TO our African Students Association (DASA) and incoming international Black students,
There is nothing like discovering a shared identity with another African on campus. And when you share the same nationality (and most likely tribe), it’s like you’ve met them before, and Dartmouth is the new place you’ve magically reconnected. You’re reminded of the smaller, unique sayings and customs of your people–and it’s a wonderful feeling.
Africans–even outside of Dartmouth–can strike up conversations with ease regardless of background. This tradition of fostering community is even more urgent in a place like Dartmouth where many of us are distanced from the familiar comforts that make home home (I miss Injera every day). It was from African upperclassmen (Black women specifically) that I experienced, and in turn, adopted the responsibility to check up and check in with members of our community. Sourcing ideas to celebrate, advise, and support fellow African students is what keeps me grounded at Dartmouth. This same sense of responsibility moves me to bring up a quieter problem.
In class, on the Green, between adventures to West Leb, and in lax convos with friends, you’ll inevitability hear (or utter):
“I personally can’t identify with Black Americans. We may look similar, but we’re just different.”
It is easy to cite specific cultural differences, like the musical artists in your rotation, to distance yourself from “them”–the community, ethnic bracket, and culture that you find yourself now categorized in. You may find that there isn’t much space to even discuss your intersectional, African identity in what is a deeply classist student body that moves to protect the interests of the majority: white, affluent, and indifferent. But the reality is, a good number of Black students at Dartmouth are either first, second, or third-generation Americans with lineages from the Caribbean, the continent, or a mixture of both. So why do we rely on the notion of a race-obsessed America versus a race-blind Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe, or Ethiopia?
Beloved author Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s take is that “In Nigeria, I had often thought about who I was–writer, dreamer, thinker–but only in America did I consider what I was. I became Black in America.”
Regardless of your class, economic, or social position, descendants of Africans are met with this unifying and, at times, confusing message. Most of us come from towns, cities, and countries where we are the racial majority. Ethnic differences, many believe, are what really mark your position in society. So when Black students with direct links to Africa live or study in the US, many recognize a gap between the Black-American cultural exports witnessed abroad and a more complete picture of the realities of being Black in America.
In the isolated, “pristine” bubble that is Dartmouth’s campus, we may not encounter state violence, but racism’s ripple is nonetheless far-reaching. It can impact your sense of security in a frat basement or on a study abroad, your self-image, how you care for your natural hair, your ability to source adequate administrative support or to find a partner that looks like you, and so much more. This doesn’t even include the financial, emotional, or social priorities you have at home.
But, the notion of a race-obsessed America in contrast to a lighter or less complicated racism abroad weakens our Black community. Just because we come from “all-Black” countries doesn’t make the ferociousness of American racism exist in a vacuum.
Take Unilever for example. Yes, the home goods company that owns everything from Vaseline to Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. In Burna Boy’s song Another Story, he alludes to our people’s shared reality of neo-colonialism when he writes,
In 1900, Britain officially assumed responsibility for the
Administration of the whole of what we
Now know as Nigera from the Niger Company...
Nigera started off as a buisness deal
For them, between a company and a government
Incidentally, the Niger Company is still around today
Only it is known by a different name: Unilever
In Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, Unilever’s Vaseline is one of the top producers and marketers of skin-lightening products while they conveniently pivot to a less-toxic brand image in the States. This link is purposely misconstrued by their parent company Unilever to capitalize on the racialized preference for lighter skin. In the States, the vocabulary of racist ideals could be coded as a preference under the keyword “brightening” in beauty products, but the culprit is the same!
While this was one specific example, on a macro level, our histories and fates are interconnected. Anti-blackness in America is experienced, to a degree, in Haiti, Cameroon, Kenya, and Eritrea. Granted there are so many historical intricacies that give different dimensions to the racism or ethnocentrism we experience at home, but it is all rooted in the Global South’s shared experience of colonialism and underdevelopment by Europeans.
The same way we can cite transnational links within our histories of struggle, we are linked also through our creativity, brilliance, and capacity to support one another! Traces of Black innovativeness are identifiable everywhere (in our braids, our music, our art) when you shift your mindset from indifference to solidarity.
Black community is not pre-packaged or homogenous. We must put in the work to learn about one another. While sharing a similar identity can get the ball rolling, we can no longer afford to adopt an “us vs. them” mindset. I urge Black students of all backgrounds to find relationality in our Blackness and resist efforts to stoke division. Whether this division is incited by that random African podcaster that shows up in your feed or your close friend who is clinging on to difference, question where your assumptions are rooted and seek friendship with a diversity of Black students. Let’s show up for each other in not only celebration, but in study, struggle, and support.
The Dartmouth Radical