A Man’s Response to “What Does It Mean To Be a Nigerian Woman in America?”

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

What Does It Mean To Be a Nigerian Woman in America?” is a provocative essay. Some of the issues raised by the author, Nikki O, are some of the issues that have been raised elsewhere but never fully discussed or developed. Sometimes, cultural issues are never fully discussed amongst Nigerians and other African because it is assumed that we “know why.” In other words, not too many Africans discuss things they already have familiarity with. Things that are part of one’s life are rarely examined in great detail.

After several years (in six states in all the regions) I have great familiarity, not only with the American life and system, but also with different African enclaves and settings. I almost can boast of “seen that, heard that, been there, done that.” With such a license, I am going to arrogantly submit that Nikki’s essay — as provocative and insightful as it is — is somewhat skewed. Now, this distortion could be a consequence of her interpretative style or worldview. Or, perhaps she lived a life that not even I am aware of. In which case, we are here dealing with an anomaly.

There are several vital information missing from Nikki’s piece — without which one can not truly know the extent of the anomalies: (1) how old was she when she migrated to the US; (2) in what state and city did she spend the next 10-15 years of her life after arriving the US; (3) is she familiar with other cultures, i.e. the Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latino and the Asian culture; (4) is she familiar with sociological and anthropological studies of cultures; (5) would she consider her immediate family a “normal Nigerian family” and is the family still intact; and (6) how old was she when she revisited, and how often does she return to Nigeria?

The answer to all these questions will help shed light on Nikki’s misgivings. The African culture, contrary to what most overseas and westernized Africans may want to believe, is not that strange. There are not too many points of divergence between what we have and what others have. I happen to know cultures from Latin America to Asia and the Middle East. Something else: Some people are not even aware of the fact that the so-called American culture is a recent thing — less than 100 years old.

Erroneously, some people think Americanization/Americanism has been around since the beginning of the republic. No! American has never always been the way it is now. And in fact, culturally, living in some part of the US (in 2007) is not that different from living in Jos, Lagos, or Port Harcourt of today. A visit to rural Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Texas, West Virginia and the Appalachian mountain areas will bear me out.

There is the tendency amongst some Africans to think that African culture is backward and primitive and all that. We can only say that about some parts of the culture, i.e. female circumcision. The African culture is, for the most part, a nurturing and healthy culture.

Now, without the benefit of the required answers, I am going to arrogantly venture out and take a stab at some of the irritations the author suffered and or observed. First, it is odd for children not to interact with the grownups or the elders, but of course, there are exceptions to such rule.

Second, there is nothing subservient about the relationship between the young and the old. You could say that the relationship is structured and or has boundaries; however, the boundaries can be breached. And in fact, most of the boundaries are porous.

Third, kneeling or prostrating is part of the greeting process. I am from the Ijaw ethnic group where men don’t prostrate. But since I am more Yorubalized than Ijawed I prostrate before Yoruba elders. And I still do it (in America or in Nigeria). I will not be caught violating such essentiality.

As to “keeping your eyes lowered, never talking back, never speaking up, never giving an opinion, only speaking when spoken to,” well, that might be family-specific. The aforesaid is not present in my family. And indeed, in all my years in several Yoruba states those were not enforced. And in fact I never observed such from my nieces and nephews and children in their age group (about 95% of my large family members are married to non-Ijaw).

Fourth, to assert that “everything associated with being Nigerian centered around some rule, always seemed negative, and never had history, folklore, or substantive cultural relevance,” is not only incorrect, it reminds me of some of the archaic anthological arguments some European scholars made decades and decades and decades ago. Reread that part of your submission and tell me if a people whose lives are merged in culture and custom could have lived this long if those cultures and custom have no meaning and relevance to their existence and survival. Just because it is chic to put Africans down doesn’t mean we should help in that regard.

Now that you have “come into my own,” you need not submit to any of the cultural expectations you have railed against. You need not live your life according to the dictates of a culture you find offensive, oppressive and subjugating. You are an adult now, an American, westernized. The world is all yours. Do as you please. Marry across the race or nationality line. Do whatever makes you happy; do the things and associate only with those who complement you and make your soul dance.

In all of these — your agony, longing, exasperation and all that — I detect a longing in your tone; I detect the need to belong, to be accepted, to be validated and be acknowledged. You and only you can give yourself that. You can not wait for others (in whatever culture) to give you that. You cannot wait for anyone to make you whole. It is your life. It is up to you.

I have several non-Nigerian friends, male and female, who are still single. Some are single by choice; others are only because they have yet to find the man or woman of their dream. You may be still be single either because you have not found “the man,” or perhaps “the man” has not found you. Or what if you are not the marrying type? Is it also conceivable you are truly what people say you are (irrespective of your socialization and acculturation)?

Your brothers are not “too forceful, vulgar, condescending, possessive, insecure, or a blatant womanizers” perhaps because they are yours and you see then differently. You were brought up in America and only recently returned to Nigeria; therefore, your complaints may be justified — justified because you see the Nigerian men and the culture in which they live from a different lens. You may need to adjust your lenses. Absent that, mix with men and women with your type of orientation and upbringing.

And “what exactly does it mean to be a Nigerian woman in America? Great question! To be a Nigerian woman in America is not that much different from being an American woman in America. All women go through the same or similar crap when it comes to men. Some men also complain about the sh*t they have to endure from women. Although I sometimes think that some African women have simply gotten used to complaining about African men. And vice versa! Look closely; there is usually not much to complain about.

However, globalization/westernization is having a nasty effect on some Africans and their relationship. How successful a relationship is may depend, to a large extent, on how the effects of westernization/globalization are handled. When I dated non-Africans in Minnesota, Seattle and Oklahoma, they cooked, cleaned and listened and met most of my other demands and suggestions. I did the same for them without reservation. In between I dated an African who told me that because “we are in America…no man can tell me or make me do nonsense.”

The last I heard, she is still complaining about the lack of good African men. The world knows I am a great guy.

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Anonymous June 3, 2007 - 9:52 pm

Nice article

Toyin May 4, 2007 - 6:02 am

I have to vehemently disagree with comment #5. I also grew up in Naija, and came here (US) at the age of 28 and am now 33. I'm female and yoruba. I am very free to contribute my opinion to any discussion with anybody regardless of the sex/age composition of the discussants. And it has always been that way, from when i was young. In fact, i remember vividly that when i was 7yrs and my parents were about to buy a new car, my younger brother and i were asked what color we wanted the car to be. The 4 of us (mummy, daddy & 2 kids) came to an amicable agreement as to the color. And several times starting from when i was in secondary school, my parents asked (and they still phone me to ask) my opinion on several issues including serious ones like where to invest money/ buy stock, or buy a particular piece of property. Lest you wonder, my parents both have college degrees and rose to the top of their professions before they retired so it's not that they are illiterate. They listen to me and value my opinion. They obviously don't have to take my advice, so they sometimes will and also sometimes won't. The same is true for my extended family. I recently returned from Naija where we had a wonderful family reunion cos my brother was getting married. One night, we had a spirited discussion involving my husband, 2 brothers, my father, maternal great uncle (who is 74) and myself, with my great uncle on 1 side, my father sitting on the fence and the rest of us on the other side. Voices were raised (loud enough to wake up several people who were napping, as per normal naija argument now), each person was firm in their convictions, everybody interupted everybody to make a point and we left the scene of the argument (the living room) pretty much with our same original viewpoints and no hard feelings. Next thing you know, it was time to eat post-dinner small chops and we moved on. Also, i have never in all my life received a knock on the head from an uncle/aunty/grandparent for simply speaking (several from my mother though). Having had the privilege of seeing the relationship between my father and his parents and my mother and her mother, i know that they were also free to express their minds. When i read Nikki Os article, even me i was like "na wah o" when she mentioned the no eye contact thing. My husband is Nigerian and if i have a smart idea (and i have many), he will readily ackowledge it as such and for the good of our family definitely go along with it and vice versa. The bottomline is that our experiences are varied even though we are all Nigerians. So i do not deny that Nikki O and others experienced the oppressive atmosphere they describe while growing up but that is subject to your family's interpretation of "Nigerian culture", or your specific tribes culture. I agree though that a high premium is placed on respect between persons and especially older people. Again "respect" and "older" are subject to interpretation. For example, it is Yoruba culture to place a title before an older persons name whether the person is related to u or not. In my husband's family, if someone is even 1 day older than you this means they deserve a title like broda/sister/aunty. In other families, u do that only when the person is upto 2 yrs older. In my family, the person has to be like 8 yrs older. It's all arbitrary and again dependent on family norms. So i will conform to their rule when i'm with my husband's people and in my family my husband conforms to our rules. It's just common sense. Of course cultures differ from one another (east from west and yoruba from indian) and that's what makes them so interesting to study but in the end, we( individuals and families) all determine how to interprete the principles behind the practices. Don't assume that your life experience can be generalized to others just because you come from the same country.

Anonymous April 28, 2007 - 2:14 am

I wasn't aware the original article needed a response?

Cant the author express her point of view without being harassed?

Ejiro April 27, 2007 - 11:33 am

I had to read your article and it was interesting. I am still with Nikki O though. I was raised in Nigeria till I was 14 and I try to visit once a year for at least three weeks now. and the truth is that Nigerian men – for the most part- tend to believe that they are so rare in America that Ngerian woman that want them should be willing and ready to subserve to them on some level. I have no problem with NIgerian culture and I an very comfortable with it. However, I have found that Nigerian men treat oyibo's and acata's much better -and more delicately- then they do a fellow Nigerian female in a relationship. As for being a Nigerian female in America, I agree wit you. it's like being a woman any where else, from any other culture. It's about knowing who you are.

A Nigerian Man Married to Non-Nigerian Woman, USA April 27, 2007 - 9:43 am

I will suggest that Nikki O. consult with a shrink with her case of failed love and relationships. She should leave us Nigerian men alone on this one. There are many of us happily married to Nigerian women and non-Nigerian women, creating the next generation of human race, and contributing to the society.

I welcome her to the real world of true love and true relationships.

And, I wish her good-luck in her search.

Bola April 27, 2007 - 1:59 am

You guys are missing the point of Nikki's essay. Im sure she does not mean to call our culture barbaric or what ever but lets be real here. Compared to perhaps the American or western culture our culture is a bit hard. If you are born into it and understand it ….hurray to you but if you havent then it does seem abit harsh. E.g. Irresepective of where you are from in Nigeria, women (and younger children) absolutely do not sit and proffer opinions when older men are discussing. If you doubt it , try it and see! You will either be stared at in amazement and asked to on some imaginary errand or (for the younger ones depending on the aggression of the uncle) given a knock or a sharp rebuke. 2) You absolutely do not raise your voice at or sound smarter than your man. If you like try it and you will see his reaction. Sabella even you wrote about some of the idiosyncracies of the culture in your article on titles. The fact is that Nigerians place high premium on respect among age and gender. There is nothing wrong with that and it is a good thing. So you best remember that when you want get into a relationship with one.

obi, USA April 26, 2007 - 12:10 pm

Wonderful! Brilliant! You didn't leave much room for any contribution. l liked this part a great deal, "Tell me if a people whose lives are merged in culture and custom could have lived this long if those cultures and custom have no meaning and relevance to their existence and survival."

enitanmason@gmail.com April 26, 2007 - 11:58 am

Uncle Sabella. (L.O.L) I'm glad you took a stab at such a delicate matter. I do not think it has ever been chic to put African men down. However there is no smoke without fire. I say no more on that matter. As you have done mature adults gird their loins and take criticism the best they can no matter where it comes from and how it comes. I have to admit that criticism whether or not it is constructive stings. We all know that there are no people on the face of the universe without a history; good or bad. Nigerians have a history and the U.S. has a history. Complainers settled America. They complained about religion, poverty, the list goes on. U.S history through the 1800s perhaps into the early 1900s will no doubt bring to light an America where chickens and goats were still running around in the middle of the road, people who were freaking out from religion during the Great Awakening, men who kept their nails sharpened so they could gouge each others eyes out when they got into a fight; even men of so called importance who settled their differences with a duel. (Pardon me-I'm a teacher and I just finished reading a U.S. history book on American history before the American Civil War.) I have encountered outhouses in the United States as recently as 1980 and had to pump water from an outdoor well even more recently than that in the state of Virginia. One does not have to go to rural America to feel at home. That is not the point. It is about what we do today and everyday, our civility, our honesty, our open-mindedness and our respect for ourselves and others. The Japanese bow to each other as a sign of respect. Some Nigerians kneel down to show respect; who cares. To each his own. All women of the world talk about their men for many reasons;generally because they seek something better… equal pay for equal work, suffrage, protection from abuse, better marital conditions, better terms of engagement or something else. Oga Sabella, I leave the rest to you and as we all know, what one can't find in one market can always be found at another. Let us watch our own selves before we blame the children. Do as I say not as I do does not work too well any more.

Anonymous April 25, 2007 - 7:23 pm

You have once again done me proud with your articulate and candid response that would hopefully enlighten the young lady (Nikki O) in distress.

esther April 25, 2007 - 6:26 pm

Well, I really appreciate your writeup here. It's fair and honest. I certainly wouldn't say there are any sweeping generalizations but I would say that someone who finds themselves in the same boat as Nikki would, hopefully, take a less critical road to discovery but rather take a more scrutinizing look at themselves and the object of their desire.


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