2020 is the beginning of what will surely be a remarkable decade for many reasons that are apparent, as we very slowly refresh from the aftershock of a global pandemic.
We are immersed in the rally cry for vengeance against the systemic racism that murdered yet another Black life — George Floyd, who was killed by the deadliness of police brutality.
As a Nigerian-American who was born in the Bay Area and raised in Lagos, my perspective on what it means to adopt the balancing act of inhabiting two vastly different cultures has been constantly evolving.
What I can definitively declare about my current status is that my Americanness has absolutely eclipsed my Nigerianness, and that’s strictly based on the fact that I have spent most of my time in the States with limited trips to my homeland.
Growing up during the gangster era of the eighties, that permeated lawlessness from irreparable fractures of governmental dysfunction, and the never-ending military coups that violently toppled one dictator after another, ultimately shaped my childhood, and made me susceptible to fairy tales about my birth country.
Despite the harrowing encounters that my father weathered with the police when he was a young Black man, attending college in America, during the seventies, both my parents were temporarily brainwashed by the outright lies from white acquaintances, who cunningly boosted the appeal of African immigrants at the expense of their lazier and criminally-inclined Black American counterparts.
As a youngster, my desire to reclaim my birthright was the hovering fantasy that intensified with each passing year that potently demonstrated the horrifying residue of British colonialism, and how white invaders had willfully and permanently destabilized Nigeria’s capacity for greatness with the betrayal of embedded self-hate without a cure.
The dream came true after graduation from boarding school, and my joy knew no bounds as I contemplated the next phase of my life with great expectations, and the relief of departing a sinking territory, that gifts invaluable resources to westerners, while abused citizens contend with the lack of of basic amenities like electricity and running water.
Fast forward to 20 years later, and it’s fair to say that the rose-colored glasses that maintained my view of America back when I was a Nigerian in Nigeria, have been replaced with the factual bullet points, that are being unveiled for my comrades, who also had a false depiction of what it really means to be Black in a country that conforms to the brutality of white supremacy.
The moment of my rude awakening occurred after relocation from my college town of Kansas City to New York City. I was blindsided by the horrific case of police brutality in 1997, by the notorious NYPD against a young Haitian man, Abner Louima, who was arrested by responding officers, called to the scene of a fight outside a popular nightclub in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.
Back then we didn’t have the luxury of accessible gadgets that record the chaos and mayhem before the viral reception that incites online furor, that activates justice for victims of systemic oppression.
All we had was TV, radio and newspapers, and the vivid imagination that does too good of a job reenacting the graphic scene of uniformed white thugs, using a “broken broomstick” to sexually assault a Black man in custody, who had to undergo multiple surgeries to repair the extensive damage exacted on his body.
Before I could recover from the shock of Abner Louima’s torture and abuse by the police, the gruesome murder of an African immigrant from Guinea, Amadou Diallo, 23, by the NYPD in 1999, overtook the headlines due to the criminality of the killing in the dead of night.
Diallo was shot 41 times outside his apartment in the Bronx by four NYPD officers, who misidentified him as the serial rapist who had been reported the year before.
He was hit by 19 bullets, and his murderers claimed that their shared incentive to violently end the life of an innocent Black man, who was assumed guilty was propelled by the suspect reaching for the wallet in his pocket.
As a Nigerian, who had been residing in her birth country for almost six years at that point, it was unnerving to be faced with the unfortunate circumstances that befell a fellow African, who harbored the same vision of America, as the land of opportunity and prosperity that most immigrants believe with dollar signs in their eyes.
Youthful vigor and the quest to seduce the most unforgiving city in the world proved to be the steady distraction from societal ills that tapered off once those goals gave way to reality.
As I reflect on the symbolism of my verified Americanness against the backdrop of my waning Nigerianness, I’m acutely aware that it was naive to readily believe the famed perfection of “America, the beautiful,” that was sold to those of us with strong ties to an assaulted heritage, that predictably crumbled from oppressive mechanics of white supremacy.
On the other hand, when you consider the alternative of being chained to an inflammable existence, that threatens your survivability because of the traitorous rulebook of bribery and corruption, at the highest levels of government, it’s hard not to feel as special as your less fortunate relatives decreed when good fortune was upon you.
We are currently accommodating the historic revolution that sadly couldn’t be possible without footage of the grisly murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who was killed by a former cop, a white supremacist, who drew pleasure from hearing his victim plead to breathe.
The screams for justice are far-reaching, as the world joins the movement with imposingly vibrant murals in the unlikeliest of places, that portray the image that evokes why Black lives must matter, from henceforth.
Even my homeland of Nigeria has logged its public recognition of how George Floyd’s murder on the streets of America can’t be ignored. A modest group assembled in front of the U.S. embassy in the capital city of Abuja and held signs that read:
Black Lives Matter.
The irony of that isn’t lost on me when you observe the full circle moment of America’s accidental influence, that stemmed from a human rights violation, which Nigeria has been guilty of systemically levying on innocent patriots for decades.
When dictators call the shots in ways that would make Trump green with envy, you can be sure that freedom of speech and the ability to exert those non-existent privileges will make you the prime target for a private execution.
Some of the greatest minds who were passionately and valiantly committed to repairing the erosion of our national narrative by exposing the nefariousness of the Nigerian government were forcibly silenced, once they were identified as traitors and disrupters.
Nigerian journalist Dele Giwa, who co-founded and was Editor-in-Chief of the premier newsmagazine, Newswatch, was killed in his own home in 1986 when he received a parcel containing explosives that ignited when he opened it.
Giwa had unearthed the truth behind the scandalous inner-workings of Ibrahim Babangida’s barbaric regime, and as a military head of state, Babangida carried out the directives that matched his equally brutish predecessors, who didn’t hesitate to punish Nigerian journalists asking for trouble.
Newswatch was akin to American’s respected truth-tellers like The New York Times and The Washington Post, with the only difference being that President Trump can’t order the murder of American journalists who relentlessly hold him accountable — as much he would love the honor.
[Newswatch] changed the format of print journalism in Nigeria [and] introduced bold, investigative formats to news reporting in Nigeria.
And as Nigerian journalists were getting wiped out by the fury of their own government during the tumultous eighties and nineties, seasoned activists also suffered the same fate.
Ken Saro-Wiwa was a Nigerian writer and environmental activist, who spent most of his life highlighting the atrocities of foreign oil companies, that were turning his hometown of Ogoniland in the Niger Delta into a hazardous waste dump of petroleum from the rigors of oil drilling, and the deadly pollution that still wreaks havoc on helpless villagers.
His vocal condemnation of Sani Abacha’s regime with accusations of the government’s refusal to hold the western world accountable for the decades of environmental damage at the hands of wealthy enterprises, particularly the Royal Dutch Shell Company resulted in his eventual hanging in 1995.
My Nigerianness was rarely an appealing attribute, outside of my “beautiful” name and being cited as “well-spoken.”
Despite the roster of disadvantages, I’ve always privately celebrated the memories that are glorious to recall, about a former life that was specific to a cultural armor that has recently become more appropriate for public viewing, thanks to the seductive vibes of social media.
But America is my heart. It’s where most of my transformative experiences took place, including the enlightenment that re-introduced me to the racial disparities and overt racism that doesn’t discriminate when Blackness is lawfully provoked and menaced.
Amadou Diallo was Guinean, and almost 20 years later, in late 2018, Nigerian-American, Chinedu Okobi, 36, who suffered from mental illness, was Tasered to death by five sheriff’s deputies who claimed he was jaywalking in heavy traffic on a busy street in Millbrae, California.
The violent encounter was allegedly escalated by Okobi’s “combativeness,” and how it “threatened” the deputies, who could only restrain him with “pepper spray, batons “and the non-lethal “Taser stunt gun” that became a deadly weapon when it was applied to his chest, causing the victim to go into cardiac arrest.
The terrifying incident didn’t garner nearly enough media attention or the viral hashtags that swiftly populate timelines, ablaze with activism, and that disconnect forced the alienation of my Nigerian side from the American that had secured my longtime identity.
My sense of betrayal came from the sadness of wondering how I would feel if god forbid this had happened to my Nigerian-American brother, who wouldn’t be American enough to warrant the cries for justice that are mandated for Black lives that don’t matter.
But we’ve since come full circle, as the police brutality that took the life of George Floyd unites us all, based on the shared humanness that defiantly rejects the notion that a human being could be subjected to actions that render him unworthy of breathing the air he was born to freely consume.
I am able to embrace my dual citizenship with a sense of purpose and the gratitude for this historical manifestation on the wings of global support, and the defined duty of soaring rebels, outfitted in hopeful endurance.
They will finally knock down the diseased status quo in favor of the non-negotiable establishment of equality for everyone who inhales ancestral whispers from refurbished ports of distress.
When it comes to Black Lives Matter, it’s All Black lives, regardless of personal preferences or the politics that dismisses the relevance of fair representation when it comes to the worst case scenarios.
This global upheaval for the sake of pending justice has affected Nigeria in unexpected ways that could entice tiny steps of progression, and that’s cautiously optimistic.
Both sides of the coin looks more appetizing with each passing day, and for this Nigerian-American there’s no better time than NOW.