Exploring the New “Black”: Straight Talk from an African in America

Research data analyst Lola A, a 20-something Nigerian and Atlanta resident talks openly about what it is like to be an African in America.

Define “African American” and “black”?

By MY own personal definition an “African American” is an AFRICAN descent who immigrates to America. We refer to every other immigrant by their country of origin; why not say Nigerian-American or Kenyan-American? 

Black is simply a color. I personally don’t like the term being used as a description of people. “Black people” are all different shades of brown.

What do you call yourself and why?

If I have to absolutely define myself by anything other than my name then it would be Nigerian-American. If it’s a box to be checked, I tend to leave it blank or answer African American. All the labels and boxes are frustrating and of late I have found them more of a tag then anything else.

Were you born here in America?      No.

Have you been able to retain part of your cultural heritage?  What has been lost? 

Almost all has been retained. We speak Yoruba at home. We eat igba and iyan. I still wear the clothes (where appropriate of course) and I still listen to the music.  If anything has been lost. it’s been in the language and story telling. There are older ones who don’t feel the NEED for it, therefore, don’t feel the need to share it.

Did you notice any difference in how you were raised and how your black peers were raised?

Absolutely! I’m not sure if it’s an overprotective thing or a Naija characteristic (among my Naija peers it is consistent). We weren’t allowed to speak on the phone with someone of the opposite sex. That rule of course was only for the girls. The boys did not have it the same, but I feel that has to do with my father’s love of “Americanizing” his kids. It failed miserably.

As young girls, we had to stay in the kitchen and watch my mother cook so that we too would know how to do it. We cleaned house, washed dishes and everything that a woman should know how to do. Where my peers were oftentimes going to a house party or the mall, we were at home under lock and key.

Last time we spoke, you said that your dad referred to black men as “six pack dads”, lazy fellows who neglected their parental responsibilities.  What other things were you told about black Americans? From where did they get this impression of African Americans?

It wasn’t as though he sat us down and told us these things. [He mentioned these things] in passing when he felt as though African Americans were not appreciative of the opportunities they’ve been given [or when] he felt slighted or irritated [by African Americans].

From the news, weekly magazines and statistics, he would derive from the number of single parent households and kids not sharing the last names of their fathers and unwed mothers that this is because of the men who were not responsible and not taking care of their households.

In school, was there any tension between African students and black students? If so, why?

I wouldn’t call it tension. It was more of an “I have no idea about the country you are from” or the things you eat or clothes you wear are different or “why is your name so weird?”  I feel it was simply ignorance. If you aren’t exposed to something, it becomes a curiosity or an oddity. You wonder what is it, and what makes it so different.

I had my moments of feeling like a side show freak, but I’m sure that feeling was mutual among a lot of high school students. I tried to be invisible around the most vocal students.

How were you treated by white students?

For the most part, it was the same as any other brown kid. Only when they learned I was from another country did attitudes change. Mostly for the positive. Their questions were more inquisitive along the lines of “I want to learn about you and your country.”  Not all white or black students had a negative response, just a good majority.

What are some of the stereotypes of Africans that blacks hold? From where did these stereotypes arise?

Wow. They are universal and everywhere. African men have a lot of wives; we are all royalty and wealthy or the other extreme — poor and running around naked and barefoot. That we eat weird things — boiled wood branches (Yes I’ve heard that.). I’ve heard ignorance to the extent of that we have lions, tigers, elephants and monkeys roaming around. We have zoos too people!  For Nigerians specifically, we are scam artists or corrupt.

[These stereotypes come] from movies (Coming to America) and news publications (Dateline) that often expose the masses to overdone stereotypes and true negatives about Africans.

What do you think about this uproar over Senator Barak Obama being “black enough”?

I think it’s all a perspective type of thing. What is “black enough”? Really? Who is putting up the argument? African Americans or the majority population? Why is this even an issue? I thought here that the one drop rule applied to everyone.  He is half Kenyan and half Caucasian. So what?

Hasn’t anyone noticed the browning of America? (Sorry, this is in no way personal attack.) This country, in 30 years, will realize the conversations currently being had are baseless and a sign of how behind America is.

 I remember when we last spoke, you mentioned your multi-ethnic, multi-cultural get-togethers.  When and why did you start such a group?  How often do you meet?  What activities are involved?  What kind of a mix of people participates?  How and why do people join your group?

It’s not a group. It’s just my ‘group’ of personal friends that just so happen to be diverse. Indian, Eritrean, Trini, Jamaican and so on and so on. I’ve just been lucky to have good friends with such different backgrounds. It has somehow been almost a common thread to be a foreigner. Amongst my friends though, I do have quite a few Americans as well as multi-cultural friends. 

I started the get-togethers about four years ago as an outlet to just mingle, network and really get to know each other better outside of a club scene. We see each other regularly because I do party with them, but we get together on the next level usually once a month to have a games night, a barbeque/potluck, outdoor events (kickball, flag football, dodgeball etc; we’re all kids at heart).

The composition is wide as mentioned above, but not to exclude, I also have Zambian, Kenyan, Guyanese, Haitian, Canadian, Japanese, and Vietnamese friends. I’ve known most of them for years; I know all of them personally. Since it’s not a group, there aren’t any joining or membership requirements.

Closing thoughts?

The vernacular of Americans today have become a challenge of who can be more PC (politically correct),when it’s as easy as respect for each individual’s differences.

With a country as vast as this, I have yet to understand the necessity to put each person in box to be counted. Why? What sense does that make?

I read a quote that made me think, it’s really this simple: ” People are like a box of crayons. Some are dull. Some are sharp. Some are bright some are dark.  But they fit pretty nicely in the same box.” 

Why can’t we all just live in the same box?

Coming Next:  TBA


The Series;  Exploring the New “Black”

2 thoughts on “Exploring the New “Black”: Straight Talk from an African in America

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