Living Stories: Nigerian and Race

“…We steal with our eyes closed to the conditions in which the poor, who make our affluence possible, live. We covet what our neighbours have and want more of the same.”

― Karen Baker-Fletcher, Dancing with God: The Trinity from a Womanist Perspective

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Hello my name is Yvonne. I moved to America when I was seven years old. Before I lived in Nigeria where everyone looked like me.  Being a Christian family I was around white missionaries but what I really knew about the Western Civilization came from movies. It’s not that I didn’t know colonization and racism didn’t exist, it just wasn’t real. Nelson Mandela was the hero of a whole continent and with Sarafina being such an iconic movie, I knew to an extent what racism was. The thing is none of this has been real to me.  When I started school in America I learned about racism as though it was something of this plague that was eradicated.  I learned about racism like I learned about the Scarlet Fever, it happened, killed people, but don’t worry about we have it all fixed now!

The most vivid picture of racism experienced by me in North America was when I was in a middle school health class learning about different types of STD’s  and during health class we learned about different types STD’s. Of course out comes the topic AIDS and the teacher notes that AIDS originated in Africa.  From that moment on my classmates didn’t touch me because I had AIDS. My classmates started a rumor that I had sex with monkeys in Africa which gave me AIDS. You think it’s a joke until someone bumps into you and immediately wipes it off when they think you don’t notice.  I’ve often been called a nigger (or its derivative: nigga) but I just took it as people making jokes rather than peers trying to hurt my feelings. I could not imagine that my peers would think of me as an inferior on the basis of my skin color. It’s even more infuriating to think that my teachers who were in my classes did nothing.

¨Perhaps they did not notice….¨

but then I thought:

 ¨How can a teacher be so naïve (or blind) to the inner workings of her own class?¨

I have to keep reminding people that racism isn’t as obvious as it has been in the past but now it’s subtle. Malcolm X said it best, it’s like a Cadillac and every year they bring out a new model. It is now done in a way that people aren’t outright with their racism but rather sly – so it often carries with you. For example, when I was in high school a few girls in a class were discussing the upcoming powder puff game.  We were talking about how much more fun it would be to tackle one another. In between the classes the school dean pulled me aside and said that,

¨Some girls felt a little worried because I seemed too excited to play tackle powder puff¨

A group of girls talking about something in the exact same tone and I’m the one who’s too excited?!?  Interestingly during the game a white girl was the one who was the most violent to the point of kicking someone while they were down.  But by all means focus in on me!

The biggest regret that I have had is not calling out racism more.  As a woman of color I have had to pretend not to hear every snide remark, awkward look, and ignorant remark –  It’s a full time job I have to do.  Looking back what was stopping me from correcting people who were saying terrible things about Nigeria?  What was stopping me from standing up to people who used derogatory terms towards me? Why didn’t I have those uncomfortable conversations with people?

As a Christian I kept saying that it was because I lived in a not so perfect world which meant that I had to accept the injustice of people like the one’s described above, yet the type of Christianity that says I have to accept the injustice done towards my body is the  colonist white  version of Christianity that has whitened, spiritualized, depoliticized, domesticated and demarginalized Jesus to keep colored bodies like me on our symbolic and literal plantations.

As a Christian I have come to learn that I don’t have to accept circumstances that are designed to oppress me and now I gladly will call out bad jokes and shady remarks even if this means that I have to eat alone. I will gladly let my kids wear all the hoodies they want, and from now on I will hold every leader of the black community accountable for the lack of progress they actually make. I have come to accept that maybe white America may never understand or even want to understand because understanding means that their entire reality will have to change. Nevertheless, I have found self-empowerment through my own black narrative and it is that narrative that has made me a fighter and my oppressors’ greatest nightmare.

I can’t call myself an American because I’m not one. While I am a Permanent Resident I have no interest in pursuing a citizenship.  I honestly don’t know why so many people idolize being an American.  With all the history and current news – I have a culture that I am so proud to be a part of.  Nigeria is a lot of things negative but the positives are so amazing that I can’t even believe I am chosen to be a part of it.  I couldn’t and wouldn’t trade it for anything.


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Yvonne Fyne-Nsofar B.A. in Business Administration with a concentration in the area of International Business.

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