I have a friend with whom I have what you might call a running argument/debate. My friend, a Nigerian like myself in the US believes and categorically states that he is not black. This debate or argument is nothing new to me personally. It is something I have encountered time and time again ever since I graced the shores of this country. The question, “Are you black” makes many an African quite queasy if you ask me. I am a firm believer in everyone having a right to their own opinion in the same way as I have mine.
This topic has come to the fore of my mind because as we all know we are celebrating “Black History Month” in America and as much as I truly believe that I am black, since I didn’t grow up here I don’t think I fully understand the implications of being black in America. I might have a little idea but most likely not enough. I really do appreciate the focus on African American culture and in some cases African cultures during the month of February. It see the month as a celebration of culture and a history wrought with struggle for freedom and equality. A story that is far from over. I admire the Men and Women celebrated during this month. I think the achievements of say MLK, Rosa Parks, Huey Newton, Malcolm X, WEB Dubois, Maya Angelou, Angela Davies, Stokely Carmichael and so on are not only a source of pride to the African American community but should be a source of inspiration to people all over the world, Africans included.
So I chose to celebrate Black History Month. I might even wear one of those “dashikis”, funny how I never heard of those until I came to the US. I strongly believe that I am a black person. Yes I do not share the same cultural history as the people who refer to themselves as black in the US but I am from Africa. I am from the continent where upon which the descendants of these people came from. Yes the cultural similarities that remain between us are slim at best but that does not mean I am not black. If you define black by the amount of melanin in one’s skin then my dear friend I am black. I am blessed with melanin. I feel I don’t need anyone’s permission to identify myself as black. The question is how do I define black? I think for me black has come to denote people of African descent. I know that in some way all mankind is of African descent and for that I love you all but I am referring to the people who are of recent African descent (dating back to 500 years) and who have even the slightest of cultural or physical similarities with people currently living in Sub-Saharan Africa. My identity as a Fali man is a subset to my identity as a Nigerian which is a subset to my being a n African which is also a subset of being black which ultimately is a subset of being a human being.
Growing up in Nigeria, I am very sure I wasn’t very racially conscious, well at least not as much as I am now. My only experience with black history was watching “Roots” as a child. I think the US is very racially conscious society. There is definitely racism and of course it seems that race boils underneath the surface of many human interactions. It is almost impossible to ignore race in this country much in the same way it is impossible to ignore ethnicity in Nigeria. Nigeria is an ethno-relgious conscious country. An atheist who answers the question, “where are you from?” in Nigeria by saying “I am Nigeria/African” is seen as a very weird person. Go figure. Initially when I came to this country, I will admit I was hugely disappointed by the disdain I received from the “black” community. I still get this attitude sometimes from people. I chose to handle this disdain by embracing the higher reality of one “black” people irregardless of where one hails from. I see you as cousin. Other people chose to dissociate themselves from this black identity because of the lack of acceptance and mutual respect hence I suspect why some Africans are quick to tell you “I am not black”. Which is really a shame because, the person talking might darker than a shadow but go figure, in a “one drop rule” country, a really dark African is not Black?
What do you think? Are Africans black? Or should the rest of the world surrender the word “black” to mean strictly Americans? Shall we hold a requiem for the word black, like some group did for the “N word”? How do you define black?
Happy Black History Month Between. Here is some Eddie Murphy for you
Scene from Trading Places Starring Eddie Murphy
Eddie Murphy Doing Stand up
Trailer for Coming to America (One of my favorite movies)