I migrated from Nigeria, a country where people did not need to be “black”. We were not taught to be black or given a cause to be black individuals. In Nigeria the privilege of wealth, education, status, and class is taken as seriously as the privilege of race in America. Even when we discuss the colonization of Nigeria by Britain and the slavery of our ancestors, we hardly discuss it in-depth to the length of provoking a patriotic anger or in terms of “the white slave master” and “the black slave”. We talk about it as the greedy people who saw the wealth in our country and tricked us to get it.
Once, I had the opportunity to visit Badagry, a location synonymous for slave trade that is situated at the borders of Lagos in Nigeria. When we were lectured about the events, there was more emphasis on the wickedness of Nigerians selling off their own brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters to the British colonialists in exchange of mirrors, guns, and other imported materials. There was more call for pity and sympathy towards the experiences of the slave rather than anger and detest towards the slave masters. There was hardly any emphasis on race.
I experienced the biggest culture shock when I moved to America in 2014. For the first few months, I stayed indoors and most of my assimilation was from the television rather than conversations and out-door experiences. Around the end of April 2015 while watching the news about protests and riots against police brutality, I started to discover race in ways and through mediums I wish I hadn’t. The death of Freddie Gray brought my attention to race. The discussions and #Blacklivesmatter that flooded social media made me realize that black people, especially black men are targets for police brutality in the United States. I constantly questioned myself saying; “what then am I?” in attempt to avoid the reality that I was black.
My perspective of America prior to my immigration into the country changed. From my sociological imagination, its promises as the land of the free and opportunities was a myth and a false consciousness. I saw prejudice and racism in many actions and daily events that people who have lived here for too long would not recognize. Giving the people, black people especially, an “American dream” started to feel like a distortion of their realities. It feels like an opium to make them forget that America has taken so much from them, an opium that makes them think they have so much to take from America which may not necessarily be true.
This new identity of being black caused an awakening in me. I started to detest compliments like: “Thank God you are light skinned.” I cut my permed hair and started growing my kinky hair. My detest for using hair straighteners, hair driers, hair relaxers or perming creams, hair extensions that were straight increased. I did braids more often and I learned how to plait my hair. I acculturated into Black people’s beliefs. I watched more movies that had outstanding black characters in them like “Scandal”, “Dear White people” etc. I read more books by women of color especially. My interest in music that portrayed race increased and you can imagine the satisfaction I felt when Beyoncé sang “Formation” at the Super bowl.
In addition, I learned something unknown to many outsiders of America: Race is not black and white, it is a spectrum of ethnicity, culture, nationality etc. I have Latino friends and I am working on gaining some Asian friends because learning from someone who has a different lifestyle or experience categorized by race can be fascinating.
Had I not immigrated to America, I would not have been black. My identity would have been a young, educated, Yoruba female, with background at Abeokuta, Ogun State, and from a middle-class family in Ibadan, Nigeria.
"Brilliant. This says it all – it demonstrates how race is socially constructed, shaped by historical-political context and how identity is similarly shaped by context.
This is an incisive and engaging essay about cultural awakening and political consciousness. The relationship between “black” African immigrants and (American) “black culture” is fascinating. I think you probably speak for many young African immigrants – and not only immigrants, the global African diaspora, perhaps -- when you discuss the influence of BLM. New forms of “black solidarity” (or black/brown solidarity) seem to be emerging (an uptick in consciousness that parallels the rise of the Black Power movement, which also had an international following). As you note, this new collective identity is shaped considerably by the collective experience of racial profiling. Pursuing a "suspect" down a dark stairwell or alley-way, in a "high-crime" area, the typical cop treats African immigrants, particularly men, no differently than native-born black Americans."
- Nicola Hala. PhD
Adjunct Assistant Professor
Department of Social Sciences
(Sociology of Race)
Bronx Community College.