"Where are the Africans?"
December 22, 2012 1:08 AM   Subscribe

A Liberian-American reflects on the experiences of Africans who have moved to the United States, a growing community that accounts for 3 percent of the U.S.'s foreign-born population.
posted by infini (9 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
"How the Africans became black" is one of 'em trolly headlines, right?

Turns out it was an interesting article. I've been curious about US/Liberian relations since it was pitched to me (with some degree of inaccuracy) as the place all the slaves went when they left the US after the Civil War.

(I didn't know the US had Temporary Protected Status either. We scrapped them, and are now replacing them with something worse - with no right to work - but that's another topic. Seeing how they work in the US is a bit sad, frankly.)
posted by Mezentian at 2:16 AM on December 22, 2012

This being Mefi, I read that as "A Librarian-American reflects on..." and thought "What!?"
posted by philipy at 4:14 AM on December 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

When I was in college I shared a room with a guy from Liberia - Brother K, I called him. There was a coup, and Brother K couldn't go back to Liberia, because they shot many of his uncles by firing squad, and the rest of his family fled to Ghana. That summer he stayed with my family.

Brother K was one of the Sons of the Pioneers, who were descendants of the original slaves who were repatriated to Africa. The Sons of the Pioneers had an especially privileged life in Liberia. They considered themselves to be better than the native Africans in their adopted homeland, and treated those natives almost as slaves. The Sons of the Pioneers had the nicest cars and the nicest houses. In Brother K's house in Liberia, they had a bowl of cash near the door, so if you needed some cash, you would just grab it on your way out.

It was odd, because although he was in the U.S., he looked down on the other blacks around him. He was a wonderful person, and I did consider him to be a brother, but I could see why they killed his family. Odd.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:37 AM on December 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

This being Mefi, I read that as "A Librarian-American reflects on..." and thought "What!?"

I read it as "Libertarian-American," and my thoughts were not convenient to describe.

It's an interesting article, and another example of how classification is central to our experience. There are a lot of ways to break things and people down into manageable groups, and our penchant for somewhat arbitrary and fluid classification is one of the things that mark us as humans. We belong simultaneously to many groups -- some self-applied, some externally-applied (and accepted), some externally-applied (and rejected), and these overlap and interact in a rich stew of identity and perception. It's most awkward, I suspect, when your own identity does not fit clearly into culturally-assigned categories, and you end up not entirely here or there, both in the wider society and, often, within your own mind.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:24 AM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Interesting fact I stumbled across: Retta (from Parks and Rec) is the niece of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
posted by discopolo at 7:53 AM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

There was a coup, and Brother K couldn't go back to Liberia, because they shot many of his uncles by firing squad, and the rest of his family fled to Ghana. That summer he stayed with my family.

This is worth reading.

“Don’t wait for a Gandhi, don’t wait for a King, don’t wait for Mandela. You are your own Mandela, you are your own Gandhi, you are your own King.”
posted by infini at 8:07 AM on December 22, 2012

I saw a docco a few years back on the Liberian civil war, just after Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took power (I think), and it was quite affecting. I knew a lot of the horrors of Rawanda and the Congo, and I thought Liberia's civil war had been mild.
Apparently not.

She's a pretty inspiring person.
posted by Mezentian at 8:35 AM on December 22, 2012

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is a very amazing person - also the most sensible politician I have ever heard speak. Sense is such a jewel in a leader, and she has a treasure trove of it.

I remember reading an article (probably on mefi) several years ago about the experience of a black immigrant from Britain to the US and how he became "African-American": he didn't feel African-American when he first immigrated, he felt British, but overtime the way that Americans reacted to him (especially white Americans) made him change his feelings.

It's something I've seen, but from the outside -- I grew up in a majority black neighbourhood in Canada, but it was Caribbean and later East African, not African-American. When I moved to the US (again to a majority black city, though decidedly white-dominated university and grad program), there seemed to be this strict categorization - if you were black, you were African-American, even if you weren't American and/or didn't belong to the cultural traditions of African-American culture (which is itself a distinct culture as important as any other). No one used the racial word "black" because that was unacceptable, but instead it led to this cultural erasure of non-American people of African descent. I remember reading another British writer who started his book on black British history talking about the time he was in America and he was described as "African-American" - after telling them, no I'm British not American, they corrected it to "British African-American".

That said: that whole thing about Irish people "losing" their culture is a bit bunk. I don't know if Irish Americans realize how very similar Irish culture is to British culture -- I don't know if Irish people would agree, but from an outsider perspective they are very similar and more like each other than anyone else in the world, like the Greeks and Turks (again, don't tell them so). So Irish immigrants started out with a culture much closer to the dominant Anglo-Scottish culture of the US than most other immigrants (except on religious grounds, for the Irish Catholics, but lots of Irish immigrants were and still are Protestants). But more than that, all white immigrants - German, Swedish, Russian, whatever, from much different cultures than the Irish - have tended to assimilate into the majority American culture because they were white and thus allowed to. Non-white immigrants - as well as African-Americans and Native-Americans - would have assimilated a lot more if racial barriers hadn't been carefully maintained. Irish people were discriminated against but never to the extent that non-white people were - in Britain in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, English working class people were intermarrying with Irish immigrants, even as anti-miscegenation laws were being introduced in the colonies to prevent inter-racial marriages.
posted by jb at 9:32 AM on December 22, 2012 [10 favorites]

I don't care how many Liberians get here, I'm still not following Ayn Rand.
posted by surplus at 10:48 AM on December 22, 2012

« Older Please phrase your interview in the form of a text...   |   Christmas round-robin letters: The revenge Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments