Plenty of African immigrant children or first-generation Americans know the internal struggle that comes with finding a comfortable middle ground of where they fit in. These are usually children who didn’t fit in with the white kids but would find themselves not fitting in with the black kids either. They felt like Africans in America more so than they felt like African Americans. Many times, their culture, their traditions manifested in completely different ways than for African Americans.
As someone whose family emigrated from an African country to the United Kingdom, there are surely differences between my experiences and those of my African friends who grew up here in the states, but nevertheless, I still relate to them. They have stories of feeling like they didn’t belong no matter how hard they tried to fit in. They have stories of being laughed at when their parents came to pick them up from school and spoke to them in the native tongues. They have stories of using a different middle name because the other kids just would not think “Nkemakolam” was “cool.” They have stories of their own parents telling them not to talk about being African because of the stereotypes that would inevitably follow them around. These are stories I know all too well.
Those times were harsh but they built character. With our generation making a conscious decision to gradually begin to embrace our African heritage and with the increasing prominence and access to social media, these sentiments are beginning to spread in an effort to prevent our narratives from being forgotten.
There seems to have been a sudden rise in the celebration of African culture. Black, white or otherwise, people are listening to us. People are interested in our cultures, our traditions, our stories. Everybody loves a plate of Jollof rice now and then. They’ve watched Black Panther at least three times. They blast Wizkid as they cruise down US 1. Six out of the last seven winners of the “Best World Album” Grammy Award have been African, and Zozibini Tunzi just won the title of Miss Universe 2019, representing South Africa. The times of hiding our Africanness at all costs, the times of enduring the teasing and the times when “African booty scratcher” jokes were commonplace are all over.
The history of African immigrants to America is in some ways woven into the broader umbrella of black history, even if through different passages. The experiences of the “African American” may not mirror those of the Ghanaian-American, the Ethiopian-American or the Angolan-American. Regardless, when the white man sees us in the streets, they see a black man. They see a black woman. They see a black child. The separations between us cease to exist.
It will always be hugely important to celebrate our individual cultures, history and stories. Creating divisions between ourselves that attach our identities to our oppression, or are otherwise unproductive, will yield no progress. African immigrants and their children are finally feeling like they belong without feeling like they are sacrificing a part of themselves.
As Kwame Nkrumah said, “I am not African because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me.”
Kiki Aderoju is a junior majoring in international studies and journalism with a minor in English.