AFRICANS IN NEW YORK

Is there a universal story—or truth—that African immigrants share? How do we maneuver and reconcile our multiple existences—our distinct African cultures, and languages; being black; and being immigrant? These are some of our stories—the ones that bind us together and those unique, individual narratives—of our struggles and triumphs. Africans in New York is a blog about underreported stories—writings, video, audio and photo essays—about our diverse African communities. No one can tell our stories better than us.


—Arao Ameny, Ugandan-born, New York-based journalist and writer

Contact: journalist@araoameny.com
Recent Tweets @araoameny

You are not like ‘us’. You don’t speak like ‘us’.

You are a white woman in black skin. Why is your ‘accent’ like that? Why do you pronounce words like ‘this’ instead of ‘that’ ? You are an ‘AfroEuropean’. You have a soft voice. You don’t sound ‘African.’ I thought I was speaking to a white woman when I spoke to you on the phone. I have never heard such a soft-spoken African woman like you before. Are you sure you are even ‘African’? You have such an ‘African-sounding’ name but I was surprised when you opened your mouth.

I absorb these invisible blows on a daily basis. Sometimes gracefully. Sometimes not.

Sometimes my stomach feels heavy from carrying the invisible stones. Why do my people insist on separating me from ‘them’? Why do they insist on making me the ‘other’? Does it give them some sort of power or supremacy over me? Do they understand the stories that I carry inside me? Do they even know my journey to this country, to where I am now?

What is it about my diction, the inflection of my voice and my tone, that upset you or make you uncomfortable? Am I a reflection of your failures? Don’t I sound like your children, the same children you carried to America? Don’t I sound like the child you brought here when she was just a baby or the teenager who helped you pack your bags on a one-way flight to America who had to adjust to American schools and American bullies? Am I not like your neighbor’s son who watched American TV to figure out the correct American pronunciation of the word ‘water’ or ‘interpreted’ devoid of the letter “r” ? Don’t I sound like your own children who were born in this country? Don’t I have the same accent like your daughters, sons, nieces and nephews who you lovingly walk to school? Don’t you love them with their ‘funny-sounding’ words and their ‘funny-sounding’ accents? Aren’t they still your children?

When I disagree or don’t do something they like, “you are Americanized”. You are acting like an American again. This country has spoiled you. You are not one of ‘us.’

When you do something great or something that makes the community look good: ‘ You are an African. Matter of fact, you are a Great African, Mandela would be proud! Even Winnie would be proud. You have held on to your roots and culture. God bless your parents.

So, which one it is?

Yesterday I sounded like a ‘muzungu’ or ‘white person’. Now today, my black skin is magically shining again? Is it glistening and blinding you this time? Some people will not stop until they are satisfied, chew me into little pieces and spit me out. What color (or should I say ‘colour’) will I be when I lay there on the floor broken and damaged from your words?

You are not like ‘us.’ You don’t speak like ‘us.’

You’re right. I am not like “you”. I am like your daughter who helped you pack your bags when you came to America. I am like your son who you asked to help talk to the ‘muzungu’ who has a hard time understanding your beautiful accent. I am a reflection and a reminder that you are still in this country struggling, still sending money back home. I am a reminder of all the expectations and obligations your relatives back home in Africa for you to “make it”. You were told that the streets of America were paved in gold but we all found out they were paved with our sweat and tears. Sometimes even our fears. So, why does my accent bother you? Why does the way I walk bother you? I am a reflection of you…I am a reflection of your struggles, your pain, your disappointments, your insecurities, your happiness, your pride, your resilience. I am a reflection of you…