Many times over, I have had conversations with other non-U.S. black people (and non U.S. white) who seem to label racism as something purely U.S. centric. A plague that only affects U.S. blacks due to our “laziness”. A disease we refuse to find a cure for. That poverty and ghettos that hold my community hostage were created and are enjoyed by us. That is the portrait many of my conversations have painted. It was very frustrating to hear and hurtful.
I am currently reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new book “Americanah”. A tale centered around a young Nigerian couple finding their way in the world professionally and personally. Encountering many experiences across the countries of Nigeria, England, and the U.S. It can be deemed a love story but it discusses the pains of race, racism, race relations, classism, neocolonialism and so on; that these two face.
However, my only friction are with the statements that “race” didn’t play a part the young Ifemelu’s character (seemingly based maybe on the author’s experiences) until she moved to the U.S. Was this just her way of developing the character’s thoughts on racism? I don’t know. One interview with Adichie raised my eyebrows when she stated that “race didn’t occur” to her until she moved from Nigeria to the U.S. However, she acknowledges the turbulent relationships between immigrant blacks and U.S. blacks. She also expresses great respect for the struggle that occurs on U.S. soil; which I appreciate.
Here among U.S. raised citizens there is all this racism happening, yet so much denial of someone or group of people being actual racists. We have staggering stats that prove otherwise; but there is still the notion that racism only means a old racist white man in a KKK hood. Not the company who needs whole “diversity” campaigns, getting called out in media, and “diversity” workshops just to get one black employee in there. Yet when it’s almost all white, no one thinks that racism may have clouded hiring bias. White is the norm. “How is that racist? No one said nigger.”
Another time in one of my grad courses, one Argentinian woman (european descent) spoke on how she “doesn’t understand racism” because in her country that doesn’t happen. Aware of Argentina and how they treat Afro-Argentinians, I amusingly asked her “what happened to the black people in your country?”
“We were smart, we sent them off to the war”.
She doesn’t understand racism though. Right.
Now back to Adichie’s comment, I don’t want to sit here and say someone’s experience isn’t true. That would be arrogant and selfish of me. However, I do have questions. What is it called when I see African women with brown skin and kinky hair detest their features so much they get their skin bleached; and put relaxers in their hair and say that natural hair is ugly? What is it called when South African Apartheid was rampant and the socio-political effects on black people are still present to this day? What is it called when you see mainly people of color in the favelas on the outskirts of Rio, Brazil? What is it called when the Dominican Republic consistently tries to revoke the citizenship of anyone of Haitian descent ?
Is that not racism, internalized racism, white imperialism, and neocolonialism? However, I did not grow up or step foot in any of these countries. I have total lack of global travel. So my understanding is definitely from a U.S. standpoint on racism. So I know I do not understand completely. I do not force my stance on this at all. I just have these questions and I wonder. Is it that they just don’t want to be grouped with U.S. Blacks? Or is it their belief that the same ailments are that different from what we experience?
I try to understand that the small box of U.S. black stereotypes being applied to ALL black people of different cultural backgrounds can be very frustrating. I know many non-U.S. blacks who have expressed this. Understand this also, black people here experience it too. Not every black person in the U.S. has the same exact background. We may be able to relate somewhat better to each other, due to the national/historical context, but black people here also have differences. Differences in speech, economics, and regions. We all receive this sort of overall blanket view that is placed on all of us. No matter what culture we are, what language we speak, or nationality- we’re black and that is all that needed to be known. It’s a very harsh truth that we all have to deal with.
I just ask that you not use the same differences to distance yourself from U.S. blacks as a coping tactic to deal with the racism you face here. Instead, I ask that maybe to see us as potential allies. I also ask that U.S. blacks be more understanding with our attitudes towards black immigrants overseas.
In 2011 I was introduced a category in my Black Social Movements class, that I had never heard before: African Diaspora.
It made so much sense when my professor spoke it. It’s a healing term for me. It knocked out any discontent I had for the Nigerian brother who said he thought U.S. black women didn’t work as hard. It made me understand why some Dominican people got extremely upset if I mentioned their African ancestry. Or why a Jamaican sister once told me “I am not black, I’m Jamaican”. All of our ancestors were victims of the same crime, the effects just manifested in slightly different ways.
Finding out the histories of black people that were affected by colonialism from different countries rooted in me a new sense of connection to a greater community.
- How Angola was assisted with their resistance by Cuba and fought side by side
- Olodum formed from Afro-Brazilians and their initiative to build the black community
- The man who coined the phrase “black power” was of Trinidadian descent (Stokely Carmichael)
- How the U.S. and other West Indies slave uprisings were encouraged by the Haitian Revolution.
- How recently Venezuela pledged to help Haiti with their current civil rights violations.
I don’t think we would be where we are today if it wasn’t for this sort of outreach to each other and hope from each other.
I think the best remedy for my questions, is to continue to support movements across seas and home. It creates a powerful signal that we are still growing and don’t accept the stereotypes and negative imagery pushed out to divide us up. Also, making sure to respect each other’s different cultures and knowing blackness in itself is very diverse.
Below I have highlighted some cool organizations doing coalition building with in the African Diaspora. If they aren’t in your area, please donate, buy a tee shirt, or at least soak in the great content for yourself.
I used to intern for this wonderful organization. Founded by the professor (Robin Hayes) who introduced me to the term “African Diaspora”. Below is a film she produced surrounding the Diaspora in Cuba.