American Racism Through the Eyes of an African Immigrant
“You have to be twice as good to get half as far…”
Precious Oluwakeni Faniyi, Guest Writer
I spent the first half of my life in Nigeria, a majority black country, so I never had any issues with racism there. I did have some issues with colorism, which is a byproduct of British colonialism. Most of the discrimination perpetuated against me stemmed from the fact that I have a physical disability. I did not fully understand what racism was until I moved to the United States. I mean, I knew all about the slave trade, I had even visited a slave trade museum, but I had not experienced racism myself until I lived in Rochester, Minnesota.
I immigrated to the U.S. in August of 2008, when I was 12 years old. I started 8th grade there soon after at John Adams Middle School. I was then exposed to the racist attitudes too many Americans possess towards people of color, especially immigrants of color. I would be afraid to speak up in class because fellow students would mock my heavy Nigerian accent. I felt ashamed of how I spoke and started losing my accent to avoid the bullying, and now it’s almost completely gone. My white classmates would ask me if I lived in huts, walked around topless, or saw lions in my backyard when I lived in Nigeria. My black classmates would call me an “African booty scratcher.” I spent all of my 8th grade year with barely any friends and decided to completely focus on my studies to avoid any social interactions and the harassment that came with them.
My high school years were a little better because a lot of my Nigerian accent was gone. I still didn’t have many friends, but I was okay with that. I continued to focus on excelling academically. I was doing so well that during my junior year a teacher started accusing me of cheating. He had no evidence other than the fact that I was getting almost perfect scores on all his quizzes and exams. There were white students in his class who were also doing really well, but he singled me out. Was it so hard to believe that a black girl was getting the highest scores and setting the curve for the class? Did people look at me and assume my intelligence and capabilities? I don’t think these are the types of questions white Americans have to ask themselves.
I am now in college, pursuing two bachelor’s degrees in biology and biomedical engineering. I have had my fair share of being talked over and having my valid ideas dismissed because I was the only person of color in a group. I have had my intelligence questioned and I have developed a strong case of imposter syndrome at my prestigious university. I have to prove myself every day to fight assumptions about me based on how I look.
“You have to be twice as good to get half as far” is drilled into our heads as black children, and most of us grow up to realize it as fact.