Chomping sweet barbequed morsels of baked salmon and slightly crispy green beans, I listened to Ladipo share his thoughts on how African-Americans can defeat racism and discrimination.
“African-Americans are the poorest in this country, and they are treated the worst,” he said, hinting at some type of correlation.
Ladipo is a fairly new acquaintance. I met him at the African Leadership Conference that took place in March. He’s a progressive-minded, educated Nigerian with lots of information and lots of opinions.
He proceed to explain that other groups of people who once faced discrimination, for example the Jewish race, have succeed in upgrading their lifestyles with more education and more money to spend.
“And now, the Jews are untouchable,” he said.
He said that the reason why African-Americans still face discrimination is because African-Americans generally tend to wallow in poverty, disillusionment and mis-education. African-Americans virtually have no power because too many of them virtually have no money, was Ladipo’s underlying thesis. And if you don’t have money, anyone can and will step all over you.
“Why do you think police brutality continues in African-American neighborhoods?” he asked me and I waited for him to answer.
“Because the cops know that they can’t do anything,” he stated.
This remark nearly broke my heart as all the images in my mind of police officers throwing black men up against brick walls replayed. Ladipo talked about how some of his white friends talk to cops however they want and because these white friends are fairly wealthy, the police officers tend to leave them alone.
Because these white friends of his have the power to sue…to disbar…to buy you out and make you wish you had never opened your mouth in the first place.
I thought about all Ladipo was saying, taking sips of the lukewarm peach nectar I had ordered and I began to play devil’s advocate.
African-Americans as a group are perceived to be poor, powerless and uneducated. Of course, you have individuals who don’t fit that perception…(ironically, those people are said by African-Americans to be “actin’ white.”)
I slowly began to understand what Ladipo’s theory, but I was still having a hard time accepting it. I felt somehow like a betrayer to accept such an idea. Ladipo also said that African American leaders are much to blame for perpetuating the victims’ mentality.
“And I’m sure Al Sharpton would disagree and point to all the civil rights cases that he’s brought awareness to,” I remarked.
But the fact is many African-Americans repeat the woes of the past, singing about them in spiritual hymns, depicting them in oil-paintings, raising the issue whenever a white colleague reports on them for coming to work late again.
“An Arab wearing a long white robe gets more respect than an Indian even though they [Indians and Arabs] look so much alike,” said Ladipo. “Why? People perceive that Arabs have money.”
“So you are saying that economic empowerment will end racism?” I asked.
Ladipo said yes.
* * *
Since having this conversation, I’ve grappled with this paradigm shift. I’ve not only come to support Ladipo’s theory, but I firmly believe that it should be promoted. But if you look back in history, the idea of economic empowerment as the solution to better the lives of black folk was taught by the several groups and leaders, and notably by, the Nation of Islam. Malcom X, rest in peace, thoroughly spoke about building black businesses and keeping money in the black community.
How about immigrants? Many of them come here and build their new lives from scraps. Indians, for example, seem to stick together as a community and share the benefits. I have never seen a Subway franchise that was not owned by an Indian, and the same goes for Dairy Queen. Hair and beauty supply stores that carry products for African-grade hair are almost 90% always owned by Asians, most likely, Koreans. So what’s up with African-Americans who have lived in the U.S. for over 4 generations, yet still don’t seem to have it together as a people?
“Baggage,” I told Ladipo.
There is a reoccurring question among Nigerians who have immigrated to America. My parents have asked the question, along with several of my friends and my friends’ parents, and so forth and so forth. Here’s the question:
If I, an immigrant from Africa can come to this country and succeed as an immigrant, then why can’t African-Americans who have lived here for over 200 years?
My response to this question is always this: baggage.
African-Americans have a history of shame and defeat. A present-day African American carries this history in bags- their parents, grandparents, great grandparents, great great grandparents and great-great-great grandparents faced humiliation and inhuman brutality.
They have been victims. So it is easier, in my opinion, for an African immigrant to come to America and succeed- because they don’t have all this baggage.
And that’s why, Africans-especially Nigerians- are deemed as “arrogant” by some African-Americans. My friends, my family, my associates, and I were all perceived to be “stuck-up Africans,” by our African- American classmates. Nigerians are, indeed, proud people and the pride can come across as arrogance. But our pride also comes from the fact that we are not so connected with the humiliation suffered by African-Americans.
“African-Americans attract discrimination because they feel inferior,” Ladipo said.
I believe Ladipo is right.
I’ve walked into several retail stores to notice that the African-American male employees were not dressed properly. Khaki pants hanging below the waists and wrinkled shirttails tucked out have become all-too familiar. But, I never fail to notice that the white male employees are usually dressed in the most professional manner, whether they work at a gas station or at a financial institution.
I later shared Ladipo and I’s discussion with one of my sisters, who is married to an African-American man, by the way and she completely agreed: African-Americans need to empower themselves as a group economically and with education. Only then will they have the power that they need and only then will they command respect from other ethnic groups.
“African-Americans complain about being followed by Koreans whenever they walk into the beauty supply store. I used to complain about it to, but shoot! It’s THEIR store! They can do whatever they want!” I told my sister a few days ago.
My sister is in the line of social work, so she frequently interacts with the downtrodden folks of society. She said that she sees too many African-Americans lining up in food pantries, getting Medicaid, and that sort of thing. She has talked to several African American girls who simply don’t want to go to college because they say it’s too hard.
“’I don’t like the professor,’ but you don’t go to class for the professor, you go for the subject!” my sister exclaimed on the phone.
But you know what? I now understand why some critics blame “The Black Church” for the current state of African-Americans. The truth is, the “black church” is quite different from “the white church.” And I’ve been to both. The perpetual rhetoric echoed in black churches is to “wait on God.” You often hear pastors saying that “God will pay your bills and provide your needs,” and as a fervent believer, I agree. But the danger in this idea is that it can advocate a “victims’ mentality” that says: I am in need and I don’t have to do anything but wait for God.
God requires action!
Religion…that’s for another blog entry.
I’ll end this entry with this confession:
I experienced racism from white people as a child and those degrading encounters affected me deeply. As a proud woman of African descent, I support any progressive effort to better the lives of people who look like me and yes, I am an African-American sympathizer. Along with the Bible, I swallowed the doctrines of civil rights leaders and pan-Africanists. Yes, as I got older, befriending white people became increasingly difficult as I deemed all white people as the “other,” as the discriminating forces of the “system,” as people who will never ever understand dark-skinned people of African descent. I wholeheartedly believed that every vice in the African American community stems from the racism inflected by white people- like rap music. It’s demeaning but it’s the white executives that promote it, and that sort of thing.
But since last week, I’ve come to realize that there is a huge problem in the African-American community and it’s roots lie in the mentality perpetuated by African-Americans. African-Americans are now the perpetrators. They have become their own worst enemy and to make it worst, too many of them don’t want to do the right thing. It’s a community where doing the wrong thing, doing things backwards, illegally has become cool. Getting married? No, just shack up. Talk right? No, just talk “black.” Read a book? No, that’s for nerds. Too many African-Americans carry these ideas and teach their children and nieces and nephews and friends. That’s the scary thing. Yes, every ethnic group has its delinquent abnormalities, but in the African-American community, the norm is the abnormal.