The Duality of a Nation: Why The Ugliness of America Is Also Its Enviable Beauty
Unlike countries like Nigeria, that hide their beauty
The youth of today has got lots to say
It’s our life, it’s our future
Because we’re living today
So don’t blame the youth — what do you say? — Lyrics for “Youth of Today” by Musical Youth
As a youngster growing up in Lagos, Nigeria — I remember obsessively listening to Musical Youth — and realizing that my infatuation with the British-Jamaican reggae band had just as much to do with the youngest member — Kelvin — as it did with the messaging of the songs — that perfectly captured the freedom of youth and how our blossoming dispositions could refuel the future.
My impressionable years were spent in a country that I couldn’t wait to get away from — due to the abhorrent behavior of our leaders who systematically poisoned the climate with consequences of non-stop bribery and corruption. The coup attempts — in an effort to topple those in power — in favor of more rotten eggs — allowed the stench of a woefully divided nation to grow even more potent.
I still recall the gunfire — signaling the end of another treacherous regime — while the radio announcement finalized what was already obvious — with no words of comfort or encouragement for worn out citizens — desperate for an extended reprieve from the curse they did nothing to initiate.
Our house was always filled with heavy conversations from grown ups who were clearly fed up — but completely helpless when it came to shaming the government for gross mistreatment in every facet of our existence. Basic amenities were a luxury back then — and that sobering fact hasn’t changed. In order to keep the constant supply of electricity and water in your household — you have to purchase high-powered generators that cost an arm and a leg.
The structural grid of Nigeria was weak and dilapidated — and the hope was that perhaps my some in my generation — with brave hearts — would do what our parents did by coming back after graduating college — to possibly fix the pieces of shattered dreams for those who are young enough to benefit from the long-term forecast.
Between 2008–2012 — there was a mass exodus of Nigerians based in America — who suddenly felt the urge to return to their homeland — equipped with lots of optimism and enough qualifications to guarantee their smooth entry back into a territory that offered empty promises. The gamble didn’t pay off for many who dared — as some returned back to the States — while others kept their interests in both countries.
The tragic aspect of it all is the fact that Nigeria is still a country that is suffering from tribal wars, a reluctance to embrace a new order (current Head of State was also in power back in the eighties) and the unwillingness to give those of us with voices of reason — the freedom to express ourselves without threats to our lives.
Very recently — it was reported that some Nigerian journalists were in danger of being arrested and persecuted for the controversial stuff they print — regarding the deplorable state of affairs — that has remained a constant — even back when I danced around the banana tree to the tempo of a group — that sang about the shit I would never be able to do — as a Nigerian.
Many have tried and died — in the name of exposing injustice and shaming the Nigerian government for allowing locals to sink in the puddle of oil floods — that were and still are produced by the rigs nearby — that continue to supply oil to countries like the U.S. and Britain — at the expense of those who are so close and yet so far from the privilege of quality of life. Journalist and environmental activist — Ken Saro-Wiwa was brutally hanged by a callous regime as punishment for his awareness and call to action.
Journalist and Newswatch co-founder — Dele Giwa was literally bombed out of his home when his news magazine started to gain traction with its insightful and highly informational articles — that gave those in power a lot to be bothered about — and so they blew Giwa to bits — to shut him up.
Even as a writer who has unleashed the truth venom about the country that I love and hate equally — I’m always aware that there is the danger of arriving at Murtala Muhammed International Airport — and being abruptly carted to a dingy room where I’m detained until the corrupt officers are fed their unreasonable demands.
But — as an American — I’m free to curse out the president of the most powerful country in the world — with zero consequences. That’s the beauty of a nation that also displays a disturbing amount of ugliness.
Currently — there’s so much to be grossed out about. Not only are we accommodating the antics of a loud-mouthed buffoon — who runs this country with his tiny hands constantly in the air — with the defiance of a toddler — but there’s also the emergencies of #BlackLivesMatter and the violence stemming from the lack of gun control.
The lives of Americans — both young and old — are in constant danger from the threats of racial injustice and the ease with which machine guns can be purchased and transported to locations that house our most precious gems.
The beauty of America is embedded in the power we each possess as citizens — when it comes to inspiring change in ways that may not be ideal or “organized” or even “civil” — but at the end of the day — the job gets done and those who can hear and see — can’t ignore the noise.
And so at this very moment — a movement is underway — as students who survived the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — got the shock of their lives when they arrived at Tallahassee and were greeted with the a brutal awakening when the “Florida House voted down a motion to take up a ban on assault weapons.”
It appears that lawmakers are more frightened of porn than the prospect of another school shooting that could potentially be deadlier than the previous incidents.
The ugliness of America lies in the sadness of Sandy Hook — and how six years later — we are still immersed in the debate of whether or not young children really deserve to be protected from the curable disease of gun violence.
The beauty of America is plastered all over the streets — that automatically widen to ensure that protesters have more than enough room to scream and shout in solidarity — for the ones that were shot to death — simply because their skin color dictates such actions.
As expected some celebs like George Clooney, Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey have donated money to back up the efforts of the survivors of the horrific massacre in Florida.
Interestingly enough — Winfrey wasn’t that impressed back in 2015 — when she publicly voiced her reservations about the Ferguson protesters — who were seeking justice for Michael Brown — the young Black man who was fatally shot by a White police officer in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014. The officer who killed Brown — ended up not being indicted — which sparked further unrest — but Winfrey’s assessment of the chaos was quite frankly painful to hear — considering how much was and still is at stake for Black America:
“I think it’s wonderful to march and to protest and it’s wonderful to see all across the country, people doing it, but what I’m looking for is some kind of leadership to come out of this to say: ‘This is what we want. This is what has to change, and these are the steps that we need to take to make these changes, and this is what we’re willing to do to get it.”
Hopefully Winfrey’s viewpoint has shifted drastically since then — because if she can see the beauty in the young people who are currently holding lawmakers accountable for their crimes of negligence — then she has to also honor those who are willing to do what it takes to be heard — regardless of “leadership” or “grace.”
America’s beauty is stunning enough to eventually blot out the ugly — and there is more than enough room for the wounded to find healing — through the channels of freedom of speech and the burning desire to be an American with dreams — that should never perish in well-lit classrooms or the darkness of night with the concrete ground as a makeshift memorial.
As the we march in unison for the change that has to come — let’s vow to once and for all — Make America Beautiful Again.