I’M African American. Am I African-American?

imagejpeg_2_38Dahomey Abanishe,
Secrest, FL.

As a child in Kansas, I always assumed I was African-American and not because of what I was culturally but because of how I looked. I am Truly a Nigerian American culturally. My father is Nigerian and I was raised eating pepper stew and listening to Fela. No one fried chicken and made sweet potato pie. My mom is biracial but was raised as white until put in an orphanage where she was told that she was black. All of my mom’s siblings are either white or hispanic. (This truly a whole nother race card project because as first-cousins we have appropriated three different distinct cultures). She appropriated the African-American identity only after she was separated from her family and told that the state was going to put her with her “real” family..

I was expected to be African-American by my teachers and neighbors because I was black. I learned the African-American experience from my friends.I craved the African American experience because that was what was expected from me so I looked forward to eating my friends mom’s fired fish with spaghetti and longed for the opportunity to attend African-American Church services. My friends told me what radio station I should listen to for Hip Hop music.

I did not fully became African-American by the time I was a teenager and did not disentangle the African-American from the African until college. Then I worked as a part time census worker. It was truly surprisingly to learn the many ways according to the US Census one could be a Latino….black-latino, white-latino, Mexican-American, Cuban-American, Spanish-speaking, Non-Spanish speaking…etc. However, when you fill out your Census report there is only ONE way to be BLACK. Not Nigerian-American, Jamacian-American, Yourba-Speaking not even a white-African. However, In college I started to really see that my family story was not was similar to the African American experience but was truly an immigrant story. In someways, more similar to a kid with parents from Vietnam than all of the African-American kids I hung out with. As an adult, I realized I had no choice but to adopt the African-American story.

I moved to the East Coast as an adult. There I connected with many cousins and friends who were the 1st and 2nd generation in America, but they never misappropriated the title, food, or cultural values of African-American. For them to be Nigerian American…was just that. However, they were able to do this because they had a community large enough to provide African markets, schools, churches and fashion stores. Their cultural experience could stay completely tied to their country of origin because they could surround themselves in that culture everyday. I don’t quite fit into that Nigerian-American group which was initially confusing because that is what I am on the most fundamental level.

I now realize that my appropriated culture is built into my core just as Nigerian-American is built into my cousins core. The difference is that the community of peers available for me to scaffold my cultural identity on in KS was my African-American peers. Therefore, I am African-American and I am also African and American because the culture I appropriated is my culture now. To bring things full circle. I now realize, I am like my mom. My culture and race is as much more of what others say it should be than what it truly is.


Tweets by Michele Norris