#MyTruth: One African’s perspective on #BlackLivesMatter
I have been watching the media coverage on the Baltimore uprisings and have been following #BlackLivesMatter. I would like to let America know that this not a race war. Seeing #BlackLivesMatter shouldn’t guilt you into tweeting #AllLivesMatter. It’s not black vs white, America. Don’t stand on the side of one race. Stand on the side of justice and equality. Don’t attempt to understand a pain and grievance so deep-rooted and long instituted it supersedes your mind. Instead, attempt compassion, attempt empathy, attempt unity. This is not a Black American problem. It’s an American problem.
Define American. Go ahead, try. If your definition excludes race, which it should, then as Americans, this issue of race needs to finally be confronted. It has never been confronted. And don’t think for one second it was faced during the civil rights movement. Indeed, certain barriers were broken down, but there was never a reconciliation. America needs that. America needs to admit and accept the validity of Black America’s pain. America needs to forgive and be forgiven.
I can say this because I’m looking from the outside in. I have no stake in the system. As an African who has spent her life living between the United States and West Africa, I can say I have an appreciation for the nuanced racism that breeds freely in America. Granted, there is racism everywhere. I have observed it traveling in Europe, but the American kind is so much harder to articulate, which makes it all the more difficult to fight. How do you fight something, you often cannot name?
Having spent my elementary school years in lower Manhattan, I consumed all that the media fed me and imbibed my neighborhood’s demography especially as it related to race and class. I became conditioned to thinking about race first; before gender, before religion, before affluence. After all, I was always the black girl.
I left the U.S. at age ten to return to Nigeria. I am so fortunate to have come back at that age because the next six years in Nigeria would give me a different identity, culture, and consciousness. One that far too few Black Americans will have the opportunity to get.
I returned to the U.S. as a Nigerian. I went back to receive a college education at one of the Seven Sisters in a small town in Western Massachusetts. This privilege of attending a $60,000 a year institution with well-connected alumnae across the globe would shield me from the reality many Black Americans face. I came back to America no longer as the black girl, but as a Nigerian international student with exposure and a new found pride. I reentered the American system at a level that most Black Americans are denied the opportunity to ever reach. If I had stayed in America after graduation, this would help my social and economic mobility and I would be like the many African immigrants who have no understanding of the Black American experience. Not because they are unwilling to understand it, but because they have entirely different struggles, perspectives, and priorities. Had I not grown up stateside, I would be like the Nigerian-American mother who says, “Well, I came to America with nothing and I made it. See, my son is studying medicine at Harvard.” Or the young Ghanaian-American immigrant who says, “I’ve never experienced racism. Why do blacks here always play the race card? Obama is president. If they only tried a little harder.”
As much as I have dark skin and cannot escape the experiences that come with that in the good ol’ US of A, I will never fully appreciate what it is like to be second-class in my own country. I will not have the deck stacked against me, just slightly obscured. I will never live the entirety of the black American struggle. I will get glimpses of it on days where I realize that no matter how well I dress, how straight my hair is, or how polite I am to that little old white lady who is conditioned to fear me, she will still be startled by my presence. And God-forbid, I am ever in the wrong place at the wrong time. God-forbid I am ever mistaken for a suspect and get beaten mercilessly on the side of the road by a police officer who doesn’t know what surrender looks like. Then, and only then, will the indignity of being black in America overwhelm me. Until then, I can choose blissful ignorance. But, I shouldn’t. I, like much of white America, must choose compassion, empathy, and unity. We must all stand on the side of justice and equality and give Black America a fair shake. Look at all they’ve achieved without it. Their triumph and courage in the face of adversity cannot be denied. Black Americans are not built to break. The integral role they have played in the development of the United States over the past 400 years proves that. Why does such a wealthy majority fear a poorer minority so deeply? Why is America so afraid of empowering Blacks and other minorities?
Again, I have no stake in the system, but I believe it is in the best interest of America to resolve the failures within its own society before it comments on world affairs. America knows better and so must do better. Doing better means embracing the fact that Black lives matter.