Rant: Neo-Colonialists Demand to Know Why I Don’t Call Myself “American”
Simply put, I don’t want to — I’m Nigerian.
But in case this isn’t enough for you, here’s my angry rebuttal. I’m leaving it angry because, well I’m angry, at constantly having to defend the right to claim my Nigerian cultural identity to xenophobic Americans. Just because many people don’t claim Ireland, or Germany, or Poland, or “Africa” for that matter, doesn’t mean that I’m required to follow suit.
I recognize that being able to claim where I’m from may be viewed as a privilege in this country, given the sensitive history, but, again, I’m not American, I’m Nigerian, and where I’m from, we claim our cultural identities down to the last sign post. Delta, Nigeria, West Africa, I won’t lose myself in this so-called melting pot just yet… I want kids at home to look at all that I stood for and accomplished and be able to say, “That’s one of our own, too.” It’s more important to me to empower the marginalized groups and communities that I’m a part of than to appease the egos of a bunch of privileged, nationalist people (who made fun of my accent in high school and laughed when I bowed to greet elders).
1) Most of these nationalist labelers don’t even own passports; everyone knows that the majority of Americans living in this country hardly travel outside of the western hemisphere (that’s right, Mexico and the Dominican Republic for spring break don’t count). If we’re gonna start defining “Americans” as those people who actually “own passports” then there goes a whooolle lotta people, including you most likely.
2) Should I really be deemed more american than the people who actually want to claim that title? I imagine that’s a danger to “National Security”. Oh that’s right, some people actually agree with this! No wonder immigrants get treated like second class citizens, are threatened daily with the erasure of their histories, and Obama got called a Terrorist for having a Kenyan father and a Muslim name.
3) I have a Nigerian (green) passport as well as a US (blue) one, which is common. In fact, most of my friends from home have as many as three passports. Passports, simply put, enable you to ‘pass ports’ and experience the world beyond the borders of your immediate experience (whatever that may be). That’s why the rest of the world is so cultured — it’s not so ‘impressive’ when people speak two or three languages. Incidentally, Americans (black, white, educated, young, old etc) have asked me the dumbest questions I’ve ever heard in my life. “Do you have milk in Africa?” No, my mother fed me oil when I was a toddler. Wow.
4) Passport Privilege — If you’re saying that your blue passport is better than my green passport just because you live here and have been brainwashed to believe that the rest of the world is unhappy/poor/communist/carnivorous/inferior/etc, then clearly you’re an ignorant colonist wretch (and no, brown people are not absolved from exhibiting this same infantalizing colonist attitude about ‘citizenship’). (Incidentally, if you’re unaware of your blue passport privilege, I suggest you (at least once) take on the burden of turning your head slightly to the left or right at the airport just before you arrive in a new country — the people in those long ass, slow-moving immigration lines usually aren’t smiling.)
5) If I don’t want to be called American, then out of respect — no matter how convincing you think you argument is — please call me by whatever name I choose. I’m Nigerian. I’m proud of it (even if they piss me off too). Arguing with me over my preferred/claimed nationality is no better than forcing “dyke”, “black”, “feminist”, “man or woman” or even “nerd” on a person who doesn’t claim those nouns/labels. These nouns are only empowering if the individual chooses them for his/her/their self. Would you call a biracial person “white” if they claimed the african-american part of their racial identity? Would you insult a trans woman by routinely (and deliberately) referring to her as “he”? Arguing with me about my nationality is no different. Learn some manners and perhaps you’ll make a few more friends
6) Smart, progressive, Americans know that unity and diversity are only attained if we respect and acknowledge each other. So please, stop perpetuating to the rest of the world (including the multi-national people/immigrants currently residing in the US) that ignorance and xenophobia are the only catalyst available in this so-called “melting pot.”
In closing: The fight for equal treatment under the law, immigration reform, and citizenship for members of both my immediate and adopted (immigrant community) family does NOT equate to any sort of desire to erase my cultural background/heritage. I am the warrior woman I am today in part because of where I’m from; no one (man or country) can ever take that away from me.