This is a guest-post by the brilliant Nneoma Nwachucku of Pyoo Wata Blog. She is an American of Nigerian origin, and in this article she explores the very many dimensions of being African American even though none of her ancestors was brought to the United States as a slave. Race obviously is still a very interesting issue since being African itself is not limited to being black, except we intend to exclude fair skinned Arab North Africans in Egypt, Sudan and Northern Nigeria; White, Jewish and Indian South Africans; and the now indigenous White residents of Zimbabwe – which won’t make any sense. Anyway, enjoy the interesting piece.
Previous guest-posts can be found here.
Despite protests from my family members and other Nigerians in my community, I consider myself first and foremost African American. Personally, it has taken quite some time for me to embrace this realization. And personally, I grew tired of explaining the contradictions inherent in adopting dual citizenship from two very different nations. You see, I straddle between two different communities, one foot in Nigeria, which I fondly refer to as home; and foot planted in the United States – where I currently pen from. I am African American in the truest sense of the word – an African living in America. Yes, if we parse it down, I could very well label myself as Nigerian American, Igbo American…Ohuhu American (?). It can get unnecessarily specific. In light of this I still, towards the end of a survey or application, proudly place my check next to “Black, African American.” <– Can someone tell me when the US Census will decide to drop the word “Negro” from its lexicon…forget being politically correct, it’s just redundant. I get it, I’m black – I don’t need a reminder in Portuguese…anyway, I digress.
The African-American experience, I have come to find, is an incredibly diverse one. We include those whose ancestry stems from the trans-Atlantic slave trade, to recent Haitian immigrants, to black Londoners who now call the US their own.
Even those who find their roots strongly laid in the soils of long-forgotten Southern plantations are themselves brimming with a rich genetic diversity, featuring parentage from Caucasian, Native and other American sources. Though popular news sites and blogs during the 2008 US presidential campaign season continued to argue about whether to classify President Obama as black, white, or biracial, I still maintain that he is the first African American president of the United States. Heck, if word got out that Puerto Rican American Supreme Court Judge Sotomayor’s great-great-great-great-great grandmother may have been black, I’m claiming her too. Lord knows we need all the good press we can get.
In light of our differences, I always thought that it would be a difficult task to pin any one cultural experience as that which defines our blackness, particularly here in the US. However, these days, I stand to be corrected.
“…uknowurblackwhen…,” read the title of a recent article from an online black magazine I read a while back. The article sought to explore the story behind a Twitter trend in which black twitterers would key the strokes #uknowurblackwhen followed by their perception of shared African American experiences. Being a moderately avid black twitterer myself, I was familiar with this trend before reading the article. Though my familiarity with this phenomenon was merely limited to the only “uknowurblack” tweet I received from a follower, who admitted we both failed to meet several of the standards posed by our fellow African American twitterers.
No, I don’t … “drink Koolaid from the pickle jar” (old butter tubs, yes).
Nope, I do not have in my possession…“a busted car with a bangin’ sound system” (both car and sound system are “busted,” thank you very much).
My fake hair pieces (weaves) are not the most expensive items I own. See above re: busted car with busted sound system.
Later, upon checking out several of the “uknowurblack” tweets, I found I had more in common with those followed by the “uknowurnotblack” tags.
The quest to define what it means to be African American is not a recent phenomenon nor is the discussion limited to playground fights, casual tweets, and heated debates in the media. Many in the social sciences are aware of the African American Acculturation Scale (AAAS) which seeks to assess the extent to which an individual has adopted the culture, attitudes, and behaviors of blacks in America. The scale is based on eight parameters, which include items such as religion and superstitions, disposition towards race relations and interracial relationships, and interestingly – “a preference for African American things.” While this scale could be somewhat predictive health outcomes, voting behaviors and the like, I contend that it is hardly reflective of the actual African American experience, which comprises of a melting pot of different groups and nationalities. The notion of a “traditional” African-American who represents all of us, is one I find problematic. The traditional African American person flies in the face of our everyday realities as a varied group of black males and females living and thriving in the United States.
If there ever were to be a black version of the Statue of Liberty, I imagine that she would daily call out for the black, “huddled masses yearning to be free,” regardless of whether these masses hail from grassy New England suburbs, rural communities in North Carolina, or the cosmopolitan reaches of Lagos, Nigeria. “Send these…to me,” she cries. And she would take us – all of us – just as we are. (Take that, you anti-immigration psychos out there) …I kid ;).
The piece first appeared in the Clutch Magazine. Nneoma can be found on twitter at http://twitter.com/pyoowata.