Monday, January 24, 2011

The African Divide in America

That was the topic of our panel discussion yesterday in which I had the honor of being a panelist. I didn't voice out even a tenth of what I wanted to say during the discussion, because I didn't want to cry and we would run out of time. But as I sat in church this morning, I let it all out. I cried.

Here's what I had to let out and let go of, so I can move forward: How long will I have to pay for my ancestors being among those who were left behind? It is not my fault and every single day in this country, I feel guilty about slavery. I can never come to terms with it. But I can't change slavery. I can only change what is going on now; help to fix the aftermath of slavery. As I assimilate and imbibe the beautiful things about the American culture, I would like to share those things about the Nigerian culture that I intend to teach to my child which have been lost through the years in the African American culture, those things I never want to forget. But nobody wants to listen to me. Maybe not nobody! But you get the drift. There aren't enough people who want to know.

I even wrote a book about it. And while some understood and loved it, others have called me prideful and arrogant, perceiving my confidence and pride in my heritage to be me looking down on African Americans. Some think that I am saying Nigeria is better than America and I have to remind them that Nigeria is a developing country and though there are several good things about Nigeria that you don't see on TV, they are missing the point.

We do have tribalism and religious divides in Nigeria. But we will come together in a heartbeat against any other group of people. The one thing nobody expects in a developed country is resistance from other black folk because it does not happen like that among blacks in Europe.

Yesterday, we all agreed that to fix the divide between African American and Africans, we would need to collaborate and unite more, we would need to educate our kids, African Americans would need to visit Africa more, we would need to show people in Africa the worst of America (for balance), we would all need to study each other's cultures more and be more tolerant of our differences. Most of all, if we concentrate more on the ways we are alike than the ways we are different, the world would be a much better place.

One of the statements I found to be the most profound yesterday was when John McQueen mentioned that what changed his life was when he spent a year and a half in Europe and he got a chance to see America as the world sees it and realize there truly are opportunities. And it saddened me when he mentioned that he did not grow up knowing America was full of opportunities and it was not taught to him. I realized that growing up to see and know that the world is full of opportunity was special and we all need to make sure we instill that in our kids. If you want it, go get it. It's there. But nobody is going to hand it to you.

Another issue that touched me was when Alistair Edwards said he was taught that when you meet people, the next thing you do is ask what you can do for them to make their life better. That is a winner!

Delson Adeoye and Muyiwa Babalola went so deep into history and research on this issue, they had my head spinning!!! Brandi Mitchell reminded us that whether giving service, or being serviced, as African Americans/ Blacks in general, we need to step it up and make sure we are competitive in the business world and providing quality service. And if we are receiving service, appreciate and value it, pay what it is worth and don't try to get it for free.

While Klarque Garrison was helping me with my things and walking me to my vehicle last night, I casually looked up at Grady hospital and mentioned how I worked out of there for three years during residency. I also mentioned some other places farther out where I had worked and he wondered how I had worked in all these cities he'd never been to. When I explained to him how needing a work visa almost guarantees you can't get a job in certain desired locations as a foreigner, he was almost speechless. "We have a different set of challenges that y'all don't understand," I had said to him. And because we're programmed to be resilient as Africans, you might look at me and think I have it all, because I don't complain. But you don't know how many thousands of dollars go to my attorney to process immigration related issues or the challenges that are unique to me as a non-American.

For Africans in America, our challenges are current. We don't hold on to the past, we let that go. Whatever things were lacked while back home are quickly forgotten. Whatever you suffered in your early years here become something to laugh over. For African Americans, half of the challenges are perceived, psychological or emotional (which doesn't make it less important) and half is current. Like Brandi said last night, slavery is a mindset that is hard to break. But we all have unique problems and only in coming together can we have power in numbers.

When I got home last night, I was rejuvenated and drained at the same time, so much so that I felt weak in my body, like I had run a marathon. My hips hurt and I hadn't been standing all day. That was my personal breakthrough working through every fiber of my being. So while I was giving, I received as well.

After I let it all out in church today, I fell in love all over again with my blackness, my Africaness and especially being black in America. I love this country. I love living here and this is my home now. I love Atlanta especially. I'm here to stay. And I won't give up, until all our voices are heard and we all become one.

Give us a chance people. We are one!

Thank you Survive 365 and Klarque Garrison for giving me this opportunity and I look forward to future collaborations with you.



  1. Well said, Folake. Well said! Muyiwa and I were reminded of the significance of being united– the weight of being excited for who we are and where we come from, and the infallible role we have to educate our children about our culture. So with the words of Henry Ford, I surrender to abide: "Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success." Together, we can make this our goal!