Saturday Sayings: “I am because we are and because we are, therefore I am.”

My dad played a recording for me as I stood in the kitchen washing the dishes. The recording was about two minutes long, but it essentially said, “If Nigerian immigrants can be successful in America, why can’t African Americans?” He nodded in approval of the message the white man was spewing, and I looked at him dazed. 

As a Nigerian immigrant woman living in the U.S., this kind of rhetoric makes me uneasy. It’s elitist and completely denies context. Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have heard such statements.

It is no secret that Nigerian immigrants are among the best-educated groups in the United States. It is no secret that many Nigerian immigrants have been “successful” in the United States. But it appears to be unknown to many Nigerian immigrants how their education and success in the U.S., is intrinsically tied to the history of African Americans.

From Plessy v Ferguson (1896) to Brown v Board of Education (1954), African Americans have had to fight the system. They have railed against injustice, and white supremacy since the slave trade. During critical periods that shaped the lives of Blacks in America, where were most Nigerians? They were still in Nigeria. It was not until the 1970’s and 1980’s when large waves of Nigerian immigrants came to the U.S., most of them on government-funded scholarships for college education. They did not have to drink from separate fountains, or sit on the back of buses- yet, simple recognition of the privileges they had flew over their heads. How many Nigerian immigrants put their foot to the fire? Even today, while many African Americans continue to take to the streets in protest of unjust causes, many Nigerian immigrants continue with their careers as lawyers, doctors, engineers, etc. prepared to benefit from the labor of African Americans. 

One could argue that being successful in such prominent fields is railing against the system in its own right; however, I’d have to disagree. One can be successful and still advocate for the causes of the larger group- the two are not mutually exclusive. Although studies have shown that as people move up the class ladder, their demands for justice become less militant and more complacent. Is this what happened to Nigerian immigrants? Have they fallen into complacency?

At the end of the day, Nigerian immigrants are black, and like many blacks in the U.S., they experience discrimination whether they acknowledge it or not. Whether it’s the fact that despite educational advantages, Nigerians have only a slightly higher median annual income than the general U.S. population. Or whether it’s Matthew Ajibade who was tortured to death by police in the U.S. We need our African American brothers and sisters because we cannot deny our blackness because of our successes. While the “model black minority” may have a nice ring to it, it results in a dangerous divide that will ultimately result in Nigerians immigrants on the losing end. 

This is only my perspective, i’d love to hear the thoughts of others and begin a dialogue. 

 

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