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Between A Place and No Place

I was looking for myself on television, but didn’t realize it until I didn’t see myself. At four years old, my favorite show was Moonlighting starring Bruce Willis and Cybil Shephard. Family Ties, Punky Brewster. Small Wonder. All shows I loved. Looking back, I realize the first time I saw some version of myself was in the four episodes Rosalind Cash appeared as Dean Hughes on the series A Different World. Four appearances, across three years. A silver-haired, long locked, regal, sophisticated dean at the fictional Hillman University. She made quite the impression on me. The image of an erudite African American woman with hair texture like mine must have superimposed itself into my pscyhe. I ended up being a professor at a primarily White institution proudly wearing my long locks. But even as I look at her now, I don’t see myself.

Continue reading “Between A Place and No Place”

The Sit-In

The Sit In': When Harry Belafonte Hosted 'The Tonight Show' in 1968 |  IndieWire

What’s this have to do with first and second-gen Americans? I imagine that would be your first thought.

Unexpectedly, plenty.

The Sit-In is a documentary about the one week that entertainer/activist Harry Belafonte hosted Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show. The documentary suggests that during the peak of the Civil Rights Movement and civil unrest, Carson wanted to create space to address political issues on his show, but felt slightly ill-equipped to do so, especially as it relates to racial injustice. Belafonte had an evening special once on NBC and was generally beloved by African American and White audiences alike. During that week of letting a Negro man host a late show during the most segregated time in television history, Belafonte used his platform to humanize African Americans, amplify voices of color and the concerns of marginalized communities.

Not even sure where I heard about the show or ‘peacock’ for that matter. Likely instagram. Having an affinity for history, I couldn’t help but view it and I can say it left an imprint on me for the following reasons:

Immigrants Envision America

Belafonte who was a second generation American, born to Jamaican born parents and is an iconic figure in American history. Yes, he was known for his calypso flavor and even as an actor. But I’d argue his mark in history is less about his talent, but more about how he used his talent as a platform for social justice. Belafonte was known for bridging racial divides, have an integrated dance crew on his own show and inviting everyone from Robert Kennedy and Paul Newman, and the Smothers Brothers to Martin Luther King Jr., Leon Bibb, and Buffy Sainte-Marie

Reflecting on his experience hosting, Belafonte shared a sentiment that is probably common among many immigrants, and that is while there is much to be critical of in this country, there is also much to celebrate and he was determined to hold America to its aspirations of equality for all people. He would try to do so by making White audiences of The Tonight Show see people of color as not just entertainers, but Americans also

In a time where a nation is really struggling for its soul, [I] believe that all of us have a responsibility to do everything we can to salvage the best that’s in America because there’s a great deal that’s good about it. -Harry Belafonte

In an interview, Indigenous-Canadian American folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie introduces her song Welcome Emigrante where she expresses the irony of anti-immigration sentiment.

“It’s pretty silly for first or second or third generation American to be making fun of and refusing help to newly arrived immigrants, when the fact is they haven’t been here that long themselves” – Buffy Sainte-Marie

The documentary also briefly covered Sidney Poitier, a Bahamian American who like Chadwick Boseman (may his soul rest in peace), actively selected roles which elevated Black people. Potier was likely one of the first Black men to slap a White man onscreen. To see such a thing in the 1960s just a few years after the Jim Crow era, where Black people couldn’t sit in fronts of buses or drink from the same water fountain, was empowering demanding to be seen as a person.

History Urges Hope

Much of the footage in the documentary cover the one of the ugliest times of America’s story, somewhat reminiscent of our current times. Division. Protests. Anti-Black and anti-immigrant sentiment. The emerging fist of White supremacy breaking through the promises of the Declaration of Independence, declaring all created men equal.

It was humbling to watch these individuals, Rev. King, Coretta Scott King, Belafonte, Robert Kennedy, John Lewis, Sidney Poitier and others be light against darkness. It seems so easy to hide against the shadows of hateful rhetoric. It’s easy to pick a side and participate in the illusion of us. vs. them compared to good vs. evil. Righteousness vs. unrighteousness. During a time where violence against Black bodies was legal and imminent, they spoke the truth and stood in love. Their message was not one of hared of any group, but hatred for injustice. As I reflect on our current challenges, I am encouraged that good can prevail, and perhaps I could be among those who do good works and be light.

Over 50 years later, we find ourselves in familiar territories, not just here, but around the world. And one thing that is consistent is the people pushed to the margins, push back, not to demand dominance, but dignity.

The immigrants of this country have used their voices and platforms to demand that the vision of this country since its independence comes to fruition. The Sit-In is just one of many examples of how immigrants and their children push to make this country better.

Just Moved to Yankee!

And what comes to mind when you hear this phrase?

Me? I see a packed suitcase and an airplane landing at JFK. Honestly, I see Akeem with his animal skinned turban screaming from a balcony “Yes! Yes! F@#! you too!” (Classic!)

Whereas the term “yankee” may more famously be known to refer to northerners in the U.S. during the Civil War, it was also a derogatory name the Brits used to describe their rebellious colonies in the Americas. In fact, the fun kid’s song I learned in preschool, “Yankee Doodle” was the proposed first national anthem (Thank you Francis Scott Key!) Today, when people say Yankee, they are referring to The United States of America.

This is certainly what Kemi and Dumebi had in mind last year when they named their organization, Just Moved to Yankee (JMTY) which helps new African immigrants adjust and succeed in the U.S. Kemi, who was just 15, when she arrived to attend college in West Virginia, found herself feeling lost in the sea of information or perhaps a better description would be the desert of ignorance. When she was a student she observed that the issues affecting international students were not adequately addressed. Support systems were not set up to assist immigrants in succeeding beyond academic excellence. Dumebi, on the other hand, arrived in Dallas, TX for graduate school and experienced a range of emotions from excitement to disappointment to loneliness. While she was happy to be in the land of opportunity, she realized staying connected with people from her ancestral land was critical to her psychosocial well-being.

Kemi and Dumebi connected while doing graduate work in Texas, a hub for international students, and collectively worked to make sure that international students would not have to face the challenges they faced. Given the opportunities that already existed for other immigrants, the two women focused specifically on helping other African immigrants.

I feel like a lot of schools do not give international students the right information to thrive. There were so many mistakes that I would have avoided as an international student if only I had the right information.

-Kemi

Using social media as their primary platform, Kemi and Dumebi post helpful tips and cautions for immigrant students and those entering the job market. Their posts often follow international news that impact students like the current administration’s recent attempt to strip visas from international students. Their posts offer strategies to achieve success in careers, presents reviews of companies seeking to hire, shares idea for legal side gigs, and inspires entrepreneurship. For Kemi and Dumebi, success is not just about grades, but achieving your purposes for leaving home and your family. Because jobs to international students are not guaranteed, JMTY has partnered with an organization called F-1 doctors to help international students secure jobs in the medical field.

An example of JMTY post

As best they can, JMTY also answers questions and attend to concerns their instagram followers send them. In addition to their instagram posts, they hosted a semi-formal networking brunch where guests could ask burning questions of a Nigerian American CIO about working in corporate America. The duo definitely had more in store, but COVID. Currently, Kemi and Dumebi host Instagram Live Chats in the place of live networking events. When things return to normal, the team plans to continue cultivating community in person to assist African immigrant students

The ultimate goal of JMTY is to “. . .guide [international students] through the school selection process, course selection, search for scholarships, visa interview prep, and ultimately, connect them with members of our community who can help them when they eventually move to the U.S.” However, JMTY does not only focus on the scholastic success of African immigrants, but they also addresses their overall well-being. Being African in America also means that one may need to adjust to being double-stereotyped (as an African and as a Black person) and manage the effect of being marginalized on one’s self-esteem, self-efficacy, and success. For example, in one post, JMTY addresses the challenge of seeking a corporate job with an African name and an identifiable accent. Dumebi shares her story of learning to Anglicize her name to accommodate Americans struggle with non-English names. In another post, the ladies feature a follower’s personal message in which they are seeking advice on wearing braids to an interview. Not offering any direct advice or judgment, Kemi and Dumebi create a safe space for African immigrants to discuss their racial experiences, whether positive or negative, as well as be a community to one another Nonetheless, the ladies are grateful for the opportunities presented here in the U.S.

With all its injustice, we cannot deny that America is still a land of opportunities. America has allowed us to live at a much higher standard than a lot of us would have if we were in our various home countries. We have met some of the best people here, had some of the best experiences here, and as people who came here for school, we are better educated because of the U.S.

The ladies have pushed through the barriers and achieved their own personal success with Kemi working full time as a Senior IT Financial Analyst at a healthcare company and Dumebi working as a Strategy & Operations Associate at a financial services company. The duo were featured on the podcast “The Tales of an African Princess” hosted by Dr. Ozi, a Microbiologist who came to the United States from Nigeria to pursue her dreams. To learn more about Just Moved to Yankee or to support, you can follow them on Instagram, or LinkedIn. Click. Like. Follow. Share!

My American Flag

On July 2, MoveOn.Org launched a voting campaign called My American Flag in which they feature writers, actors, activists and other creatives against their immigrant back stories, and a newly created flag–one that tells their story.

Of course, your girl was ecstatic as the message resonated with my message and my mission for this blog and current projects. Here is one of our problems here. These socially constructed racial categories are limiting! So much so that it shuts out the plethora of expressions of cultural identity which enriches the U.S. immigrants and their children are not evil enemies, but contributing citizens.

The NaySayers

Of course the campaign is not without critique. Let’s briefly entertain them.

The campaign is divisive.

I’d argue that disregarding the myriad of immigrant stories and cultural hyridization is to erase–that is whitewash brown ethnic narratives. How much more divisive can one get?

The project is silly because the entire American experiment is wrong.

Yes, the Brits, Dutch, French and Spaniards who arrived here in the early 13th century literally stole this land and used menaical weapons of spiritual, psychological, and economic warfare to dominate people groups and subject them into the submission they themselves were fleeing. Still today whiteness persists to silence the voices of marginalized people, and brown people specifically around the world. And yes, the idea of democracy, though flawed in practice, didn’t even take into consideration people who were not the majority. Nonetheless when TJ and dem wrote “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men were created equal” they started a firestorm that immigrants have continued to enflame. The project was honorable. The implementation of the project was disgusting and shameful. Immigrants come to set the U.S. on the course to becoming its aspirational self.

This campaign goads white supremacist nationalist

Yes, but it doesn’t take much to goad them. The premise of White supremacy is that no other culture is worthy or can claim rights to a land which they occupy and control. From my perspective, this moment says, Ef that. This land now belongs to all of us. This campaign bulldozes through the white supremacist logic and makes space for all the different ways to be American.

My American Flag not only offers a visualization for the diversity which exists here in the U.S, but celebrates the contributions of that diversity. This movement also finds a place for the inbetweeners, the hybrids, the people caught between multiple lands to exist. It doesn’t force them to choose but allows them to be all aspects of their cultural selves.

This approach to identity is crucial to deconstructing classifications and the stereotypes that come with it. Can you imagine how much stronger we would be if we respected and embraced all the ways in which we are a melting pot of goodness!

Check out what these cultural disruptors had to say.

A great America acknowledges our collective wrongs…to build toward a future that values freedom & equality for every person on American soil.

I was raised to be as proud of being from India as I was to be born in the United States. Identity has no borders.

Being American to me means standing on the backs of immigrant parents’ sacrifices.

Our country is a work in progress, a poem still being written.

To be an American who is Black . . .is to constantly ave your heartbroken but you manage to find revolutionary joy anyway.

The commitment to making America is great by celebrating and making room for its diversity is the heart of this blog and my current personal mission. I will always be proud of what being inbetween offers me, chief among them a revolutionary perspective. Vote unapologetically.

The Lovebirds

No I’m not late to knowing about the film. Just late to writing about it. The Lovebirds, starring Issa Rae (Insecure; The Photograph) and Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick; Stuber) was released May 2020. As a stalker fan of Issa (we on a first name basis), I had heard about it through one of her IG Lives. I remember being shocked and thinking, Whaaat? A “Black” and “South Asian” couple?? How are they going to do this? How gangsta!

Kumail Nanjiani & Issa Rae Comedy 'The Lovebirds' Heading To ...

Before you judge me. It’s not that I thought Black people and Indian people could not be together. Far from it. I have an inexplicable connection with Indian culture. Maybe it’s all the Bollywood movies I grew up on. I just remember learning from a close of friend of mine who happens to be be from New Delhi, that ….how do I say it less bluntly than she did. . .Indian people would prefer their child marry a White person before a Black person. Yes. That dampened my dreams of marrying Samir, whoever he was and wherever he might be. Sigh.

This common cultural belief is also displayed in popular films like Mississippi Masala or Bend it Like Beckham. More recently my boy Hasan called out our the Indian community about the conversations they have about Black people. It was an unfiltered exposure of colorist ideology which perpetuate divides among people of color in the United States. So for me, this film was a visual and rhetorical weapon against cultural belief systems which demonize dark bodies and disjoin cultures which actual share similar ancestry. And I don’t even know if that was their intention.

No this story is not created by immigrants, but it features a second generation Senegalese-American and a Pakistani immigrant (possibly first generation). The film was written and directed by three White men. Arguably stories created by people of color are more likely to be as daring as this film. I know it’s just a comedy, but these roles could have easily been played by White B-rated actors. Furthermore, comedy can rhetorically address social issues in a more accepting way compared to other genres. Michael Showalter (director) Aaron, Abrams (story), and Brendan Gall (screenplay) managed to tell a love story featuring two marginalized individuals without further marginalizing them through simplistic tropes. They were human. They had their idiosyncrasies, Jabran (Nanjiani) was into documentary filmmaking, and Leiliani (Rae) was an adventurer. Like so many relationships, they didn’t get each other, but they wanted each other.

The setting of the film was about 48 hours of these two individuals’ lives. No time or little need to delve into their cultural distinctions or their backgrounds. However, just as omission speaks volumes in media representation, so does decisions about who is seen and how. While her name is Hawaiian, Lelaini is unashamedly black. Played by an actress who unapologetically roots for anyone Black, Rae’s improv signifies her blackness. She and Jabran are heading to a dinner party with her friends who are mostly Black. Her hair could be straight. It is in box braids. She articulates without reservation the implication of being brown and calling the police. Jabran could have easily been named Kartik–a typical Indian (read Hindu) name, but instead was given a common Muslim name. In subtle ways, these characters are more than caricatures. They are people.

In my research on whiteness in Black-context films, I have argued that people of color are the numeric majority or the centers of a story, it is probable that White majority characters will fall prey to stereotyping, especially in a comedy. I believe this is what we see here. The White characters in this film are villains, member of a secret society, or background characters. But no worries. Stereotyping of White majority people do not harm this group the way it has people of color for decades because of the diversity of portrayals of White people. When positive portrayals are limited for people of color, they are stigmatized by the negative representations. Nonetheless, there is value in the visual contrast in that it uplifts and humanizes people of color by offering a counternarrative to the typical dominant one.

Comedy is an acquired taste. Most may agree a movie compelled them emotionally or provoked them intellectually, but humor is subjective so people may be more critical. That said, The Lovebirds did not receive high ratings on imdb.com or Rottentomatoes. However, I enjoyed watching two brown people of different hues just be people who are trying to find their way back to each other. In a way, it works as a metaphor for all of US to connect with each other by trying to find our common ground. The Loverbirds is currently playing on Netflix.

The Successful Africans

To hear the term successful Africans might sound redundant if you have grown up in an African home with African parents who made success a requirement for their love (just kidding…kinda). Although Sub-Saharan Africans comprise of less than 5% of the immigrant population in the United States, research shows that their rate has increased over 40% in the past decade. While Nigerians have been identified as the most educated and successful immigrant group, collectively Africans “experience poverty at higher rates than immigrants overall” According to Abisola Shof, the host of the podcast “The Successful Africans” this shouldn’t be so. If even one African is thriving, the community can thrive alongside. . . if only we knew each other stories.

Continue reading “The Successful Africans”

Make Stallone a Verb?

Last night, I had a movie night with my husband. Admittedly, I normally dread when he asks me to pick a movie. I know he is being kind, but honestly the movies I really want to watch are the ones that make me think or feel. I like words. Contemplation. Connection. I think my husband generally prefers content with a little less dialogue and a little more activity. So when I saw Rambo 5: Last Blood (2019) in Amazon’s Prime Video movie list, it seemed a perfect choice. Action for him. Nostalgia for me.

Continue reading “Make Stallone a Verb?”

Yvonne Orji’s “Momma I Made It”

She did it!

The premier of Yvonne Orji’s first stand-up special which aired on HBO on Saturday was not just a celebration for the Black community, but definitely felt like a personal achievement for me—a whole me. (You will get it once you watch it or if you are familliar with Orji’s podcast with Luvvie Ajayi, Jesus and Joloff).

Listeners of the podcast became more acquainted with Molly‘s Yvonne’s personal journey as she shared about her faith, her career path, and being single–all of which is connected to her identity as a Nigerian-American. While her recent HBO special may have been an introduction for some, those of us who have been stalking following her for the past three years are familiar with her background. She was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, but came to the United States when she was about four years old and grew up in Maryland. “Momma I Made It” is a comedic review of the balance between her ancestral and assimilated culture. Appropriately titled, the special is also an ode to her parents, relaying a crucial aspect of first and second generation American identity. Our success is not our own.

From the onset, the color green (Nigeria’s dominant flag color) is prominent in ts marketing. In the promo pictures, the HBO typography, and the lighting on stage upon her entry, the audience is made aware that this comic’s perspective is coming from another land. The stand-up includes footage from her most recent trip to Nigeria where she engages with her parents and strangers in the community to illustrate many of the points she makes in her routine. The visuals of Lagos, the former capital city, in the first frame is an unabashed presentation of the country. Whereas, Orji could have only predominantly featured shots from the posh areas of the country like Lekki Phase I, Lekki Phase II, or Banana Island, the beautiful, yet rugged image of the mainland and her home in Ihiala Town was an organic and authentic revealing of home, signifying her pride in all things Nigerian.

She opens up with a popular stereotype of “the emails from the Nigerian prince” (If you haven’t heard about it or received one….I guess you’re lucky.) In Nigeria, scams or 419s, while rebuked, are as normal to the culture as eba and egusi. It could be an embarrassment for us, but it’s so commonplace that sometimes laughter is the only response. Even though the scams are indicative of a corrupt system (not a corrupt people), it certainly becomes fodder for shared storytelling at gatherings. In fact, Orji celebrates these tensions within the culture when she describes the country as “beautiful chaos” and its people as joyous. (Cue: Ayuba’s We are Happy People and let your hips follow the drum). In contrast to mainstream presentations of Africa which cultivate pitty empathy for Africans without “resources”, or leaders who refer to African nations as a”shithole countries”, Orji embodies an undeniable pride in her country and celebrates it, flaws and all. While there are shortcomings, there is no shame.

A large part of the special was about Orji’s relationship with her mother. She praises her mother’s hard work-ethic and success as a nurse in Washington D.C. This tribute to her mother serves as a subtle counter to negative narratives regarding immigrants’ value to this country. Under the current administration immigrants have become the scapegoat for the country’s economic and moral failures. According to the American Enterprise Institute, immigrants in the workforce actually boost the economy and create jobs for other US natives. While undocumented immigrants are more likely to take low-paying , low-skilled jobs, immigrants make up a meaningful proportion of professional services and high-skilled jobs.

Throughout the special Orji shares about her parents’ emphasis on education and encouragement of at least three career options. It’s a joke that almost any immigrant group can relate with. She invites us into a candid conversation among other Nigerians and Nigerian-Americans about parental pressure which from an American perspective might seem harmful, but for this group at least, the parental”shaming” and family scoldings were merely motivation. This might explain why children of immigrants are likely to excel above their parents in education, earning power, and asset wealth. According to Pew Research, ” . . .all (93%) of the growth of the nation’s working-age population between now [2019]] and 2050 will be accounted for by immigrants and their U.S.-born children.” For many immigrants, a child’s success is their crown of glory. Orji captures this communal pride well.

It seems clear that Yvonne Orji has willfully taken up a mantle to rewrite the scripts written not just for Black people, but immigrants and their children. Like many first and second generation Americans, Orji utilizes her unique position to view socio-cultural interactions with a “dual lens.” She craftily engages tensions between Nigerian and American ideologies, American privileges and biases, or Black American and African identity with respect. From the stigmatization of Africans in the US to social comparisons in the African community, Orji comedically unpacks the duality of our cultural affiliations. Her identity as someone In Between, an Insider/Outsider allows her to share stories that makes us laugh at our differences and celebrate our similarities. Such stories also remind us of what makes the United States a land of opportunity. With her platform she is able to introduce a new visual of immigrants–one that we can all be proud of, not just her momma. I look forward to seeing more of her work as she develops her art and her message.

Stay tuned for my review of Mindy Kaling’s Never Have I Ever

Why So Unapologetic?

It’s been a rough week for the world.

In the midst of a pandemic people are rising from isolation to gather in protest of the unjust treatment of Black bodies. While the maltreatment of Black bodies in the United States is not new, it seems the world’s response to the brutal murder of George Floyd is striking differently. Black people are fed up. White people and other minoritized racial groups are becoming open allies. And White friends are apologizing for their silence and holding other White people accountable.

In a previous post ‘Back to Africa’, I reiterate a thought that has been contemplated for decades about the placement of Black people in America. Many Black activists and philosophers have championed the idea of separation or repatriation. Many Black writers fled the United States for Europe or Africa. Similar to many writers before him, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates relocated to France about four years ago (Wait, is he still there?). In my profile of rap artist J Doze, we discussed the value of Black Americans and Black children of immigrants considering Africa as a viable place to live, thrive, and invest.

Leaving the United States sounds great because staying here as a person with dark skin can feel a bit demoralizing. In 1955, Emmet Till’s mother chose to give her son an open casket funeral so that the world could see the wickedness of racism. Civil Rights leaders in the 1960s organized protests with camera crews watching so that U.S citizens could witness the repulsiveness of hatred and prejudice. The past 5 years, everyday people have used their phones to capture how common and how casual police brutality against Black bodies are around the country. We don’t need to be reminded that this recent protest is not the first time Black people have chanted “I Can’t Breathe. . .” We get it. They don’t want us here.

Is leaving the best solution?

While I believe it is an option–one that can be mutually beneficial for both native and diasporic Africans, I can’t help but be so very proud of the organization, passion, and commitment of Black people in America to collectively stand together and say “Enough is enough!” Together we have gathered and called out racism, we have demanded action, we have taken to the streets peacefully, and some angrily–and rightly so. For 401 years of some form of enslavement and criminalizing Black skin, Black people in America have stared in the faces of colonial and capitalistic masters to demand their right to human dignity.

And why not?

Enslaved Africans tilled the soils of this land, helped build the great monuments of this land. Black people have contributed to literature and storytelling in ways that have added flavor and texture to the literary arts. Black leaders have paved the way for other minority groups and demanded this country be the country it claimed to be– freedom and justice for all. Black consumers define popular culture and are the highest consumers in this country–this land where enslaved Africans were forced from their ancestral homes to be used for labor. This land is also the land where Black immigrants in spite of a racialized social system have also been among some of the most successful of all immigrant groups. Black people in America have much to be proud of.

To do the work of trying to make this country better is the highest form of patriotism

Sherilyn Ifill,  President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF

We are unapologetic because we believe we were fashioned beautifully. The fullness of our lips, the kink in our curls, the thickness of our hips (well some of us..I missed out on this). We are beautiful, dammit. It make sense why we are seen as a threat. Tajfel’s Social Identity theory explains our need to feel good about our in-group by viewing out-groups unfavorably. If my skin can make someone feel so uncomfortable, I can’t help but wonder what they are so insecure about.

We are unapologetic because we persevere. We are not biologically “stronger” but with all Black people have endured in this country, descendents of enslaved Africans and African immigrants alike, we have drawn into an inner strength to make beautiful things out of pain. Rock n Roll, the music that came from our blues and was once seen as a threat to White purity laid the foundation for the music industry and gave us permission to feel and to dance. Hip hop, birthed from the frustrations of inner-city life and once seen as a purveyor of violence and misogyny, is now used to sell back-to school products (Just look for them come August) Disadvantages and discrimination have only been motivation for many successful African American business owners, lawyers, media moguls, entertainers, etc.

We are unapologetic because we have nothing to be ashamed of. Like every human, we are flawed. Like every group, we are not a monolith. Yet we come together with our collective truth, whether in the streets, in conversations, in leadership, with words or through our art fighting for our rights to belong on this land too!

We will never apologize for existing–no matter where we are.

Back to Africa

“If you’re not happy here, then go back to Africa!” a coward yelled at a group of us as we marched toward the Football stadium to protest the university’s handling of threats to Black football players. But seriously, how many times has this been said. It certainly wasn’t a new idea.

Several times throughout American history there have been movements whether initiated by the community or racial majority to either return or send descendents of Africans back to Africa. Last year marked the “Year of Return“, to mark 400 years since Africans first landed on “American” soil. Concurrently, protesters were chanting “send them back” to US congresswoman, Reps. Ilhan Omar ( a first generation American), Rashida Tlaib (a second generation American), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez  (a 2.5 generation American) and Ayanna Pressley (a descendant of American slaves). And against the background of dissent, travel groups, like Travel Noire, Tastemakers Africa, and Black and Abroad ignited the latest trends in migration of Black Americans and second genners visiting and contemplating relocating to Africa.

As my boy Hasan, explained, going back always remains an option for immigrants and their descendents because subconsciously we know our time in the US is temporal. Whether by force or voluntarily, many second generation kids are seeing the curse and benefits of their duality.

Continue reading “Back to Africa”

We are Not the Problem

To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” -James Baldwin

As inescapable as it is to be in our own skin, so is the frustration of racism in this country, and around the world I might add. It’s curious and disheartening to me the way Black bodies are handled.

I think my spirit finally broke when I watched the video of Tamir Rice, a 12-year old boy get gunned down by a police officer like a drive-by shooting in a 90s gangsta film. I poured out my pent up pain in a poem (which I will share one day), but since then I have been speechless. I avoid videos of police brutality to protect my soul. To guard my heart.

George Floyd, “I can’t breathe”

The recent cases of Christian Cooper and Amy Cooper (unrelated) in New York and George Floyd in Minneapolis propelled me to speak again. In one case, a police offer kneels on a man’s neck–a man in handcuffs. A man accused of forgery, of all crimes. In another scenario a woman exploits institutional racism because she is offended that someone asked her to put her dog on a leash. See the video here. It was really quite jaw-dropping to watch the unmasking of an aversive racist. According to social psychologists Gaertner and Dovidio, unlike open racists, aversive racists think themselves to be liberal thinking, open to the ideals of equality, but by their actions reveal their aversion toward other racial groups. I don’t know Amy Cooper, but I’d bet that before today, she’d tell you she wasn’t a racist. I’d also be willing to bet she would deny there was such a thing as white privilege, and if you pushed hard enough, she’d weep at the accusation that she was a benefactor of an unfair system. But like John Wick, somebody messed with her dog and she showed just how aware of her privilege she was, and how much she enjoyed it.

Frightening. So scary I fled.

Well, not really. For three months I lived in Nigeria with my daughter during my Fulbright assignment. Having grown up in America and visiting Nigeria only one time prior, it almost appeared like a suicide mission. Ok may be a bit extreme. At the very least, it didn’t seem desirable, especially for my Nigerian friends who had left Nigeria for America and could not envision living there again. I get it. Paved roads. More advanced infrastructure. More opportunities. A little less overt corruption. A little more accountability. Trust me I get it. But people would ask me what I enjoyed the most about being in Nigeria and I would jokingly say, “It felt good to not see so many White people,” and by this I meant that it felt good to not feel like a minority. It felt good to not wonder if this encounter will turn sour. If I could be a trending hashtag. If my daughter would witness me being dehumanized or even worse losing my life. Yes living in Nigeria I missed the luxuries of endless electricity, but I also appreciated the liberties of just being in my own skin.

The photo of this officer on a man’s neck and Amy Cooper’s reaction is the epitome of what James Baldwin describes when he explains that racism is White peoples’ problem, one that they would have to grapple with, not us. He poignantly states that “what you say [or think] about anyone reveals you.” And as a Nigerian-American I so strongly identify with this sentiment, as I had to learn my place as a Black person in America. Up until my first (recognized) encounter with overt racism , I was just an American. I remember the day a white boy yelled nigger out of the window, then hid. I remember wondering what his problem was that he needed to call a stranger a name, then hide.

There are too many hashtags to process. The blatant injustice is mind boggling, and literally causes post-traumatic stress disorder for many minotoritized Americans. But if there is any solace we can carry away from the most recent events, it is that the act of violence we have seen is a signal that we are certainly not the problem. Such depraved acts are only telling of a depraved mind.

May we continue to live unapologetically and unafraid.