. signal intentionally deprecatory but harmless inter-group humor.

Nevertheless, as indicated in last week’s article, mutual tension isn’t the only feature of the relationship between African immigrants in America and African Americans. Next week, I will write a profile of an African-American woman who lived in Nigeria for nearly four decades and became a Nigerian citizen. She recently returned to America, along with her Nigerian husband, after retiring from the Nigerian civil service. Now, she is often mistaken for an African, for an “outsider,” in the country of her birth. I spoke with her extensively over the last few weeks and can’t wait to share her story with my readers. See you next week.

Loved it! I wrote something along the same lines in the past. I'm glad that great minds are at last thinking alike. The expression, "jungle bunny" is not an African American invention. This is a blanket term Whites used on anyone who was Black.

I have some other ones for you: bubu(s), monkey chasers, and I would like to add that Eddie Murphy created a HUGE insult against the generic African womanhood when he invented a character called, “zebra bitch” (he thought if he went to Africa and found an "innocent" he would be free of losing half of his wealth via divorce). If we could stop being so mean to each other maybe we could actually bridge a portion of the chasm between Africans and African Americans.
Thank you again,
La Vonda R. Staples, Missouri, USA

Nice article. Glad to have you as kindred spirit. I have been doing research on intra- and inter-group derogatory labeling since 1999, approaching the inquiry from the angle of cultural semiotics, and have found this domain of scholarship really fascinating. It is also a risky field especially because some would rather view a researcher in my position as somebody who tries to make a name through bringing up a subject matter that ought to be suppressed, by so doing rousing prejudice, advertising it, and deepening divides. Anyway, one way of catering for the critique that one is trying to make a career at the expense of co-existence is to intervene and use the analysis of those labels to make statements about the engineering of inter-group relations and peace-building. You may consider writing a second installment of your lovely essay to reflect your critical intervention.
Dr. Obododimma Oha, Department of English, University of Ibadan
Beyonce and Jay Z in Nigeria
It’s funny, but goes to show how intelligent and curious your daughter is. I am still laughing trying to imagine what was going on in her innocent mind then. But, anyway, we`ve learnt a thing or two in case we get over there and someone tries to use the word on us. I think I will also not take it lightly like your daughter.
Aisha Nana Mohammed, Minna

Never heard the expression "The booty scratcher." It is an eye-opener. Insightful info about the origins of the word "Akata." I used to belong to a Yahoo group where the term caused a ruckus between members, some of whom considered it very derogatory to the African American. Even though we may not all be aware of our slave ancestry, is there a term that is more pejorative to any black person than the N word? At this point, I do not think that there's a label anyone can attach to another person which should worry them. As the English say, a rose will still smell as sweet, no matter what they call it.
Duchess Samira Edi, London

Got a couple of rap dictionaries at home – da slang is on the move and evolving so fast - methinks that you've left out a whole lot that you'll probably include in the follow-up on both the written and the spoken word?
Cornelius Hamelberg, Sweden

The bane of we Africans/African Americans is hatred, bitterness and disunity among ourselves.
Sola Aiyetan, Moscow, Russia

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