An open letter to Black African immigrants By Nadege Seppou

1940-41. Panel 40: “The migrants arrived in great numbers.” Casein tempera on hardboard, 18 x 12″ (45.7 x 30.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Black African immigrant,

The America you dreamt of is an America you never conceived of.

You are officially black. In your country you were just you, no color attached to your identity, but now you are black. Stop saying I am Nigerian, I am Zimbabwean, or I am Kenyan. America doesn’t care about any of that, in America you are simply black. You will try to fight, deny, and resist every time someone calls you black. You resist your newly prescribed blackness because a ladder of racial hierarchy exists in America.

Sooner than later, you will realize your blackness puts you at the bottom of this ladder irrespective of the educational or financial status you acquire. Every rejection of your new found blackness will be an attempt to move away from the bottom of this ladder, to resist the label that the color of your skin has subjected you to. It takes some time getting used to, you know, this whole race and being black thing, but sooner that later you will understand America’s tribalism and you will learn to navigate through it.

People will hold stereotypes about you. Some might ask if you’ve lived on trees and or jungles and others won’t even ask, they’ll assume you did. Others will think your entire existence has been defined by hunger and poverty. In case you haven’t noticed you sound different, you do. And people will not fail to remind you of the obvious, your accent. Some may laugh and others will make you repeat words and sentences over and over again because they are unable to “understand.” You will be very confused and will think to yourself, “But I speak better English than you.” Despite all these, do not be ashamed of your identity. Don’t allow people’s ignorance harden your heart towards them. As much as you possibly can, dismantle these stereotypes by telling the other stories they haven’t been exposed to.
White Americans will say you are better than American blacks, but please do not fall for this trap. You will be told you behave better, work harder, and are more educated than American blacks. You will be tempted to agree and will sometimes want to shout, “YES, I’M NOT LIKE THEM, WE AFRICANS ARE DIFFERENT!” Just don’t…don’t even think it.

The praise of your acquired characteristic and culture becomes a justification for white Americans to perpetuate discriminatory treatments towards American blacks. These statements of praise have an underlying message of, “If Africans can do so well then surely racism has nothing to do with anything, therefore, American Blacks are to be blamed for their condition in America”. This problematic line of reasoning sustains cultural racism. I beg of you, refrain from nodding in agreement when you receive such faulty praise.
Navigating through America’s complex social construct is a process. The sooner you become conscious of the nuances involved, the better for Black America as a whole.
With love,
Another Black African immigrant

Nadege Seppou is a blogger-writer at lafriquetalks.wordpress.com. This article was originally published by Huffington Post.