I Attended a Racist Women’s College but My White Friends Were Dope
I was born in San Francisco, CA in the early seventies, a period when my homeland Nigeria was recovering from the Biafran War, and the natives were determined to prove that despite linguistic differences, it was possible for all the tribes and sub-tribes to hold hands and rock the nation while singing Kumbaya.
This of course never transpired but it did give my parents and others in their class, the incentive to ambitiously seek greener pastures abroad and then return fully equipped to realize their potential for the sake of patriotism.
My parents obeyed the calling, which is why I was born in California. Shortly after my birth, when I was just weeks old, my dad received word that his job offer had been rescinded due to his “spotty” paperwork so we hightailed it back to Kansas City, MO — where we stayed until the final departure to Lagos, Nigeria where me and my two younger brothers were raised.
When I look back at my upbringing, I am mostly struck by the fantastical view my parents had of America. The early seventies to the early eighties was a period of strife between blacks and whites, it was also the beginning of a significant influx of African immigrants who firmly rejected the offerings of the more convenient shores of Britain by choosing to embrace the promise of the star-spangled banner instead.
This gamble paid off immensely due largely to the fact that foreigners typically have a lot at stake. My father is a perfect example. He left his newly widowed mother and younger siblings in Eastern Nigeria to seek a better life in Lagos — the then thriving capital. After securing a job at the Nigerian Railroad Corporation, the civil war began to gain dangerous momentum and it became clear that as an Igbo man, he had to either get the fuck out or die.
He chose to live, so he got the fuck out and headed for the States. After that, everything he touched turned to gold. The business school he applied to accepted him, and he met a hoard of white folks who loved his first name and the fact that he spoke like an Englishman.
Before long he was settled and ready to anticipate his colorful future — and of course the fact that my lovely mother joined him three years later was a bonus. I will also venture to say that my birth a year after they tied the knot was akin to what it would feel like to win the lottery.
I was essentially their first major investment in a stock that hopefully continue to amass rewards. I didn’t get it when I was a toddler but as I matured I was assured through every military coup and other disastrous consequences associated with being a kid growing up in Nigeria during the turbulent eighties — that my future was brighter than the stars in our mostly gray skies because I was an “American”.
I found out what my pivotal status really meant when I arrived at my two- year women’s college in Nevada, Missouri in the fall of 1991. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. But, yes, the United States is so massive that they actually have duplicate towns that are spelt the same way but pronounced differently. So, my version is pronounced — “Ne-vay-da”.
So, why did my parents choose to send me to this godforsaken place? Simply put, they trusted their white friends and based their decision on their recommendations. All their friends were white. My parents were of the mindset that white Americans were hospitable to them because they were not Black Americans — and so that gave them a feeling of privilege that they clung to and hoped to pass on to me.
I didn’t really comprehend what I was inheriting but I trusted that it would manifest into something tangible. My imposed college turned out to be a nifty idea for a white girl with a Mid-Western upbringing, seeking an education in familiar territory — but for an African girl with a seminal upbringing that is in dire need of vibrant cultivation — being shipped off to a commune in a sparse town that is ninety-eight percent Caucasian was the worst thing that could’ve ever happened to me.
Despite the fact that I was clearly a citizen by birth — my given name automatically regulated me as an International student and as such, I was assigned a host family and required to undergo a humiliating form of mandatory orientation that was meant to get me up to speed on what it means to be an African living among Americans in a civilized domain.
As I sat in the office of the Director of International Affairs, I remember feeling like I was being drafted into the army as I was being interrogated by my drill sergeant. She was a big-boned woman with thick-rimmed glasses and dull brown hair. She was seedy and militant in her delivery. She shunned the fact that I was in fact an American and tried her damndest to assure me that the college had my best interest in mind by classifying me as a foreigner.
I grew up in Africa so my birth certificate was merely a document that illustrated that I would need assistance coping with my acquired status. This meant being paired with a white American family who would help me adequately assimilate into a lifestyle that my primal instincts would naturally reject.
She made me promise to bathe everyday so I wouldn’t have to deal with the humiliation of being scorned by fellow classmates. And then it just went downhill from there as I internalized the raw welcoming of an African student in an environment that was supposed to be above my realm of comprehension.
My time there was brief and chaotic due in part to my scheming but mostly because nobody really knew what to do with me. I was a bitch to my host family who were old, boring too nice, and too white. They were eager to show me how much they relished my existence and I used them for food and money. I figured that if they were being forced down my throat — I might as well milk it for all it was worth.
The teachers were absolute bigots except for the woman who taught computer science and my dance teacher. The rest were pale-skinned burly guys with heavy beards and expressionless women with dead eyes. They saw me as this dark foreigner who needed the level of assistance they were not willing to provide.
There were only three girls of color on campus when I was attending and we were all African.
The one thing I will attest to is the spirit of the white girls that I spent my time with during my very short stint. They were vivacious, curious and generous and most of all — genuinely interested in my background. Some of their questions were startling but their approach softened me and encouraged my need to educate in ways that I’m certain has remained with them till this day.
They were the best kind of white girls (whatever that means) and I swear to you that I’ve never come across anything close to them since. They were in essence my makeshift family as they took on the duties of teaching me how to club with a fake ID, tutoring me on the basics of Eric Clapton and Pearl Jam, while I indulged them on what it’s like to have a friend several shades darker than them who speaks English like the Queen of England.
I lasted one semester and a half at my designated fortress before I was kicked out for poor grades and class attendance — a feat I accomplished purposely. Again, my professors were ripe assholes that didn’t care whether I failed or passed and blatantly demonstrated their reluctance to assist me outside the classroom. I was basically encouraged to either sink or swim. I ended up drowning.
My parents were shocked and I was elated. I was sad to say goodbye to my peeps of a different color but in the end I wasn’t just too African — I was also too black to make it work at the college that is spelt like Nevada but sounds like Ne-vay-da.
America wasn’t what I had been brought up to believe it was. And of course more than twenty years later, I know for damn sure that my parents didn’t really understand the country of my birth or the fairer population they chose to chill with.
But I don’t blame them for buying into the façade because I did the exact same thing although my choice was based on circumstance. However, I was fortunate enough to venture off and draft my own opinions based on experience, sound judgment, and a healthy appreciation for the black experience in a country that continues to shun our right to dwell in in the manner that we deserve.
After all, that is the American way.