Black in America: an African’s view


I’ve never been to the United States and I honestly have little desire to. Yes, a lot of Africans think that its streets are paved with gold and life is so much better over there; but the truth is, to live the American Dream as a black African and especially as a black man, certain trade-offs will have to be made. Trade-offs that are not mentioned in US embassy brochures and Hollywood movies. And if you turn a blind eye to these trade-offs, you will be in a whole lot of trouble.

For example, as a black man you must embrace the fact that you will be deemed a criminal by most of American society. It doesn’t matter if you are an honours student in Georgetown University, come from a well-respected family back home and mind your own business. As long as you are walking in the wrong neighbourhood, which is honestly any neighbourhood that isn’t minority-dominated, you will be seen as a potential criminal to be avoided and feared.

Following the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, the US race-relations conversation was dominated by African-American voices. And although the voices of the African diaspora were not heard on mainstream media, social media platforms gave them the opportunity to air their views.

Commenting on why he loved jogging in Rwanda, as compared to the US, a member of the African diaspora wrote on Facebook that he didn’t have to deal with the spectre of irrational white fear.

“Firstly, I can jog at night and not be confused for a thug running away after a crime. Secondly, I can wear a hoodie if I want to and not seem like a threat, and thirdly, people don’t see me coming and simply decide to cross the street and walk on the other side.”

Commenting below the first post, another member of the diaspora went even further. Talking about what he had to do to overcompensate for his blackness, he sounded frustrated.

“I realise how hard I try to make it clear I’m educated and non-threatening. EVEN IN THE OFFICE. Like my peers worry at some point I’ll break out and be ‘black’ – because my behaviour is predetermined and I have to be educated out of it. Phrases like ‘You speak so well’, ‘Well, you understand because of your background’, ‘I’m not racist but you’re different’ and ‘You make me proud’ are heart-breaking.”

What I find interesting about these two comments is that both commentators take it for granted that they will be racially profiled and discriminated against. And that is what I think is the major difference between African-Americans and Africans, both at home and abroad. African-Americans on the whole want to fight the racist system, while Africans in the US often just want to survive the racist system.

Thinking that the US and other Western societies will ever become post-racial is a pipedream. No matter how many marches and protests. In a few weeks there will be another act of violence against someone of colour. Nothing will change, no matter what we want to tell ourselves. Which is why I always tell friends moving to the States to tiptoe carefully through the minefield that is America, lest they become another statistic. If you want to act normal, I tell them, do it back in Africa.


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