Warning: This is a rant. AKA I’m pissed (enough to write about it), and don’t feel the need to explain myself further than this:

I’m Nigerian. I’m African. I’m Black. They don’t compete, they complement, which is why when I’m asked to silence one for the sake of the other, I don’t. This rant is a response to ignorant statements I’ve heard all month, like these: “It’s Black History Month, not Nigerian History Month,” “The reason one would cling to ethnicity is that they’re victims of internalized racism; self-hate for being black,” “Why do you feel the need to differentiate yourself by calling yourself Nigerian?” (wow).

So, I’m done with the placating diplomatic internet speak (for now). I think it’s healthy to reserve the right to throw a tantrum every once in a while. We’re all human. Especially when there’s this sanctioned idea that it’s okay to rant against white people but not ‘your own’ — which in itself is why I wrote the piece. Who decides who ‘my own’ should be? Who decides where I belong?

Dear American / Black Person / Over-Educated Academic, Who Seeks to Educate Me about Race,

Please don’t tell me I relate more to my ethnicity than my race because of internalized racism. I can’t tell you how infuriating this is. Displaying pride and passion about my cultural roots isn’t — and should not be taken as — an affront on anyone else’s. I’m proud to be Nigerian, period.

When you imply that the US framework for discussing race is the only framework that matters, you invalidate my experience as an African woman. I didn’t grow up here — by speaking as a Nigerian, Igbo-Rivers woman, I am merely staying true to myself and honoring where I came from, the same way I believe it’s important to never erase the history of slavery, colonization, apartheid, and other chapters of “black” history. It all matters, regardless of where or how my history has happened, and so I honor mine.

My mother’s people were killed for being Igbo, not for being black; I was bullied in high school for being African, and having an accent, not for being black; and while I won’t deny that I’ve experienced racism in this country for being a black woman, and would never downplay the solidarity I feel with women of color, racism is not my whole story.

I still get black people making derogatory comments about my “mandigo” African heritage. I still hear black people saying stupid things about immigration. I will not re-center my narrative to fit into your western framework about oppression from white people, because black people — and the idea of monolithic blackness that erases my cultural heritage — have been just as oppressive.

I am so very perplexed at your view that “north” american (since you keep forgetting that south america exists, and have appropriated “america” to mean just the US) discourse is and should remain the center of all conversations about race (a la “Let’s stay focused — it’s the US we’re talking about…”) especially since there are so many migrant groups in this “melting pot” such as (Black) Latinos, Haitians, African immigrants, other Caribbean folk etc who have also had to submit to the dogma of Blackness just to “fit in” to your imposed, binary conversations about race; one that perpetuates the unhealthy idea that the monolithic black american community has suffered the worst kind of oppression — that there’s an hierarchy of oppression in the first place; one that maintains that, if we are to engage in any discussions about racism, we will have to identify solely as “black” for the purposes of presenting a “unified front.” Forget being Nigerian, or African. Hell, forget being a woman. But f**k that.

I wasn’t viewed as black until the age of 18 when I arrived for school; I was Nigerian before then. Even still, I’ve only been Nigerian for as long as the history of colonization, but I’ve been an Igbo/Rivers matriarchal warrior way longer than that i.e before Africa’s colonizers draw squiggly lines on a map, designating me “Nigerian” for the purposes of dividing and conquering. And though you may not see it, being “culture-blind” is just another form of being “color-blind,” which we all know is just another way for oppressors to avoid talking about how they are actively or passively partaking in a racially oppressive system. It is no different for conversations about ethnicity. I won’t sit down and be black for the sake of fake solidarity.

Diaspora immigrants like me have our cultural reference points along the axes of nationality and culture — not just race — so please stop with the xenophobic, nationalist view of blackness, brownness, race etc, because we come in multiple shades, ethnicities, languages, and histories etc, and as a direct result, multiple and varied perspectives about oppression. It is burdensome to keep having to remind you about this, and I am so over it.

I’d rather teach race 101 to white people, than have to explain to one more person of color — the people who really should get it already, the people who I assume would be able to understand the pain of being continually silenced — that we are all not brown in the same way, in the same “American” way. I’d rather bury my head in the sand than listen to one more black person tell me “you need to learn your history,” when you know nothing of my heroes — the Margaret Ekpo’s, Ojukwu’s, Soyinka’s, Ngugi’s, and Adichie’s of world black history as I know it. We are not all black in the same way. Ethnicity matters (at least, to me). Can I get a month — say, Black History Month — off from having to explain this? That would be awesome.

Signed,

Over-Black-Dogma, Spectra

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41 Responses to Black History Month Rant: We Are Not All Black in the Same Way

  1. Tiger says:

    I love this post. It's funny, even as an Irish person I run in to a version of this from white people who don't have an immigrant/diaspora story. The other day I was told that having cultural pride contributes to hatred because if we all have cultural pride it's just a nice way of saying we hate everyone else, and that contributes to the divisions in the world. A person in that same conversation told me she didn't want to be Irish and Native American. She'd rather be white, thank you, because it's easier. (?!) I don't get that. There's so much more complexity to the world than that and I think, much the way it seems you've articulated here, that giving up on those multiple identity tracks actually takes away and lessens instead of strengthening. When we perceive ourselves in "shades" it helps us–or so I hope–realize that the world is bigger than one country, one issue, etc. and that can and should inform our activism and the way we approach and bond with others. (and for white people…well, I am not sure if racism can truly be combated until white americans realize that they too have heritage and culture, and do so in a way that isn't about maintaining current privileges but rather about dismantling those same privileges, since the benefits come at the cost of identity)

    • Spectra says:

      I haven't had time to respond to your comment — I went on vacation shortly after I wrote this. But THANK YOU for making this connection between immigrant/diaspora, loss of ethnic identity, and race relations in North America regardless of race. Really insightful. Gave me something to think about.

      Love this too –> "and for white people…well, I am not sure if racism can truly be combated until white americans realize that they too have heritage and culture, and do so in a way that isn't about maintaining current privileges but rather about dismantling those same privileges, since the benefits come at the cost of identity"

      That statement above applies to everyone. When checked, people need to acknowledge their part in the oppressive system, not to feel endlessly guilty or incite aggression but so we can all work together in dismantling it. Thank you!

  2. Jaded African says:

    Sigh. You are singing my song.

  3. Lakshmi says:

    Hear Hear!

  4. Lesley Agams says:

    I feel you sister. I’m Russian/ Igbo-Nigerian that grew up in the US before coming ‘home.’ I have suffered that kind of closed thinking in Nigeria. ‘My world view is The World view’. Trying to silence and erase my history. I resented it too. Rants are allowed. Dr. King would say they cause a creative tension. Tell them some history. How’s that for Black History Month?

    On a more progressive level Black Americans and I use the phrase deliberately need to learn more African history and not just about the colonial Independence struggles. Is there any organized effort around this?

    • Yes there is Lesley. As a Native African American, I sought to examine the history of my ancestral fathers via Africa and Egypt., long before the birth of Christ, and I find it quite exhilarating. Won’t you join me by exploring Black History: from Africa to Barack Obama.

      • Sugabelly says:

        Sorry but your ancestors are not from Egypt. They are from West Africa – Nigeria and co.

        Why are Black Americans always trying to claim Egypt as if West Africa isn't good enough? It's pathetic!

  5. Mary B. says:

    Excellent piece. You really hit the nail on the head about how the human-created concept of "race" –a way to categorize people according to external physical characteristics, with no scientific basis on actual genetic difference, in order to establish and maintain a socio-political & economic hierarchy– has become an oppressive paradigm. We are not, despite the fallacy of race, a post-racial society and will we ever get there? I don't know. And North America is not the world, as you so astutely point out, and yet that is the bill of goods the global community is sold again and again; but, we must resist cultural monopolies and double standards. I'm Polish and can 9 times out of 10 correctly distinguish someone from the heart of Russia from that of someone who hails from Poland/ Czech Republic based on facial characteristics/mannerisms…and yet people just think "that's cool" and I am not taken to task for that & have been (unjustly) granted the social & historical privilege to not homogenize "the white community". True, many African-Americans in the US have been denied the right to know their roots via the slave system and so must create a communal identity specific to the North American experience, I imagine the discrimination you get for being Nigerian comes from a place of deep pain and mourning for that which has been lost…and yet, people must break through it. Sharing your thoughts here is a start –and hopefully minds will open and engage.

    • Spectra says:

      Mary, as always, your comment boils over with empathy and insight. I found myself nodding vigorously at this: " I imagine the discrimination you get for being Nigerian comes from a place of deep pain and mourning for that which has been lost…and yet, people must break through it." YES. We should acknowledge everyone's pain, not just one group; and when we do so, we should push through it to make connections, not sever them.

  6. THANK YOU. Last year I tried to talk about how discourse of race keeps coming back to a Black American-centric viewpoint and that people like me (a minority South Asian who grew up in a Malay-dominant country with its own issues of racism) can't relate. I got some support, but mostly I got a LOT of bullying and hate from people who claimed I was being "racist towards POC". the FUCK? So thank you for writing this; I can relate so well.

  7. Honestly, I don’t know what else to say other than FUCK YEAH! I love this piece. Spoken intelligently, thoughtfully, and truthfully. Racism is disgusting; intracultural/racial discrimination/ignorance is downright shameful and sad. Thank you for speaking your mind and your heart — sometimes far more good comes from “ranting” than letting it fester within.

  8. This is amazing. Often times highlighting our differences or not accepting a label is seen as being divisive, but at the the end its part of our identities. I say identities because we have many, and our identities are also fluid and constantly changing and developing. It's also sad to see that this happens to everyone. For myself, I refuse to be labeled another hyphenated American or Hispanic because of its negligence to my indigenous roots. It's not to be divisive, on the other hand its to be more inclusive. Creating labels for us, people of color, is another way to divide and conquer. It creates a divide, for me its a brown on brown divide which at times is hard to take in. Anyways, I loved your article and keep it up because through your story you are telling many of ours as well.

  9. Barbara Gee says:

    african americana are the only americans that are not immigrants.

    • Spectra Speaks says:

      African-Americans AND Native Americans. Yes, worth noting. Thanks for your comment.

    • Barbara Gee says:

      Native Americans ancestors did migrate to the south and north Africa American continent making them immigrants,that's beside the point. I am as American as any white Hispanic and Asian.This "Western framework" was created by all the races.If you see yourself as a foreigner by all means cool.I am not African,European,Asian.I am a American of African European and native American decent.I will not allow people to put me in a black box, white box or native American box. Africans who did not migrate but was forced over here in slave ship not only contributed to the making of this country called America through blood sweat and tears that allowed Nigerians to come over here and write a blog complaining how they have become westernized.When they arrived in Americas there was no west.I say be grateful to the" Blacks" for paving the way if you love Nigeria so much and don't want to be westernized move there.Its a plane ticket away.

    • Barbara Gee says:

      typo Native Americans did migrate to the south and north American continent making them immigrants.

    • Barbara Gee I'll start with a respectful request that you refrain from making personal attacks against me or any other commenter for that matter. I write to inspire discussion, not verbal riots. I welcome disagreement — it's great for discussion — an I know it is possible to do so without hurling insults / invalidating other people's perspectives.

      That said, this is simply not true: "This "Western framework" was created by all the races" — um, no, it was created by colonial, racist, white people (that is common knowledge) and I don't have to adopt it. However, that, too, is besides the point.

      THIS: "I am a American of African European and native American decent.I will not allow people to put me in a black box, white box or native American box." I agree, boxes trivialize the complexities of who we are, hence I don't wish to be put in a "black" box either. We agree here. I don't think you read the entire blog post — it's asking for people to respect others, particularly those who identify with their ethnicity as not everyone's cultural reference point is when white people created the concept of race. Period.

      And, this –> "that allowed Nigerians to come over here and write a blog complaining how they have become westernized." The fact that you would categorize a blog post, which by the way acknowledges and insists on respecting everyone's history — including African Americans — as "ungrateful" is not just condescending, it's part of a huge problem in this country, and part of what I sought out to address via this post. The "Go back to Africa" reminds me that the oppressed usually model their oppressors as I've heard this used in reference to African-Americans who complain about racism to "go back to Africa" as well. That's unfortunate, because if people who are proud of their cultural roots are told to go back, guess what, there'd be practically no one left in the US.

      Finally, I'm quite baffled that you would continually refer to Native Americans as immigrants. I don't know how to respond to that.

  10. Barbara Gee says:

    I am a result of america.my ancestors are african greek english and native american.

  11. Well I can appreciate your complexities; ethnic, cultural, regional, continental, etc. I think it's valuable to have these dialogues… amongst people who will listen anyways because they are a type of education most wont receive in school. "Black" "Americans" come from a dynamically interwoven cloth of exactly the kind of complexities and stories you speak to. So in our differences in many ways we are the same. I grew up in Seattle Washington, but the Black culture there was different enough from the Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Mobile, Alabama Black cultures my parents were raised in to create numerous clashes in our own home. Then I moved to Tallahassee Florida which is again totally different. These could easily be separate countries, though they are called United States. The climates, traditions, ways of thinking, even the way the economies are structured are extremely different. I imagine Miami Black identity is closer to those of folks in the islands than folks in the Mid-West, or Seattle for instance. So what you are highlighting is also true here in some ways and to some degree. I appreciate you, and I appreciate the education. Thank you.

    • Spectra Speaks says:

      This is TRUTH -> "I grew up in Seattle Washington, but the Black culture there was different enough from the Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Mobile, Alabama Black cultures my parents were raised in to create numerous clashes in our own home. Then I moved to Tallahassee Florida which is again totally different. These could easily be separate countries, though they are called United States. The climates, traditions, ways of thinking, even the way the economies are structured are extremely different. I imagine Miami Black identity is closer to those of folks in the islands than folks in the Mid-West, or Seattle for instance."

      Thank you for sharing that comment with us. I appreciate you, too, and your willingness to engage and illustrate through your personal experience. I remember visiting Texas a few years ago and thinking, "wow, this is why they can't understand why people are angry with George W." The quality of life was amazing, which for some indicated that the president was doing his job. (Politics aside, not taking a stance here). And it made sense, given that you could drive for HOURS and still be in Texas! But the culture / accent / demographic would change. America's a huge place, with so many different cultures part of it. This is again part of why I think forcing everyone to identify with one big umbrella for the sake of solidarity sells us short. We should unite through our differences, not across them. Thank you :)

  12. nicole byrd says:

    Ermmmm…..I understand where you're coming from on a certain level but it seems you want it both ways. On the one hand, you use terms like 'fake solidarity' but then turn around and say "….the people who really should get it already, the people who I assume would be able to understand the pain of being continually silenced…" Why would you assume people would understand your need or desire to acknowledge your ethnicity when you clearly feel no solidarity with these very same people. And generalizing certainly does not help your plight, every African American does not feel that you must pick one or the other. In fact, many Black Americans seek to incorporate their lost/stolen heritage into their current lives. Being Nigerian and celebrating your culture doesn't seem like a problem but being self absorbed is quite another thing.

    • Spectra Speaks says:

      Nicole, thanks for your comment! I'm going to respectfully ask that you read the comment policy before you comment, as I fervently welcome disagreement (I believe in the power of discussion), but personal attacks against me (or any other commenter for that matter) are not welcome. I don't write to spark verbal riots — I write to encourage discussion. Knowing that now, I welcome you can engage in a respectful manner that doesn't include attacks on my character.

      Incidentally, I believe most of the answers to the issues you raise in your comment are already addressed explicitly above, but I wonder if you read (or missed) them. So for the purpose of clarifying, I'll address as follows:

      1) 'fake solidarity' — yes, it's fake if I'm silenced to fit in, silenced about my ethnicity so that I can fit into binary white-black conversations about race, black being the sole identifier. It would be fake solidarity to feel like I can't talk about my experience as a women of color in "women" spaces, or about my LGBT identity in "POC" spaces etc. Silencing / pretending that one part of my identity doesn't exist for the sake of some umbrella group is "fake solidarity" — as many people of color feel with the term "American" for instance — as the government prioritizes the most privileged in that group over others (e.g. people of color, women, immigrants etc). That is what I meant.

      2) "Why Would you assume people would understand your need or desire to acknowledge your ethnicity when you clearly feel no solidarity with these same people?" — Um, I do feel solidarity, as in the 3rd paragraph: "And while I won’t deny that I’ve experienced racism in this country for being a black woman, and would never downplay the solidarity I feel with women of color, racism is not my whole story." More importantly though, I honestly don't think solidarity as a filter for empathy for other human beings is healthy for communities. I may not feel "solidarity" with someone from Australia, but if they should raise the question of feeling excluded, I would hope that I could tap into my own experiences of feeling excluded to empathize with them (not shut down as many people do when their privilege is brought up).

      3) "Generalizing doesn't help your plight" — Some of what I have to say about this statement can be found here (http://angerisjustified.wordpress.com/2011/08/25/tone-and-sensitivity/). Race discussions have been derailed / shut down when well-meaning white people chime in with "well not ALL of us are like this." It's a given. It's acknowledged. The "To" at the begin of my rant even targets a specific personality profile that is guilty of this "in my own experience." So, I'm not sure categorizing an intentional rant as generalizing moves the conversation forward or helps our community in general. Again, sounds similar to when white people dismiss arguments from "angry black people" (who have to deal with race).

      4) Many Black Americans do seek to incorporate their lost/stolen heritage into their current lives — for sure. No disagreement there. But again, my rant isn't directed at those people. Moreover, there is no where in my rant that implies African-Americans who do NOT seek to incorporate lost/stolen heritage into their lives are doing something wrong (just to be clear). Nope. I'm simply asking everyone to respect my way of identifying, and not take it as an assault on "Blackness" or solidarity or whatever.

      I hope this provides enough clarification. Thanks again for your comment!

  13. michel says:

    First, I can't fully articulate my appreciation and gratitude for this piece. It is absolutely validating and affirming of the immigrant identity of many diverse folks of color–including my very own immigrant identity. This piece highlights the dire need for understanding, visibility, and appreciation for the richness of the immigrant diaspora in the discourse of race in the U.S., including the the discourse of Black race. My immigrant identity intersects at the core of my Dominican, Spanish, Arawak, and African heritage. So thank you for putting into words what some of us have yearned to express to our peers (and allies.)

    Second, thanks for addressing the pink elephant in the room. I too experienced exclusion from peer students who were of African-American and Puerto Rican identity, because I had a "hick" accent and because I was an "immigrant". That experience cemented my identity as an "immigrant" and taught me that I was different from peers. It is an identity that over time I came to embrace and to never feel shame for being an "immigrant". It does get tiring to say to my peers that I grew up home speaking Spanish at home and in school. That my education was not one formed by assimilation, but by the inheritance of Dominican culture, traditions, and views. I can't count the many times that my peer U.S. born Latino peers have questioned my identity and background. To ascertain that I'm Dominican, they go as far as asking me where my parents are from after I say I was born in the Dominican Republic……..sigh!

    In short, thank you for sharing this eloquent, heart warming, and thought provoking piece.

  14. Spectra – very interesting discussion (both arguments), check out this documentary that aired on PBS just a few days ago – http://www.morethanamonth.org/2012/.

  15. li_roc says:

    Wow. Thank you for speaking my life experience.

  16. li_roc says:

    As the child of Haitian immigrants I have always felt a chasm between myself and African Americans . When I was in school, it was the African American kids who made fun of my nationality and my last name (for some reason back in the 90's, before the Fugees came out, the worst thing ever was to be a Haitian. ) They were the ones who told me I practiced voodoo, that I was a boat refugee, and that I probably ate cats for dinner. Black Americans were the ones who taunted my older cousins in the 80's by telling them that since they were Haitian they probably had AIDS. Thanks to these experiences, when I was a child I wanted nothing more then to assimilate to African American culture and be "normal" with a last name that was easy to pronounce and parents that didn't have accents.

    It took me a really long time to bridge the disconnect that I felt with African Americans because I never felt like I was really accepted by them. I still feel like I'm not particularly accepted at times but now as adult who now takes extreme pride in my heritiage and who won't let anyone denigrate my culture, I now get into arguements with African Americans that feel that since I was born here I'm African American too and that calling myself Haitian is disingenuous and that stating that I connect with a more Haitian cultural identity is traitorous. I feel that when black issues are discussed, the experiences and historical figures of people of different nationalities are often neglected for the good of presenting a united front, as though things can improve for all of us if only the plight of African Americans is addressed. This couldn't be further from the truth and by treating ourselves like a monolithic group of people with one common historical experience and one homogenous world perspective we do ourselves a disservice. A lot of black Americans need to force themselves to look outside of their American ethnocentric bubble.

  17. I understand your perspective but what I think u don't understand is that our history does not separate. Black history is african history and african history is black history. We are the same people. Descendants of the same continents. Just because I was born and raised in America doesn't make my history any different then yours. Those slaves I come from came from africa. That's what we must understand, there is no separation, and when we create one we promote disunity.

  18. Her says:

    Due to the slave trade we have been separated, why continue that cycle? We are stronger in numbers (and I don’t know if anyone else has looked at the world view of “blacks” which has a negative/ 2nd class overtone in most of the world). This seems almost as a separatist mentality. I can understand and accept that we have been displaced in many parts of the world, but to say we are not all black in the same way??? I am a bit discouraged when reading this….Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but if we are using the term “black” and using it to describe people descended from Africa, then we are all the same. Our cultures may be different, but yes, our race is the same. I am not saying that the US doctrine for race is the determining factor, however, on a world view scale, if your hypothesis is valid, is there no such thing as “black”? When “white” people are from Europe is the world view of them not “white”? For the “black” person who is born in America and parents born elsewhere, would they be classified as two different “blacks”? I would like more clarification…..

    • I’m not sure I can understand your question. Moreover, I’m not sure you read the entire piece (?) if you can characterize my need to be affirmed in my cultural/ethnic identity separatist, especially since I clearly state solidarity with black people and “people of color” in general (and even you go on to make my same point ie. that we have different cultures).

      Also, I’ve already explained in earlier comments. My main issue arises when black people tell me that I’m being separatist, have internalized racism etc.whenever I affirm my Nigerian heritage. I believe in strength in numbers, absolutely, not “solidarity” at the expense of the individual, and that happens way too often.

      We are all in the same boat inspires healthier solidarity to me than we are all the same. We aren’t; not even within the US as some other commenters pointed out e.g. the south vs north, mixed.race, caribbean etc. I certainly am not for setting up an “hierarchy” of blackness, but ignoring diversity within it — because it’s not monolithic regardless of what some white ppl/westerners perpetuate — is what creates tensions and then fragmentation. I am not preaching separatism, but promoting the idea of affirming ALL our cultures/experiences as black people, especially for people who have lived their lives identifying as their nationality/ethnicity. I’m Nigerian, African, Black, Igbo etc. I refuse to submit to political agendas forcing me to choose one at the expense of others, the same way I hold LGBT movements accountable for reducing me to
      just a “gay” person and ignoring the needs of people of color; I’m not the
      one doing causing separtism, it’s the people who attempt to silence the
      voices of minority groups for their own agensas that are.

      For African Americans in particular – who are used to calling out white
      people when they burden POC communities with having to “explain” racsim 101
      - it is especially frustrating that this kind of privileged behavior is
      replicated when it comes to discussing how ethnic groups feel
      silenced/excluded; instead of asking what they can do to make us feel
      welcome (in the interest of building true solidarity) we are accused of
      “distracting” from the larger goal (whose goal? Who set the agenda? The
      strategy?) then asked to justify our feelings of exclusion as you just did.
      Perhaps you can re-read the rant with this in mind.

      • Nstantvntage says:

        Again, yes, there are “black” people that are from different places deriving different cultures, and we should be accepting of them all, however, when one picks this apart we are all derived from the same place, which would make us a group which creates race. We are all the same race: “black” (in world view, like you said above “I’m Nigerian, African, Black, Igbo etc.”), but different by culture and possibly nationality.  As aforementioned “Our cultures may be different, but yes, our race is the same.”  The same “black”.  You say you are all for “promoting the idea of affirming ALL our cultures/experiences as black people” >>>you say, “our culture”…”as black people”….OUR, as if your “black”, and other’s “black” are the same (which seems hypocritical to the title, and tone of the rant). If the piece was entitled my ALL BLACK CULTURES ARE NOT THE SAME, you wouldn’t get a peep out of me. However from reading it above 3 times before a 4th reread per your suggestion, that is not the way this piece reads to me. (Humorous that you tell anyone who doesn’t %100 agree with you to re-read your post, as if your point is going to start making more sense. I’m sure that you could learn a thing or two from those who don’t totally concur with you.) Plus seeing you say  that “we are all not brown in the same way, in the same “American” way” just furthers my point. Maybe you want to re-read what I my post, “WORLD VIEW”.  That is a key in this discussion. This is not an American thing, but it seems like you are hung up on that instead of being able to understand my point of race vs. culture. Two very separate things.

        • I hate to break it to you but nothing about your point is furthered. As you may have noticed, there are a number of people raising nuances in the discussion via previous comments. Per comment policy, I’m open to disagreement as long as it isn’t derailing. Bravo for noticing that I’m focused on taking to Americans — it’s in the “to” at the beginning of the address. :) I don’t write rants often, which is why I prefaced this one (but you seem determined to “win”an argument instead of ask me how to make me feel affirmed in monolithic black spaces). You still haven’t done that. Coupled with your “tone” argument (despite, again, this being a “rant” lol), this exchange feels similar to when poc complain about exclusion to white people and then white people respond with justifications and then derailing arguments about tone/semantics. And “your” point on race vs culture? It was noted by the 2nd paragraph. If you’re but seeking a way to address the problem of monolithic blackness in the context of the US (which is the entire point of this point), I’m but sure it’s worth continuing the conversation. Do read up on “tone policing” though. You did a lot of it, and it’s a popular silencing tactic used. In the future off you’d like to engage in conversation (at least on my blog), I encourage you to ask questions, affirm and validate commonalities you do see first (honestly, I’m not even sure we disagree all that much, you’re just exhibiting defensiveness — which is to be expected, it was a rant) before making blanket statements (i.e separatist) about my political beliefs. Thanks for your thoughts.

          • Nstantvntage says:

            I truly do not see this as a tangent. I see that you say you wrote this to open up discussion, and we are doing just that, having a constructive conversation on the matter at hand. Though you may not think semantics is important, when used in the context of the internet and writing, especially about something as sensitive as race, culture, and nationality, it  is. You are opening up into a worldwide platform and putting out these thoughts which I said I was not impartial to. Again “everyone is entitled to an opinion”.  However, your usage of terms is the antithesis in your attempt to validate your point.  It sets the tone of how the world (whom has access to such) could perceive what you are saying. I simply do not agree with your way of deducing the matter at hand. I think there is a more level ground that could be taken then to flat out say such a blanketed statement as “Not all Black in the Same Way” >>This is an illogical statement. As per your blog, I didn’t know that you were looking for only people who agree, to state they agree first, then ask questions. I was just merely giving my opinion of how this felt like such a fail in “black solidarity” instead of a step in the right direction as far as the idea of monolithic race goes. Though yes you mentioned solidarity to some extent, it still was drowned out by the continuance of being so different, and so not “the same way”.  As for tone policing, I am not too worried about that. I am well aware that I am not being defensive because I welcome your opinion, but have some critiques which I think reveal that this piece may produce adverse effects to what you are trying to accomplish with the piece. You can think whatever you want of me. Your OPINION does not give any validation to that either. Funny, you keep breaking your own policies, judging my character, when you asked the other commenter not to do such to you. After all I am not silencing you, but just merely letting you know how I perceived the piece.   

            • Oy… where do I start with this?

              “Affirm” and validate in the context of a “sensitive” discussion about race, culture, etc doesn’t mean agree like a puppet but validate. If I wanted only people that agreed with me I would moderate comments and only approve the ones I like. Cherry picking from my statements (and hinging your evasive non-arguments with semantics) aren’t really moving this forward, contrary

              Let’s be clear. Your opening comment as a first response to someone expressing frustration with oppression (however angrily) was an epic fail, period. Oppression 101: when someone from a marginalized group expresses that they feel excluded, the LAST way you should respond is ignoring their main point to focus on the manner in which it was delivered and then make suggestions by calling for more politeness. White people do this ALL the time to derail conversations about race / refocus on their hurt/defensive feelings. If you say your’e serious about solidarity in practice, and not just for internet theory speak, you’re not helping by replicating that behavior. I wanted to point this out to you and asked you to re-read again so we could have a conversation about the topic at hand. But you just dug in further.

              That said,I *completely *disagree that this is constructive as you’ve been arguing about “how” I presented the issue vs the issue itself:

              ” I simply do not agree with your way of deducing the matter at hand. I
              think there is a more level ground that could be taken then to flat out say
              such a blanketed statement as “Not all Black in the Same Way” >>This is an
              illogical statement.”

              We are all black. Agreed. There are Caribbean people, Nigerian people,
              mixed race, African-American people etc. Awesome that you get that. So how
              on earth is “We are not all black the same way” an illogical statement? By
              the way, that’s the only clear point you’ve proposed to the conversation
              tonight besides going off about how you don’t appreciate my tone *despite
              the warning that I was pissed and giving myself the opportunity to be
              pissed in the preface to the post!* This is why I initially asked you, did
              you actually read anything I wrote to understand or were you just waiting
              to fire back?

              The only reason I’ve kept responding is because your initial response,
              follow up comments on tone etc are exactly the kind of behavior that
              prompted this post in the first place and it’s worth it to me point to out
              to other readers who may have wanted to see what constantly happens in my
              every day, whether I am polite, angry, begging to be heard, the response
              from black people in the US is usually the same: stop dividing us.

              You don’t agree with my rant against being silenced in monolithic black
              spaces. Not sure you can disagree with how someone feels, but okay. You
              don’t agree that I’ve “ranted” instead of “politely” explained how the
              unhealthy idea of monolithic blackness and other kinds of silencing
              behavior has resulted in bullying, ostracization, and attempted suicide in
              my life. As I mentioned previously, that is to be expected as checking our
              own privilege is hard and very uncomfortable. I expect the defensiveness,
              but I’m not obligated to entertain it. As a good friend often says, we’re
              not talking about golf. This is a serious issue worth the fire to work
              through.

              I stand by what I wrote; I can’t say I feel like you’ve done the same;
              first you claimed to have a question (I responded/clarified and asked you
              to re-read with my explanation in mind), then you claimed to be really
              making a point about the manner in which I delivered my message; that was
              re-centering the narrative/derailing. This last comment is where you’ve
              (finally) been able to state clearly that you feel there’s a “better” way
              to build black solidarity than ranting. I have heard you. And per your
              quote above, I disagree. My tone is besides the point, plus I don’t believe
              in an hierarchy of activism; I needed to rant for my sanity, so I did. It
              so happens that others who feel the way I do needed to read it. My rant, as
              “illogical” as you claim it is, achieved its purpose: we all feel less
              alone/isolated. What is your purpose for commenting? I ask in earnest.

              Evading the truth — that constructive would be focusing the conversation
              on “why” I’m angry versus how I express my anger — by ending with “I have
              the right to your opinion” and that you were just letting me know how the
              piece made you feel is a cop out. If you’re commenting to understand where
              I’m coming from I’ll happily engage you. Till then, I maintain that you
              need to follow your own advice and check your expectations at being
              listened to given how much of your comment has been focused on anything but
              the main issues in the post.

  19. Devi Dee says:

    I will re-read and maybe comment again later, but I want to say right off that as an African-American (a term I only use for convenience in this discussion) race and racism are not my whole story either. I don't think any African-American person believes that is true any more than African, Caribbean, or Latino immigrants do. You may want to examine why you believe that is the end-all of our existence. Same for if your solidarity with us is based on experiencing racism. Maybe this doesn't need not to be expressed but African-Americans are not simply Black either. We may not have the strong ties to Africa or any nation or peoples in Africa as you do, but we do have ties to the continent. Ties we have shed blood to hold on to. Ties that we have researched until our eyes blurred to understand. We fought and still fight to be African in a country that wants to identify us only by the color of our skin. And we've developed quite a culture/cultures of our own with what we managed to retain from Africa and what we've built off our own experiences. So while I don't minimize the importance of you being a Nigerian woman, I don't prioritize your African-ness over mine.

    I know this was a rant for you, and I can appreciate the frustration that led you to it. I also think in the process of this ranting you made quite a misstep in your characterizations of African-Americans. I don't want to deny your experiences with people, I believe you and understand why you're angry. Yet, I don't understand why you think black people's ignorance about Africa, African people, or immigrations is "just as oppressive" as white people's. Maybe you need to look a little more into African-American history and education to understand the difference. And also consider the choice of oppressive as the word to describe what you're experiencing.

    So, I'm going to have another look at this later and maybe comment further. Right now I have to get off the Internet and deal with this hair that managed to survive all efforts to erase my ancestry.

    • Spectra says:

      Hi Devi,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I’ll respond to the points that I believe are central to the point of the piece since 1) my piece does not suggest a prioritization of “African-ness” but an acknowledgement of all the cultural nuances within “Black” and 2) I don’t agree that you appreciate (your words, I’d choose “understand”) where my frustration is coming from and I’d like to reiterate.

      For one, the opening paragraph, then address line of my rant was directed to a subset of people:

      I’m Nigerian. I’m African. I’m Black. They don’t compete, they complement, which is why when I’m asked to silence one for the sake of the other, I don’t. This rant is a response to ignorant statements I’ve heard all month, like these: “It’s Black History Month, not Nigerian History Month,” “The reason one would cling to ethnicity is that they’re victims of internalized racism; self-hate for being black,” “Why do you feel the need to differentiate yourself by calling yourself Nigerian?” (wow).

      Dear American / Black Person / Over-Educated Academic Who Seeks to Educate Me About Race…

      I’m not sure the motivation for my rant could have been said any clearer — I’m tired of people in this country prioritizing their experience with race over everyone else’s, and more importantly, that people think it’s okay to perpetuate that all “black” experiences are the same, INCLUDING African-Americans. I concede that I did not spend much time during my rant reiterating that there are some African-Americans who also aren’t down with the idea that we are collective cultures aren’t nuanced, but then again I’ve experienced the most harassment / “schooling” from this group. So, with all due respect, you can’t claim to appreciate where I’m coming from, or not want to deny my experiences when you’re essentially challenging them to be true via this statement, “I don’t think any African-American person believes that is true any more than African, Caribbean, or Latino immigrants do.”

      As I mentioned, I was aggressively bullied, harassed, stalked etc when I first came to this country by black kids who were angry that I referred to myself as Nigerian and not ‘black like everyone else.’ In college, the dean of minority affairs told me to seek support elsewhere for financial aid since his office was for ‘minority’ students (not Africans). In my community organizing work I frequently run into people (more frequently African-Americans) who use the same silencing tactics used by white people to dismiss my heritage: “Stop talking about xenophobia / African stuff, you’re dividing us.” So, I’m sorry. I recognize your need to affirm your African heritage / ancestry, but I think you’re missing the entire point of the rant (per the stated motivation and points about being silenced/forced into a box) and your comments aren’t addressing the issue.

      How then can we build a community of “Black” people that readily recognizes that we are all different, and rather than seek to silence each other, embrace the nuances among us? Especially when the conversations around “Race” in this country are just that… about race, and rarely drill down to discussing culture and ethnicity since for some (I definitely understand) it is a sensitive issue? It’s great to hear that you feel ties with Africa, but there are many African-Americans who do not and they’re likely the ones that have rolled their eyes or told me to focus on being “black” instead whenever I mentioned feeling alienated by, say, weird statements about immigration, “Mandingo” jokes etc in “black” spaces.

      On a final note, and perhaps it doesn’t need to be said, but I don’t think US race/racism convos have a monopoly on the word “oppressive.” When I go by this definition,

      Adjective:
      Unjustly inflicting hardship and constraint, esp. on a minority or other subordinate group.
      Weighing heavily on the mind or spirits; causing depression or discomfort.

      … and I consider how I’ve been bullied, ostracized, and even via this very post, told to “Go back to Africa”, asked to stay quiet about identifying more closely with my ethnicity because I’m “dividing us” and a slew of other issues I don’t have the emotional capacity to go into, yes, I consider the interactions I’ve experienced just as oppressive.

      I hope dealing with your hair that refuses to forget your ancestry went well! Not sure what that meant but Africans, too, aren’t monolithic, so neither is our hair which comes in all textures, colors, and attitudes. :)

    • Spectra Speaks says:

      Hi Devi,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I’ll respond to the points that I believe are central to the point of the piece since I'm not sure the other parts stay on topic; my piece does not suggest a prioritization of “African-ness” but calls for people to more readily acknowledge cultural nuances within “Black” and avoid silencing diaspora (again, that's the focus of my piece) for the sake of "unity."

      The opening paragraph, then address line of my rant was directed to a subset of people:

      "I’m Nigerian. I’m African. I’m Black. They don’t compete, they complement, which is why when I’m asked to silence one for the sake of the other, I don’t. This rant is a response to ignorant statements I’ve heard all month, like these: “It’s Black History Month, not Nigerian History Month,” “The reason one would cling to ethnicity is that they’re victims of internalized racism; self-hate for being black,” “Why do you feel the need to differentiate yourself by calling yourself Nigerian?” (wow).

      Dear American / Black Person / Over-Educated Academic Who Seeks to Educate Me About Race…"

      I’m not sure the motivation for my rant could have been said any clearer — I’m tired of people — especially black people — in this country prioritizing their experience with race over everyone else’s, and more importantly, that many people think it’s okay to perpetuate that all “black” experiences are the same, INCLUDING African-Americans. I concede that I did not spend much time during my rant reiterating that there are some African-Americans who also aren’t down with the idea that we are collective cultures aren’t nuanced, but then again, that's similar to making a person of color reiterate over an over again in a piece about racism that not all white people are racist; it's derailing and misses the point. Moreover, I’ve experienced the most harassment / “schooling” from this group. So, with all due respect, you can’t claim to not want to deny my experiences when you’re essentially challenging them to be true via this statement, “I don’t think any African-American person believes that is true any more than African, Caribbean, or Latino immigrants do.”

      As I mentioned, I was aggressively bullied, harassed, stalked etc when I first came to this country by black kids who were angry that I referred to myself as Nigerian and not ‘black like everyone else.’ In college, the dean of minority affairs told me to seek support elsewhere for financial aid since his office was for ‘minority’ students (not Africans). In my community organizing work I frequently run into people (more frequently African-Americans) who use the same silencing tactics used by white people to dismiss my heritage: “Stop talking about xenophobia / African stuff, you’re dividing us.” I DEFINITELY recognize your African heritage / ancestry, but think you’re missing the entire point of the rant (per the stated motivation and points about being silenced/forced into a box) and your comments aren’t addressing the core issue: black people / diaspora who didn't grow up in the states whose identities aren't as heavily tied to race as American discourse dictates.

      How then can we build a community of “Black” people that readily recognizes that we are all different, and rather than seek to silence each other, embrace the nuances among us? Especially when the conversations around “Race” in this country are just that… about race, and rarely drill down to discussing culture and ethnicity since for some (I definitely understand) it is a sensitive issue? It’s great to hear that you feel ties with Africa, but there are many African-Americans who do not and they’re likely the ones that have rolled their eyes or told me to focus on being “black” instead whenever I mentioned feeling alienated by, say, weird statements about immigration, “Mandingo” jokes etc in “black” spaces.

      On a final note, and perhaps it doesn’t need to be said, but I don’t think US race/racism convos have a monopoly on the word “oppressive.” When I go by this definition,

      Adjective:
      Unjustly inflicting hardship and constraint, esp. on a minority or other subordinate group.
      Weighing heavily on the mind or spirits; causing depression or discomfort.

      … and I consider how I’ve been bullied, ostracized, and even via this very post, told to “Go back to Africa”, asked to stay quiet about identifying more closely with my ethnicity because I’m “dividing us” and a slew of other issues I don’t have the emotional capacity to go into, yes, I consider the interactions I’ve experienced just as oppressive.

      I hope dealing with your hair that refuses to forget your ancestry went well! Not sure what that meant but Africans, too, aren’t monolithic, so neither is our hair which comes in all textures, colors, and attitudes. :)

    • Devi Dee says:

      Spectra Speaks I don't often check my facebook page (I only have it because it's required for certain online activities), so I know this is a bit late for a response. I hope you'll be understanding.

      Let me start by saying that I only addressed a certain aspects of your post because that's the only thing that stood out to me that needed a correction of some sort. I didn't misunderstand the intent of your post, which was your insistence that African-Americans stop trying to tell you what your life and priorities as an African woman should be. I got that, it wasn't hard. And I agree. Responding to the ideas I chose to respond to didn't mean that I disagreed with you in total, or I would have done more to lay it out. It also doesn't mean that I missed your other points. I understood you clearly and have had similar conversations before. That was the point I was trying to make with the parts of my response that may have seemed extraneous to you; African-Americans have busted our asses to legitimize our proud relationship to Africa and Africans. What you experienced was/is real, but what you presented didn't include a true representation of who we are and how we all think and feel about Africans from the continent. It's definitely an aspect that can be found in a lot of places, but no people who worked as hard as we have to try to solidify a relationship against all efforts to stop us would all be as ignorant and caustic as what showed up in your rant (I know what a rant is, so of course you're entitled to go hard. But still).

      The fact that you were bullied is terrible (beyond terrible, nearly criminal and in some ways and a perfect example of the self-loathing that oppression instills in some people), but unfortunately, you seem to sport those scars so prominently that you kind of swing first, ask later. My comment to your post was an expression of unity–I was not picking on you or asking you to revisit troubled times from your childhood. It might be helpful to work on putting some of that behind you (or at least taking some time to properly contextualize it) so that you can see that a challenge to an idea is not the same as a challenge to your existence. The work you claim to want to do depends on it. Is this really the place you want to continue come from as you while claiming to want whats best for African people?

      The place where you insinuate that I want to deny your experiences leads me to believe you didn't read (or maybe didn't understand) the entire statement. In fact, I didn't deny your experiences, only suggested that there may have been some things you may not be clear on. You say in your initial piece that you, as a Nigerian, are not defined by racism, I say that I, an African-American am no more defined by racism than any other member of the diaspora. How is that denying your experience of anything? The only thing I could possibly be denying is your authority to tell African-Americans how we prioritize our experiences. You may have had certain conversations and other communications that have led you believe certain thing enough to feel that you need to rant about them, I was saying that it might not be wise to sum up a whole group based on those experiences because I know for with some certainty (as an African-American) that many people don't see things that way.

      You're wondering how we can build unity, a good start would be to try understand the limitations of the people you want to build with, as well as your own. How are you going to build when you, as the person who has expressly set out to build, can't step outside your personal pain enough to correctly analyze the situation? Do you think that building sustaining organizations and institutions among African-Americans who were raised with similar understanding of who we are is easy? I certainly hope your answer is no. If so, then you should be clear that building something the entire diaspora will want to be a part of will be fraught from time to time. ALL of us have to do our best to step outside the heavily psychologically charged meanings that are often given to what it means to be a black person, including all the gender, class, historical, geographical, etc. contradictions wrapped around it. It's there and there for a reason. We can't get tripped up on it and resign ourselves pain-based in fighting.

      As far as the definition of oppressive you choose to use, that's on you. I'm going with the political definition rather than the dictionary one. So until African-Americans as a group are participants in and beneficiaries of the systemic and brutal denial of rights, privileges, and full access to resources and self-determination of any other group of people, we're just going to have to disagree.

      And the hair comment. Miss, that was a joke. An attempt to lighten the mood and bond a little. My bad. Thank you for the quick anthro tip, but I'm well aware of the varied textures of African hair and the origins of my own. (I mean…really? Everything, sis?)

    • Spectra Speaks says:

      @devi, here's my final reply to you. I have heard ALL you've had to say — heard it the first time. And the fact that you're continually asserting that you'll derail a conversation about how to challenge xenophobia in the black diaspora (especially within African-American communities) to talk about how "not everyone black person acts the same / will feel the same way about you" suggests to me, again, that you still don't see how your approach is silencing.

      If I transposed all your comments/arguments to a discussion about racism — me being the person of color and you being the white person asserting that not ALL white people are racist so please get over your pain/ go process so we can really build — I doubt we'd be going back and forth. With ALL your comments, you've focused more on defending African-American people, than holding the subset (the VERY large subset) of people who do perpetuate these stereotypes/ideas about African identity (and the fallacy that it's fragmenting to relate more to your ethnicity than race) accountable. Again, this is VERY similar to the way oppression works: focusing on how "not everyone is being oppressive" and downplaying very serious criticism via dismissive remarks about being too emotional/too sensitive/ etc.

      We won't get anywhere with this. As with many derailing statements by white people when discussing racism, we've just spent a few loops going back and forth about how not all white people are racist –oh, I mean, not all African-Americans are aggressively intolerant of cultural differences; even though you claim to understand a rant and its purpose, you're stuck on responding to 'exception' arguments, and I don't find that helpful at this point.

      If you're down with the idea that people of color need to chill out, calm down, get over their anger etc before we can build unity with white people, then your suggestions that I abstain from expressing justified annoyance over my own experiences (then and very much NOW), make sense. Nor do I see how your "political definition" of oppression makes any sense; women are oppressed by men (which includes African-American men), LGBT people are oppressed by straight people (which includes straight African-Americans), IMMIGRANTS are oppressed by "Americans" (which includes xenophobic African-American people), and so on and so forth. Your unwillingness to concede that ANY group (not just African-Americans) can be oppressive is not just surprising, but a blaring misunderstanding about how privilege/oppression works. So yeah… not sure it's worth continuing this discussion.

      I appreciate the time you took to respond, and your willingness to engage, but I feel like this conversation has been derailed by defensive commentary rather than a commitment to tackling the issue of xenophobia head on. And no, the solution to xenophobia can't be, don't be angry, then maybe we can talk about it. Really. It can't.

    • Spectra Speaks says:

      "There was no derailment" — if you say so. You responded with a suggestion that I learn history. I told you I was well aware, and that historical experiences aren't a justification for oppressing people — after all, white Americans always owned black people as slaves. So, we should let them off the hook when it comes to racism? You then responded with I'm too serious/angry/emotional — tone policing, please look it up — which had nothing to do with the topic, but your dismissal of my viewpoint based on the fact that it wasn't tempered/"polite" enough; another popular silencing tactic used by white people when it comes to discussions of racism. You also asserted that black people can't be oppressive (even though I said, in my experience, that has been the case); you denied suggestion that you were invalidating my experiences by asserting that "not all black people are oppressive." I noted that now we're not even talking about xenophobia or the real issue of Diaspora from outside of the US feeling ostracized/bullied/silenced, and now I'm met with "well you don't want to hear people who disagree with you" and other ad hominem jabs. Okay…

      My blog has hosted a wide range of discussions — and my FB page in particular is playground for healthy, productive disagreement. I hope you chime in again sometime, with more willingness to understand than to win, next time. As for this round, because I don't have anything more to say on the topic which I haven't already written in my original post (or in comments to other people and you), you win. All the best.

  20. [...] Zwarte Piet. The temporal shift alone (the arrest took place last year) made me shake my head, the ethnicity erasure (neither of the young men arrested in Dordrecht is of Surinamese descent) made me facepalm s l o w [...]

  21. Chike Nwabukwu says:

    Go to the website http://www.africanlikewe.com and submit your perspective. Doesn’t have to be confrontational, but here is a way to “show” what you mean. Hope to read from you! Thanks

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