I was not born in Nigeria. But, I lived there for all my adolescent years, and I spent a good part of that time trying to leave. What I do not get now is why.
It is common for many African children, and children in other post-colonial countries, to view life in the West as supreme. My friends and I dreamed of living like the Caucasians on television, and at times, we would see that Americans who looked like us could live in luxury.
We also heard, however, that many Americans who looked like us were poor. I recall an aunt (who had never been outside Nigeria) commenting on the lifestyles of a people she did not know. She categorized these people based on their color and on second-hand news gleaned from the media. Her story was distinctive: these people were lazy, and we were not.
In hindsight, such debilitating stories — supported by an attempt to escape stereotypes — help impair our identity as black people. My five year-old corrects me every time I use the term ‘black’ to describe him. “I am brown mommy,” he coos. I smile. But, I wonder how long his innocence will last. I wonder how long he will consider his skin color just that — a color. Not a people. Not a label. Not a culture. Just color.
I wonder if he sees behind my smile, memories of children ripped from their mothers… Still. I wonder if he sees my fears for him. Or if he knows that I try to protect him from the stereotype of his dark skin. Much like African American composer, Harry Burleigh, I sometimes feel like a motherless child. Stripped by her own hands.
Arguably, most Africans living in the United States are black. Of course an accent may give us away and parts of our heritage remain. But, in my new home, I am black first. Then Nigerian.
Consider that those stories (the kind my aunt told) could easily, now, relate to me. I see it in the eyes of future bosses. I hear it in the voices of friends at home. In their questions, as they try to decipher how lazy or successful I’ve become.
America boasts many comforts. Even so, for fellow Nigerians and others who do not know this — you may have to experience America for yourself to believe — nothing beats being in one’s own home. On one’s own land. Where color (generally) matters less.
So, when my five-year-old differentiates as brown — not black — I do smile. And Africa calls for me.