My heart lost a rhythm. My daughter is nine, and I was hoping to protect her from the barbarity of this video.
“I wanted to protect you,” I replied, completely impressed by the conversation.
“But mom, you have to tell me these things. I have to be ready to face it because I’m black.”
My little girl is already preparing for the hatred of others, simply because of her skin color.
“Is that why we moved to Nigeria?” asked.
I took a deep breath and tried to answer her questions as honestly and openly as I could.
I explained that the transition to Nigeria was partly because I wanted to grow up in a world without racism and petty attacks and the mental exhaustion that accompanies them, as I did when I was her age.
A world where her abilities would not be predetermined by her race.
A world where it would be part of the majority and not a tolerant minority.
A world to which it would be fully accepted and simply belonged – without having to explain where it was from or justify its existence.
Freedom from racism
I was born in Nigeria in the late 1970s and lived there until my family moved to London when I was 12. I wanted to experience the freedom from the racism I remembered then.
But times have changed. We now live in an interconnected world. And here my beautiful black daughter told me that I could not protect her from racism but stop her from breathing.
My daughter was born in the United Kingdom. She was five when we moved to Lagos and she had already realized her race in ways I wasn’t the same age.
I think back to when I was nine, in the 1980s, living in a black majority.
The discussions then were completely different.
I had no idea about the color of my skin until we moved to London in 1989.
From the ridiculous “African bubu”, to more insidious forms of racism. I once kicked a door in my face. In another case, a school friend of mine told me that one of his companions asked him why he was walking with a “dirty African.”
I was born into a wealthy middle-class family in Nigeria and grew up with all the benefits it brought.
But in London, it quickly became clear that our situation had changed – I was now a stranger, an “other” whose daily interactions would be characterized by her race.
From the college counselor who told me that there weren’t many black journalists, so maybe I should think of another career path, being followed by store escorts while shopping in south London, where I grew up.
What cut it so deep – and it hurts even now, when I remember it – was the moment my daughter was walking, then three years old, home from kindergarten and a white woman saw us coming down the street and holding the bag. tightly in response.
Even with my little daughter by my side, this woman thought I would rob her.
There was just no respite from that.
Daily small attacks
The petty attacks have been described as the death of a thousand paper cuts. It was an almost daily occurrence in London – a city that considers itself very cosmopolitan, different and “above” conversations about race.
So when I got the chance to go back to Nigeria, I grabbed it with both hands. I instinctively knew that I wanted to protect my daughter from the inhumanity of racism.
England had offered me a world of opportunity, but after three decades living in London, I was ready to move on.
And returning to my homeland, as I have always said in Africa, allowed me to breathe, to put on a heavy burden that I did not realize I was carrying.
I took the opportunity to raise my daughter differently.
These days, she loves watching Nollywood movies, in which the protagonists look like her, and she imagines herself as the leading woman in her own narrative, and she doesn’t play a role in a story that someone else has written about her.
For her, every day is a month of black history – it doesn’t just go down in a few weeks of the year as a gesture.
She knows that her story does not begin and end with slavery.
I teach her that black history is history.
She has shown that she is ready and able to handle these more mature conversations.
The burden of oppression
This unexpected but vital exchange with my daughter made me realize that, as Africans, we also have the privilege of fighting – because we just don’t have to deal with fighting at all.
In a country where everyone is black, your identity is not in question. Instead, we have a strong sense of who we are.
I have visited the village where my grandfather was born, I speak my language and I know everything about my culture and heritage.
Blacks around the world whose ancestors were removed from Africa in chains during slave trade cannot so easily claim these lost identities.
My return to Nigeria has given me a break from the burden of oppression that blacks have brought abroad for centuries.
The burden of being black is no longer my reality – although life is far from perfect in Nigeria and there are divisions of identity, especially nationally and religiously.
But as Africans, we are not exhausted by the fight against an invisible and insidious enemy, such as the corona pandemic, which is slowly squeezing your life like a knee to the neck.
Dear Africans, it’s time to take control of our own race: the privilege that the mental safety net gives us to move to America and take advantage of the opportunities for which African Americans fought and died.
“Blacks born abroad are often seen by whites and even black Americans as different and ‘experts’ – as tougher and more productive citizens than their black American counterparts,” Greer wrote.
However, there have also been many deafening responses from Africans, both in the United States and in their home countries, which reflect feelings I have heard many times in the past.
Africans also face our own struggles, but very often we are rejecting the black American race and thus failing to show empathy.
There have been divisions on both sides for a long time.
Away from “playing the victim,” we must recognize that black Americans are the real victims of the constant and constant systemic oppression that has contributed to the “we are exhausted” voices being heard over and over again during George Floyd’s protests.
The truth is that your Harvard degree, your job status, and your charming accent will not stop you from experiencing racism – nor will you be a “minority model.”
In the same way that white people are required to be educated on racial issues, Africans must also devote time to learning about this struggle and to understanding why African Americans are so angry, hurt, and tired.
The meeting with the police should not be tantamount to the death penalty. And yet, this is very often the intense reality for many blacks, not only in America, but also in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe.
There is no slippery slope. We are all human beings and deserve the same level of humanity.
Black life matters.