Conservatives and other staunch deniers of white supremacy often claim that if Nigerian immigrants in the United States are doing so well, then discrimination and white privilege cannot really exist. They then call African Americans lazy, criticising a supposed lack of values.
There is some truth to the success of Nigerian Americans and other recent African immigrants in the U.S. Roughly 73 percent of African immigrants 16 and over are employed or seeking employment, versus the approximate 63 percent of the U.S. born population. Nigerian Americans are also one of the most affluent immigrant groups in the country, with a median household income around $62,400, compared to the national median of roughly $57,600 in 2015.
But these numbers don’t tell the whole picture; they extremely oversimplify each group and overlook context. After all, you cannot compare the “best” of one country to a broader group of citizens in another.
Many Nigerian immigrants set down roots in the U.S. in the 1970s, when the Nigerian government sponsored students to study at top universities in the United Kingdom and the U.S. For decades, the American government has prefered giving visas to those deemed useful. My parents brought my family to the U.S. via a diversity visa that requires applicants to either complete high school (in a country whose secondary school completion rate was more than 47 percent in 2010) or have two years of “qualifying work experience” (again, in an economic context where almost one-third of the population is currently unemployed).
Still, immigrants can come to the U.S. without much financial security. But African Americans with ancestral ties to slavery carry with them the disadvantage of being systematically denied the opportunity to accrue wealth. The intertwined effects of slavery, Jim Crow, and now mass incarceration continue to be felt today in the vicious cycle of wealth inequality. A long history of employment discrimination leads to higher unemployment rates and jobs that pay less. African Americans are less likely to be homeowners today because of historical mortgage discrimination and redlining. While African immigrants can, and certainly do, experience discrimination that harms them financially, there are advantages that come with “starting fresh” and being perceived as a model minority.
African Americans are not less qualified or lazier than African immigrants — that should go without saying. Both groups are simply targeted by unfair, limited (and limiting) narratives, compared to each other only on the basis of skin colour, when there is so much more at play. All the animosity between these groups is unnecessary — they need not be in opposition in the first place.
While many such comparisons come from outsiders, it is disappointing that members of the Black diaspora have allowed such division. Too many Africans living in the U.S., especially those who came here as adults, dismiss Generational African Americans as lacking drive, without considering what life and history has been like from their perspective. And too many Black people growing up in the U.S. are xenophobic, holding backwards and limited ideas of what life is like in Africa.
We’ve fallen victim to white supremacy’s trap of keeping us engaged with fighting rather than expending our energy productively. Maybe neither group is willfully ignorant, but we all hold a responsibility to seek out the truth regarding life experiences we are not aware of. I don’t want Black people to bond solely over trauma, but being deeply affected by white supremacy, whether by colonisation or slavery, should make us realise that we are truly not each other’s enemy.
Especially because both groups have so much in common. Strong family values are foundational in all parts of the Black diaspora; so is the creative, joyful energy that I see as a fundamental part of the Black experience. Both groups carry a tenacious, hardworking spirit and a deep respect for culture. There are even shared jokes — like being late all the time — that ring true in almost every part of the diaspora.
This Black History Month, let’s look at our family in all parts of the world, across the ocean or within our city. Let’s understand each other instead of letting white America and the limited room it allows for different perspectives keep us apart. Of course, all members of the Black diaspora are distinct. But it’s frustrating seeing division among a group that, united, could show the world what Black excellence really means. As long as we are setting ourselves up against each other, none of us win.
Treasure N. Oji ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in The Inn.
This piece is a part of a focus on Black authors and experiences for Black History Month.