Posts Tagged ‘African-Americans’

An African immigrant view of America

September 14, 2017

The polite term for the black American citizens who used to be called Negroes is “African-American.”   This term is intended to put them on a par with white ethnic groups, such as Italian-Americans and Polish-Americans.

However “African-Americans,” unlike white ethnics, are not immigrants, but the descendants of slaves, whose ancestors were all brought to this country before the Civil War, and most before the Revolution.

The USA now has a significant African immigrant population, who are the product of a different history than old-stock black Americans.   But the term “African-American” doesn’t really apply either, because it obscures the fact that Africa is not all one country.   African nations have national characters as distinct as Italy or Poland.

Recently I got a glimpse of the African immigrant experience by reading  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Americanah (2013).

“Americanah” is a Nigerian slang word for someone who has lived so long in the United States that they no longer fit into life in Nigeria.

Adichie’s heroine, Ifemelu, grows up in Nigeria, immigrates to the United States as a young woman and, after initial hardships, achieves success and fame.  But, after 13 years, decides to return to her native land.

Ifemelu, like her creator, is intelligent and outspoken, with many shrewd observations about American culture and racial attitudes.   I don’t find her likeable; that’s an observation, not a criticism.

The early chapters show the frustrations of Ifemelu and her educated, middle-class family, in life under the repressive Nigerian dictatorship.   She and her fiance, Obinze, who is handsome, sensitive and good in bed, dream of the United States as the big time where real things are happening—the way some small-town Americans in Kansas or Nebraska may think of New York and Los Angeles.

Ifemelu gets a scholarship to study at an American university, but quickly finds that the USA is not the paradise she imagined.

Her family taught her certain standards of good housekeeping, good grooming, good manners and good grammar, and she is taken aback by the slovenliness, permissiveness and vulgarity of the many Americans whose attitudes are formed by the mass entertainment and advertising media.

She has to struggle to earn a living and is sexually abused by a white employer.   This is so traumatic that she feels unable to keep in touch with Obinze.

This clears the way for her to begin a love affair with Curt, a handsome rich white jet-setter, who is good in bed.   Curt gets her a lucrative job in public relations, and her financial worries end.

Eventually she tires both of Curt and the PR job.   She starts a blog about racial attitudes in America, which is not only an overnight success, but an unexpected source of income that guarantees her financial independence.   She begins a love affair with Blaine, a handsome black intellectual idealist, who is good in bed.

Blaine, a Yale professor, spends time talking to an uneducated black security guard.  Ifemelu can’t bring herself to like him.   She and Blaine break up temporarily when the security guard is unjustly arrested, Blaine organizes a protest demonstration and she can’t be bothered to take.


Why do African-Americans still honor JFK?

December 23, 2015


I have long been puzzled by why so many African-American families have portraits of John F. Kennedy in their homes in a place of honor alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.?

President Kennedy was a hesitant and lukewarm supporter of civil rights, which is better than nothing.  If you wanted to honor a white champion of civil rights, why not honor Abraham Lincoln or even Lyndon Johnson?

The historian and writer Vijay Prashad asked this question of an African-American friend and social justice warrior when he was living in Providence, Rhode Island.

Alice Hicks has two pictures on the wall of her living room: portraits of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. [snip]

I remember Alice, even as she struggled with her own health, coming to meetings, sitting down and quietly fulminating about problems, or being on the street at a press conference or demonstration.  She was a pillar of strength. 

Each time I went to pick her up at a meeting, and as I waited for her to get her things or to get me something to drink (which was part of her obligatory kindness), I stared at the portraits.

One day, casually, I asked her why she had a picture of JFK on the wall.  I could understand the King picture, but not that of a man who had not given King and his movement the kind of support necessary.  And besides, I said, it was LBJ who pushed Congress to pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts.

She smiled at me, ready to indulge my impertinence.  “Of course President Johnson did those things.  And those acts were important.  But were they enough?  What did they get us?  This … ”   Her weak arms opened expansively to encompass not only her living room but her neighborhood, her world.

“President Johnson gave us something.  I accept that.  But it was Dr. King and President Kennedy who allowed us to dream.  President Johnson’s real gift was not even a pale shadow of those dreams.”  [snip]


The limits of “anti-racism” ideology

August 4, 2015

When liberal white Americans talk about doing “anti-racism work,” it probably doesn’t mean that they are taking part in #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations or acting as testers to document racial discrimination in hiring and lending or working to change voting laws aimed as discouraging black voters.

Rather it means that they are examining their hearts and minds to uncover unconscious racial prejudice and to make themselves aware of “white privilege.”

bus_stop_colorI think that this rests on a false assumption—namely, that racial injustice consists solely or mainly of the prejudices of individual white people against individual black people, and that the way to fix it is to change the attitudes of white people.

One problem with this is that “anti-racism work” works only on a relatively small number of white people, those who are already predisposed to sympathize with black people.   Another is that it ignores the degree to which the majority of black people have a common interest with the majority of white people.

The civil rights protestors of the 1960s weren’t especially concerned about how prejudiced people felt in their hearts.  They aimed at changing laws and institutions so as to bring about equal justice, so that African-Americans had the right to vote, the right to equal access to public facilities, the right to equal educational opportunity and the right to equal employment opportunity.

That fight is not over.  Michelle Alexander, in The New Jim Crow, has shown how enforcement of the drug laws is targets African-Americans, who then become legitimate targets for voting disenfranchisement and employment discrimination.


Mau-Mauing the white liberals

December 17, 2010

Ishmael Reed, the African-American novelist, wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times taking white liberals to task for failing to appreciate President Obama’s situation as a black man.

Ishmael Reed

Reed recalled all the times he got a “D” in deportment from white school teachers, for doing nothing at all except attending class while black.  He wrote that white liberals who criticize President Obama for not acting tough don’t appreciate the problems of a black man trying to make it in a predominantly white society.

Progressives have been urging the president to “man up” in the face of the Republicans. Some want him to be like John Wayne. On horseback. Slapping people left and right.

One progressive commentator played an excerpt from a Harry Truman speech during which Truman screamed about the Republican Party to great applause. He recommended this style to Mr. Obama. If President Obama behaved that way, he’d be dismissed as an angry black militant with a deep hatred of white people. …

When these progressives refer to themselves as Mr. Obama’s base, all they see is themselves. They ignore polls showing steadfast support for the president among blacks and Latinos. And now they are whispering about a primary challenge against the president. Brilliant! The kind of suicidal gesture that destroyed Jimmy Carter — and a way to lose the black vote forever.

Unlike white progressives, blacks and Latinos are not used to getting it all. They know how it feels to be unemployed and unable to buy your children Christmas presents. They know when not to shout. The president, the coolest man in the room, who worked among the unemployed in Chicago, knows too.

via NYTimes

A black blogger named Sheria had this to say.

See, as a black person I’m so sick and tired of white liberals who have still enjoyed the privilege of being white trying to tell a black man how to navigate in a white world.

You don’t get it and you lack the humility to simply accept that you do not. Instead you attack the President as being weak, without balls, a sellout and any other demeaning, emasculating terminology that you can devise. You don’t understand what it is to be black and walk in his shoes and you’re too damned arrogant to listen to those of us who try and tell you.

By now, you’re all upset because I’ve offended you. Hey, don’t you want us to show our anger? Don’t you have problems with me being so nice and reasonable all the time?

Don’t get hung up on the mistaken notice that I’m taking the position that the president is off limits for criticism. I don’t think he’s perfect and I certainly have problems with some of his decisions. He and I part company when it comes to the continuation of either of our wars.

Read carefully and understand me, I’m talking about the continued hammering at his character. I’m talking about the insulting and demeaning allegations that he is less than a man, some namby- pamby smart guy who doesn’t know how to be tough. What colossal ignorance and arrogance to believe that any black person could achieve what President Obama has achieved and be weak. Until you have walked in our shoes, until you have been marginalized based on the color of your skin in a culture that continues to not only openly express racism but defend its right to do so under cockeyed readings of the 1st amendment, then don’t talk to me about how you think that any black person should behave.

via The Examined Life

I think that everything they say is perfectly true, and also beside the point.