It’s a curious feeling to suddenly discover that you are a person of the colour ‘black’ and that, therefore, you’d fit certain stereotypes automatically, even though, as a proud Idoma man, from Nigeria, you’d find many of those stereotypes abominable: You are not lazy but hard-working, you’re intelligent and well educated. You’re are content with your earnings and can afford to travel to foreign lands at your occasional pleasure. You’re not a criminal of any sort because that too is an abomination and would be an indelible smudge on your family’s records before the Alekwu, to be recorded and recanted forever. You’re not holy but not exactly bound for hell either. Then, here you are, in the US of A and suddenly these count for nothing. You suddenly realise that you are actually a black man and that it now matters at every turn. You are now viewed with circumspection if not suspicion about what, you don’t really know, just that you must be subjected to that. Worse still, you are now an inferior being in the eyes of some. You, a true born royal of your tribe! A man amongst men. Counsel to the wise. Scourge of fools.
That’s how I felt on my first visit to the States for just five days. I did not suffer any overt racism. Indeed, I found the people that I met or came across in Houston to be quite polite and helpful. I think that this would also be true of the vast majority of Americans. It’s just the apprehension when you enter a shop and the unpleasant feeling of being watched, followed by the imperceptible, but at the same time felt loud, sigh of relief when you pay at the cash point. Then you watch TV and there are Channels dedicated to racial preferences. The population is stratified according to the races and every public policy follows. Politicians and marketers even tailor their messages according to the target race. Race, race, race everywhere!
Before then, being black was something relegated to a distant corner of my consciousness. Something irrelevant. Tribe and religion are the usual, also obnoxious, fares for discrimination in Nigeria. But, somehow, racial profiling beats all that: It assumes a superiority of humans of one type of skin colour to another and thus sub-humanises. Racial profiling ignores too many factors and variables to make any sense, much like saying all Americans are serial killers because they have been indeed a great many of them, or that all English people are hooligans because of the former prominence of their football (soccer) hooligans.
That change from being a Christian Idoma man, from Nigeria, to just being a ‘Blackman’ in the USA is unsettling. It felt like a complete loss of identity. Like waking up to insomnia and having to find a new you. Curiously, while racism exists in Europe and other places, I didn’t feel that disquiet, in Amsterdam, London, Paris, Milan, Rome, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Kayseri, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, that I felt on my visit to USA. Perhaps, because of its peculiar historical antecedents, especially, the holocaust of slavery and the plight of the indigenous tribes, some difference is supposed to be expected, but ‘Race’ is institutionalised by its mere consideration as the preeminent social statistic. In the land of the free, is freedom just an allegory? Hands and legs are free but the minds of many are still in chains?
I’d be visiting again in July and will have a chance to review my initial experience.