Black History Month Rant: We Are Not All Black in the Same Way
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.