Learning from Chimamanda’s experience in the US

I am a big fan of Chimamanda’s books since I started with Half of a Yellow Sun, some years ago. I then move back through her bibliography and have been learning both about Nigeria and the US  with her. I like several things from her books that sometimes lack from Francophone writers: simplicity and clarity of style, something very important to widen your audience to non-native English speakers; and second, maybe her biggest talent, the ability to observe and describe daily situations in a reflexive, factual yet hilarious way. Here are some quotes from her book I am reading currently The Thing Around Your Neck.

 She [the protagonist] could not complain about not having shoes when the person she was talking to had no legs.

Then he told you how the neighbors said, a few months after he moved into his house, that the squirrels had started to disappear. They had heard that Africans ate all kinds of wild animals.

I must confess that at the point I read the second citation I broke into stertorous laughs. I laughed so much that I wanted to cry. This sense of humour, plus her ability to connect with many of its readers amongst the African diaspora, by explaining experiences we go through daily or some situations we all know someone who went through them, all this while teaching us about Nigerian life, History and society, which is so African in many ways and so familiar even for those like me who haven’t spent many years on that soil… And, apart from connecting me with my African side, she is incredibly interesting on the way she describes America. With so many experiences. The complexities of some many lives often reduced to two facts: the quest for legal immigration (read the chapter about the American Embassy on this same book The Thing…), and the poverty struggle. Plus, she has many videos online talking about so many issues on Nigeria, Africa, the US and so, that she has become kind of parts of my life. Strange things today, right? Not only can we read about our authors, we can follow them on tv interview, attend to their conferences and public readings…Some even send emails and add them on facebook. I am not there… yet.

Anyway, my point is that I relate to her American stories because I feel like in the same situation. True that I came already with a job, but still I like to reading her analysis about relationships between Africans and Americans (be they black, white or latino, so far I have not read about Asian-Americans and Africans. And to be honest, I would like to read something about that.); and I have started to read more and more about my African descents American cousins. Of course I feel and know that we have many things in common, and I can relate not only for that millennial origin, but also for knowing what’s like growing black in a white dominant environment.

Many people people think that each time you raise this type of issues you want to talk about racism, and sometimes they are right. But most of the time, it’s just to make them aware of the many aspects of society in which you realise that you are not represented and not taken into account. Some of the most obvious and most influencial aspects are Mass media platforms, TV, RADIO, CINEMA, THEATHER, NEWSPAPERS. It’s obvious to anyone with some little critical spirit to realise that the portraiture of people like you (if any) is not possitive; that the heroes, Historical characters, influencial people in society, popular politicians, artits, etc. Sometimes it’s just that there aren’t any people like you in certain fields; other times the one you see play a role you can’t relate with. They are just stereotypes of what your people are, and often not very possitive. Growing within the blatant minority at many structural levels makes many things harder that it seems. Basic things such as educational achievements, security and active citizenship, ability to access country’s wealth, political engagement and power, and of course, healthy selfsteem.

To acknowledge these carences may create great sense of anger and frustration, especially when people around you seem unable to understand your reasons. But I always say that the irony of live make rich people of richer countries unaware of their fellow citizens on the working class, but these at the same time are unaware of their fellow working class colleagues in poorer countries. You can spend a lifetime trying to make them understand the privileges they inherited, but they won’t see it. Most won’t. It’s just part of the system they were born in. They feel entitled to them. If you get angry and claim what you think is your place, then you get labelled aggressive, criminal and other nicer words.

But I think there many other ways of improving things. Begining with the selfsteem. I definitely believe that every African descent person should live once in a life in Africa. I mean, live, not believe. I know this from my own experience. Your value of yourself changes and you stop being a vulnerable minority. This is useful for many healthy and pragmatic reasons. You will also get to acknowledge the good aspects of your homecountry. Travelling around the world also gives a bigger picture of how things work, pros and cons of live in another corners, learning that every place has its own issues and that you can always choose the place that suits you best. And the one you know the better is still home. I believe in freedom of movement. Especially for these cases. European Americans have very close ties with their continent of origin for these same reasons. Not only practical, but mostly emotional and cultural, and this does not make them any less Americans. This is the bless of this country, I believe. Its ability to emotions and feelings in anypart of the world. Its diversity reflects the diversity of the planet, and this is definitely and advantage, in my opinion. 

I have observed that Identity problems are more often present in the offsprings of Africans or immigrants in general who do not have a balanced sense of belonging within their two cultures. We don’t need to choose, just as between man and dad. We are both. For this move, I would urge African countries to do something useful for once and allow doble nationality for their descendants overseas. This will soften circumstances and unite people who can truely learn from each other. I also strongly advocate for  more cultural and civic ties within the two continents, by the help of international programs, professional cooperation and emotional ties between these two communities. More international couples and cultural events would definitely help, as well as common goals on matters such as educational achievements, security and political reinforcement at a global scale. For instance, most of the Africans that arrive to the US are graduate students who come to further their studies and/or work. These could definiteley collaborate in a national program to improve educational outcomes on local communitie,while the later help us integrate into the American society. The African American universities may build major exchange programs with African universities to promote mutual contact and learning. This applies also with Latin American countries with visible African descent population such as Cuba, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Perú, Ecuador, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil. This is the kind of things I would do. Create international and intranational meeting points and produce common goals and work for it. I would be glad to participate in programs that would help increase the number of African Americans  and Hispanics who access higher education, for examples. I been reading about and I think it needs a community-based response to sort it out. Just my naive opinion.

Donald Trump and the rise of the American tribalism

It’s been almost 3 months since I arrived to the US, and despite I still don’t fully understand the national problems and try not to get too involved, but there is no way to let this man get unnoticed. Donald Trump is everywhere. The last time I listened to the radio he was saying that he would build a huge wall at the US-Mexican borders and cancel the Constitution that gives direct citizenship to babies born in the US, so that children of Latin American parents would  not entitled to the hold American nationality — a law that favoured him and all the European and people from worldwide who were born to foreign parents in this countries for centuries, with the exception of black Americans, whose ancestors were brought here as slaves and were denied many civil rights not so long ago.

Then I started investigating a bit and discovered that himself is a descendant of a German ancestor who moved here and opened a cathouse /brothel as a way of living. I also learned that he, himself has been married to several women, immigrants from Eastern Europe, something that makes me think that this is not about being strict and rigorous on immigration policies, but it’s an ethnic issue. It’s hard to understand, in my opinion, that someone from a country made by immigrants from around the world can have such feelings regarding newcomers. This is not Europe.

But, since I am here I got to understand the importance that race plays in the country. I don’t remember how many times I have been required to identifying my ethnicity-race while filling out an official form. We don’t have this in Spain. And, honestly, it bothers me because of two reasons:

  1. It reminds me of the bird certificates and other important documents of certain African nations. I absolutely hated it, because in my opinion, it separates the people of the same country and fosters tribalism, hatred and discrimination in many aspects of life amongst the some people, fellow-citizens. Many African countries have been blamed for this, logically, and we all know the possible outcomes of such a shocking policy of identifying its citizens by their ethnicity. What happened in Rwanda? I have always blamed Belgium for introducing these ID containing  tribe labels, that ulterior governments maintained for sectarian reasons.
  2. Also, because the criteria on race are just nonsense. I mean, isn’t it totally illogical to force someone with biological origins in many countries to choose a race?  What are mixed-race people supposed to do? I begin to understand that label of ‘people of colour’, even if I find it unnecessary to specify any colour at all. People are just people, right? And then, also, what race is a Latino? People who speak Spanish or Portuguese? (I do, my Spanish friends do, portuguese speakers around the world, from Brazil to Angola…, are we Latinos?). People who are mixed-race? People with origins in Latin American no matter what race are there ? Even if there are white Argentinians, Chileans, Uruguayan or Mexicans who are direct descendants of European as well as the European-Americans in this country? What if there are as black as I am, from Haiti, Cuba, Colombia, or Nicaragua? Shouldn’t we fall under the same category then? I mean, this is something I would think useless and offensive. I remember Michael Jackson saying, ” I don’t wanna spend my life being a colour” or similar. Totally agree.

To be honest, so far I have always checked the category Black/ African-American. Despite I don’t know if I am right or not. Is this category only for American citizens for centuries who happen to be black? Is it for every black person regardless of their origin, be it Central Africa or Cuba? Should I check the Latino case because I come from Spain and it is considered as a Latino country, as I have heard over here? What a mess. What is all this for? Anyway. Funny enough, I have noticed in my university staff system that my personal information is subjected to change, as if you would change your residence address or your nationality. How is it possible? Can I check white European the next time I change my mind?

But, going back to the matter, with all this Trump headlines, I begin to understand. While I recognise that stats are useful for the State  to serve its citizens, to use as a proof when blatant case of discrimination are raised, or when addressing a particular problem for which we need to focus on a certain demographic spot (such as Education), I also believe that It’s a matter of tribalism. Of profound and intrinsic tribalism. A primitive fight for power.

Many Americans need this to be aware that white European-Americans remain the majority and keep all the structural powers that this entails. I’ve read about some complaining that population is increasingly formed by people who come from other countries in Asia, Africa, and especially Latin America, which seems to be most fastly growing ethnic group in the US. And this seems to bother these supposed ‘true’ Americans who feel racially threatened and who see their demographic power decrease.

Of course, there are many records on how the American Administration has being favouring European immigration to the US, while restraining that from the rest of the world, especially Latin America, I and think they still do so. One proof is how easily I got here, even if I happen to be also African, but there are many agreements that indirectly promote this. On the other side, ‘it’s almost impossible to move here from African countries, especially those inhabited by Blacks in general. There is a whole racial strategy in here, but it seems that so far it’s not working so well as many Europeans just don’t feel like immigrating to the US even if they have more possibilities to do so. Now there are also more and more agreements with countries such as Australia or New Zealand. But, well, this is just my  theory.

I think that this is just a display of the white supremacist feelings in an extravagant way. And the most interesting part here is that, this time, it’s hidden under the category of, ” Oh, let’s fight against illegal immigration”, which is more acceptable from an average citizen point of view; and most interestingly, this time the target victim is not the black American citizen, who is also invited to hate Latinos in general, and Mexicans in particular. This racial broom is the not so hidden reason under which they want to deprived latino children from their citizenships. Does this nationality give automatic rights to people living illegally in the US? Haven’t I read about families being divided and parents being deported despite their children were Americans? So why this attack against babies? It’s just a matter of racial power, pure tribalism. You make sure your tribe remains the dominant and most powerful race. And taking into account that the so-called African-Americans and Asian-Americans do not suppose a threat to this demographic dominance, that’s why these people are the target. We need hate someone. It doesn’t really matter if they entered legally, in my opinion he would not be so popular if he targeted illegal white immigrants from, say, Ireland (I know there are many) or Germany, or even Sweden. Because these people would be part of the white European-American tribe, therefore  there are more entitled to be here, according to them. The ku Klux klan should be happy that a presidential candidate is actually promoting the white supremacist agenda, even if it’s targeted to black Americans in particular.

This is very sad, but so familiar. I personally hate tribalism so hard because I have seen the consequences of this abomination. Because people feel attacked in their deep down sense of being. They feel attacked on what they are, something that is not in their hand to change and that determines many aspects on their lifelong opportunities to success. In some African countries, the power remains in the hands of the President, his family and acquaintances and the rest of members of his tribe/clan. The average citizen is hence totally under-protected by their government, and discriminated in matter of job access, civil and political rights and social and economic access to the countries’ wealth. This can only leed to profound injuries and wounds on people’s heart, because they realize this injustice right away. When I work hard and fulfill all the official requirements and only the same people get the job, of course I get upset, and this happens everywhere in earth because of corruption. But when this happens systematically, it’s a huge problem.

I am not for providing this information on official forms, as well as  I don’t agree with saying your country of origin (except for specific circumstances), your gender or even your full name. As I see it, being aware that we are all consciously and unconsciously biased, we should keep important things out of this subjectivity. I have always supported anonymous exams, and whenever I submit a CV, and try to add only the information relevant to the job, such as competences, education and experience. Nothing else. Just to avoid these things that are largely happening and are so tempting. We are all biased and prefer to give preference to people we feel part of ‘our’ social/ethnic/whatever group, that’s why we should take all the measure to set clear priorities for everybody. Everywhere. Things clear, no regrets and no discriminations in any case.

Sorry for the long rant.