90038349Despite protests from my family members and other Nigerians in my community, I consider myself first and foremost African American. Personally, it has taken quite some time for me to embrace this realization. I straddle between two different communities, that of Nigeria, which I fondly refer to as home and the land which I currently pen from, the United States. I am African American in the truest sense of the word – an African living in America. Yes, if we parse it down, I could very well label myself as Nigerian American, Igbo American…Ohuhu American (?). It can get unnecessarily specific. In light of this I still, towards the end of an online job application, proudly place my check next to “Black, African American.”

The African-American experience, I have come to find, is an incredibly diverse one. We include those whose ancestry stems from the trans-Atlantic slave trade, recent Haitian immigrants, black Londoners who now call the US their own.

Even those who find their roots strongly laid in the soils of long-forgotten Southern plantations are themselves brimming with a rich genetic diversity, featuring parentage from Caucasian, Native and other American sources. Though popular news sites and blogs continue to argue about whether to classify President Obama as black, white, or biracial, I still maintain that he is our nation’s first African American president. Heck, if word got out that Supreme Court Judge Sotomayor’s great-great-great-great-great grandmother may have been black, I’m claiming her too.

In light of our differences, I always thought that it would be a difficult task to pin any one cultural experience as that which defines our blackness. However, these days, I stand to be corrected. “…uknowurblackwhen…,” read the title of a recent article from a popular online black magazine. The article sought to explore the story behind a recent Twitter trend in which black twitterers would key the strokes #uknowurblackwhen followed by their perception of shared African American experiences. Being a moderately avid black twitterer myself, I was familiar with this trend before reading the article. Though my familiarity with this phenomenon was merely limited to the only “uknowurblack” tweet I received from a follower, who admitted we both failed to meet several of the standards posed by our fellow African American twitterers.

No, I don’t …drink Koolaid from the pickle jar (old butter tubs, yes).

Nor do I have in my possession…a busted car with a bangin’ sound system (both car and sound system are “busted,” thank you very much).

Later, upon checking out several of the “uknowurblack” tweets, I found I had more in common with those followed by the “uknowurnotblack” tags.

The quest to define what it means to be African American is not a recent phenomenon nor is the discussion limited to playground fights, casual tweets, and heated debates in the media. Many in the social sciences are aware of the African American Acculturation Scale (AAAS) which seeks to assess the extent to which an individual has adopted the culture, attitudes, and behaviors of blacks in America. The scale is based on eight parameters, which include items such as religion and superstitions, disposition towards race relations, and interestingly – “a preference for African American things.” While this scale could undoubtedly be highly predictive health outcomes, voting behaviors and the like, I contend that it is hardly reflective of the actual African American experience, which comprises of a melting pot of different groups and nationalities. The notion of a “traditional” African-American who represents all of us, is one I find problematic. The traditional African American person flies in the face of our everyday realities as a varied group of black females (and males) in the United States.

If there ever were to be a black version of the Statue of Liberty, I imagine that she would daily call out for the black, “huddled masses yearning to be free,” regardless of whether these masses hail from grassy New England suburbs, rural communities in North Carolina, or the cosmopolitan reaches of Lagos, Nigeria. “Send these…to me,” she cries. And she would take us – all of us – just as we are.

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  • Nana

    Secondly I have one problem with this article.I don’t think being African-American should be defined as an African living in America.There are plenty of people who come to the USA for opportunities (work,school etc)only and don’t necessarily consider themselves American.And for those of us who were born here from African parents (Barack Obama included!), there is more to being American than simply living here.There’s a culture,an experience and a history that we knowingly and unknowingly are part of and participate in.

  • @Kitty – LOL @honorary brothers and sisters – hey, the more the merrier. Seems odd that while blackness and otherness can be measured, that of more mainstream groups is not.

    @Sammi – I was not aware of that rumor. Wouldn’t mind if it’s true because she’s gorgeous.

    @Jazz – That’s key, the existence of many different types of black. Someone should have tweeted “#uknowurblackwhen any or none of these stereotypes apply to you”

    @Ms. Beans – Yeay for my Hispanic African Americans representing. To start to discuss the incredible diversity that exists amongst Hispanic Americans – black or not – warrants its own essay…or book, for that matter.

    @Sasha – Which part of Nigeria are you from? Anyway, continue claiming your Nigerian-ness. I was also born in the US to Nigerian parents and I am continually questioned about my authenticity (as either Nigerian or American) from both those in Nigeria and America. As for who is African American – as I pointed out in my article, I feel that those who claim some African descent – admixture or not – are under this wide umbrella we call African American.

    @Joy – was watching an old episode of the Tyra Banks show, and even the classification of “black” is contentious – some say black, others say brown. Personally, I have no qualms about someone chooses to define themselves. My piece was more of opinion, rather than fact.

    @anonygirl – I hear you’re point. Let’s be honest here, if someone asked me at this moment to trace my roots back to like 400 years ago, I couldn’t. I only know up to my great-grandparents, personally. One day, I could find out that my family migrated from another country or so. Who knows, maybe I could find out that in the not-so-distant past one of my relatives “mixed” with a colonialist in secret. Like I said African descent living in American = African American.

    @Joya – Thanks for that lesson in history.

    @Boom – At first glance these tweets seem ridiculous – but what we’re seeing out there is not far from what is taking place in academia.

    @RObleu – Did you travel to Nigeria or elsewhere? If not Nigeria, continue going. Home may be but a memory, but there is so much going on there now. So much.

    @Nyota – Quite possibly.

    @Edr – Yep, claim them all – which is why I PROUDLY consider myself African and American.

    @Nana – My dear, don’t even let me start with qualms Africans have with themselves and other black communities…don’t even let me start. But going to your second point, I have just find it strange how Africans who come to the US to live and work are reluctant to call themselves African American – especially if there are in possession of green cards or American citizenship. I can understand those who are recent immigrants – then yes, they are African immigrants. But if you’ve been here for like 15 years and your poor mother in the village can’t understand your Yankee accent, it’s time to hyphenate your identity, i.e. African American.

  • Jade

    Who cares? Be who you want to be. I am Nigerian as well, but I don’t care what you call me. Nigerian American, African American, black, don’t care. Life is too short to be fixed on labels. Be human first and foremost and help your fellow human at that!

  • Alex

    As someone who maternal grandmother had a Jewish maiden name, Native American blood and I was born with red hair (how that happened is beyond me) I just call myself a black American. My parents are black, and I was born and raised in the states. I sometimes like to use African-American because I like to capitalize it. (There’s just something about being a proper noun that I enjoy) lol. If I had the money I would love to get a test on my dna to see where my genes originate. I must admit I am kinda envious of people who know exactly where they come from and their lineage.