An African-Born Student’s Perspective on Black History Month
By Syriene Djakata, Grade 9, Aiken New Tech H.S.
Black people in America come from diverse backgrounds and have different experiences, but we all feel the impact of racism, being part of a minority population. The celebration of Black History Month should be expanded to include the voices of Africans who have recently arrived, as well as African-Americans whose families have been here for generations.
The wars in the Central African Republic made my parents leave to search for a better life. When I was just a baby, we moved to Cameroon, but we were never really welcomed because the community there did not want immigrants. They often said we were the cause of region’s conflicts, so they did not want us to live there. I was always afraid, because people were being shot very often. My dad decided to emigrate and bring us to America, to escape the wars and get an education.
When we first came here, I felt all the happiness when I thought about the new life we were going to start. I wanted to feel safe from the wars in Africa, and I was excited to meet new people and make friends. However, my happiness was short-lived. On my first day of school, I got on the bus with my brothers and sisters for the first time. The Black American kids pointed and laughed at me because of my darker skin and how I was dressed. They made faces and plugged their noses, and even though I did not understand their words, I knew what they were saying, and it hurt me deeply. All I really wanted was a place I could call home–but I never really felt at home, because of all the rejection I got from members of my own race.
Too many immigrants know the experience of being put down, made fun of, bullied, called names because of their accents… How do we change that situation? Most immigrants went through a lot in their home countries. They often come with nothing, seeking only a safe home in this strange new place. We Black people should welcome and help those who are from Africa, no matter the language they speak or the accents they have. If we take some time and think about how African-American ancestors were treated as less than human, and forced to work as slaves, maybe we could have more empathy and stop treating new African immigrants like they are nobody.
Is it possible that one reason we are not respected is because we do not respect one another? How do we expect members of other races to respect and treat us equally if we do not do the same for the members of our own race? If we, as Black people, really want freedom, respect, and fairness, we need to humble ourselves with each other. Let’s become better versions of ourselves.
The documentary film Black N Black examines the sometimes fraught relationships between African Americans and African immigrants.
The graphic novel When Stars Are Scattered, by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed, one of our Freedom Friends Book Club’s “Bonus Stack” picks for 2022, tells the story of two young Somali brothers who grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya. Here’s a link to an audio sample; here’s a link to access the book from the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.