I wasn't black until I came to America

I did not know I was black until I came to America 17 years ago. And even then, it did not click immediately. And even now, I sometimes have to have a mental battle to decipher if I'm receiving a certain kind of treatment because I'm black or because I'm an immigrant, or both.

In my country, Nigeria, I was simply Igbo, from the state of Anambra, from the town of Adazi-Nnukwu, and from the local government area of Aniocha. I was the proud and only child of Dr. and Dr. Ezimora. That was me. And that was how I identified myself.

Then I came to America and became black — just one of the many other people who share my skin color in different shades. I always knew I was an immigrant, and I wore it as a badge of honor. But black? No, I was not black. I was Nigerian. And African. I was not the American type of black; I was the African type of black.

I was a virgin to racism, and I lived in my ignorance happily because what you do not know cannot kill you, they said. But they lied.

It was subtle at first, but now the older I get and the more aware I become, the louder I hear it, and the brighter it becomes. Like when I was about 16 and loved going to the local beauty store to look around. I did not have money to buy anything, but I just loved looking at all the pretty things in the store. The Asian owner would always be lurking close to me, watching me. I did not know he was watching me until years later when a black American friend educated me. That was when it occurred me to that I had been profiled.

And like my first year in community college when an African-American employee insisted that I needed to take the zero credit English course. It did not matter that English was my first language or that I had just completed two years of high school in America. Even when I took the placement test and was placed in an honors English class, she tried to convince me to take the English for international students because I needed it, and it would be simpler for me to digest, she said. I spoke better English than she, and I knew it. I wrote better than she, and I had no doubt about that either. Her use of wrong tenses betrayed her. In this instance, I hoped I was profiled for being an immigrant, not for being black and immigrant.

At one time in my life, I would be infuriated when anyone mistook me for a black American. This was partly because of the pride I had of my heritage, but sincerely, it was mostly because of the lies that white media had fed me and my kind. I cannot count how many times a white person said or implied that I was different because I was black African, not black American. I used to think it was a compliment until I grew up and got enlightened and learned that this was a method of dividing and conquering me and my people.

White media and white people manipulated us into feeling superior than our brothers and sisters. Truthfully, we are different. Black Africans are different from black Americans, and it’s obvious in our ways of thinking, our ways of living and even our ways of loving. But difference is not — and should not be — a bad thing, especially since we have more in common than we don’t.

And most especially, one has to remember that the black Americans of today were once just Africans. They were taken by force and enslaved, and we — the African community — should be enraged.

It’s easy to blame the white people and call them the enemies and breaker of homes, but as a Nigerian proverb says, if a man calls his pot a trash can, the neighbors will help him gather trash in it. The only reason why white people have enslaved and colonized us is because we did not believe in ourselves enough, and we were willing to accept a stranger’s truth as ours. It is, then, our responsibility to undo what has been done. It's an uphill battle in a mudslide, but the proper shoes will make a difference.

Vera Ezimora is a Nigerian writer living in Maryland with her husband and daughter. You can see more of her work at verastic.com.

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