There’s an obvious disconnect between Black people in America and African immigrants/Black people back Home which further promotes the plethora of misconceptions both cultures have about one another.
Colonialism and media have a history of presenting one-sided information about the African continent. Before the sharp incline of self-education and Black empowerment taking over within the last five years, many Black individuals in the states had only a few representations of life in Africa. Now, that’s not to say the Sahara desert and safari that’s so easily associated when one mentions the Motherland is completely false. Those types of landscapes do exist in certain parts of the continent, but let’s not forget about the lovely beaches in Nigeria and beautiful coastlines in places like South Africa. Yes, there are some tribes who still live in more traditional houses or “huts.” At the same time, though, there are many Nigerians who live in two or three-story houses with one or two house helpers–better than most Americans. Yes, it can get extremely hot depending on where you are, but it also gets cold, dropping down to 55 degrees in parts of Nigeria like Jos. In the Black community in the states, dashikis and bone necklaces are a growing trend, yet when I went back home, most people were dressed in a simple t-shirt and jeans. I get it, though. Honestly, being white-washed and uprooted with no heritage to claim is going out of style, and it’s a wonderful feeling to find pieces of ourselves that ties us back to the mecca of life. Many of the Black individuals I know who do not have African parents want to be able to say they traced their bloodline back to dynasties like the ancient Nok civilization or a Nubian tribe in East Africa. As soon as they find out, they begin to govern their whole way of being by this new found identity.
On the other hand, Nigerians have preconceived notions of how we live in the U.S., too. For both my parents, the “American dream” came with loads of hard work and devastating reality checks.
“Well, I came into America through New York,” my mother recalled, “and I just remember thinking, ‘This is it?’ I thought it was going to be amazing and ‘ohhh, woow’ but it was dirty and crowded…”
My old man won’t ever let me forget how he came into the country with only $300 to his name and worked as a janitor while he put himself through school.
“We came here–no mother, no father, no brothers, no sisters. We would be washing, cleaning dishes in the restaurant, working. We worked hard. Very hard…”
They were no different than those today; the Nigerian immigrants who dream of coming to America in hopes of more opportunity and financial success, which, no doubt, they are capable of attaining. The first hurdle in doing so is understanding that a good 99% of the people who live in America aren’t harvesting money trees in their backyards. One friend of mine told me that during a conversation with an African co-worker, he said he “didn’t even know there were poor people in America.” I even remember a few years back, a relative asked me for an XBox and another requested a laptop from my mother when she couldn’t even afford one for herself.
“They’re not asking for necessities like money for food or so,” I said to my mother, citing my frustration. “they’re asking for the things they see us flaunting over here, not knowing there are some people who are struggling to make ends meet just like them.
“Yeah,” my mom sighed. “They are over there wishing they had the luxuries we have, and here we are over here wishing we could live simply like they do.”
I marveled at the wonder I saw in the eyes of the children back home when I traveled to Nigeria as a young girl. Their laughs were hearty and genuine, and they ran around with a weightlessness in their feet as if they could float off at any given moment. The community felt like one big safety net of support and laughter and love. I never felt any isolation or worry, and even in the moments when I just wanted to go outside and explore by myself, I knew I would get a warm reception when I returned. They had, and still have, something I didn’t see a lot of in the states; togetherness, unity as a people. They were rich in spirit and joy– a luxury no amount of American money could buy.While some of them wished to live in the states, I questioned why they couldn’t realize how good they had it. But who was I to decipher what a luxury was for them?
I had to check myself. I’d be damned if I didn’t acknowledge that I was coming from a place of privilege. Yes, me– a Black female in America– had privilege. Because compared to someone who struggles with paying for a grade level education, I’m privileged. Compared to a child living in a village that doesn’t have consistent energy or running water, I’m privileged. Ironically, the privileges
I view as burdens are hoped for by another, and, if you ask me, I’d say that’s the root of their fascination with America. It’s not the way we dress, the newest dance craze taking over, or our fancy cellphones. They equate America with being a place of privilege and, to some degree, in comparison to the way many of them live, they’re right.
It’s a blessing to say I can zero in on the exact village my elders and ancestors came from, but despite that, I still struggle with a cognitive dissonance between recognizing my own beliefs as valid and thinking I have no right to speak on life in Nigeria. As usual, I feel like the diplomat between two worlds tugging on my shirt sleeves to be the interpreter for what they don’t understand about the other side. Dual-culturalism is double edged sword sometimes, making me feel like a foreigner in both my “H” Home and my “h” home.