By Jideofor Ejiogu
In this article, I share with you ways to raise a well-rounded Nigerian-American child. The main goal of the article is to help you instill in the child a sense of pride, confidence that cannot be swayed by outside influence. Consider the story of Ayo and Olivia Adesanya, Nigerian parents who are raising their children, Esther, twelve; Tayo, ten; and Joshua, seven, in Chicago. At home, both parents do their best to ensure their children are knowledgeable about Yoruban culture; for instance, they eat amala, moi moi, and ewedu soup. Yet Ayo and Olivia are unsure if they are doing enough to inculcate in their children strong values rooted in Yoruban culture.
They have remained in Chicago for more than fifteen years where there are large Nigerian and Yoruba communities. Ayo and Olivia understand the problems their children face when they step out of the house into society. “The confusion of not knowing if they should identify themselves as African Americans, Nigerian Americans, or Nigerians is daunting,” Olivia says. But Ayo and Olivia are taking thoughtful actions to ensure their children receive clear messages about race relations. Their goal is to provide for their children a mirror with which to view themselves other than with what society is showing them. “We provide this mirror leading by example” Olivia says. Ayo and Olivia agree this is an arduous task. “But doing it right matters, and it encourages the children to share with the world who they really are,” says Clinical Psychologist Amanda Hills.
Understanding the Difference Between Race and Ethnicity
To develop a good strategy for the race discussion with your children, you must first understand the difference between race and ethnicity. The long-established definition of race and ethnicity is connected to biological and sociological factors. While race has to do with physical characteristics, such as skin, eye, or hair color, ethnicity is characterized by regional culture, language, or ancestry. For example, while Ayo and Olivia are ethnic Yoruba, their children’s ethnic identity may be different because of the social and cultural groups they belong to.
“Nigerians have been conditioned to see themselves through ethnic lenses because of racial homogeneity,” says Dr. Ada Okwuosa, clinical psychologist at Lagos University Teaching Hospital. She is correct. Nigerians do not embody a large skin color spectrum that clearly differentiates one Nigerian from another. Therefore, experiences among Nigerians of discrimination, rejection, inequality, and racism in the United States are similar.
To rise above the challenges of discrimination, it is important for people of color, especially Nigerians, to understand their background. It gives Nigerians a clarity of purpose so that we do not buy into the damaging stereotypes about Nigerians. The truth is that many black children experience a period in life when they worry about the impact of being black in a society where black is a limiting factor..
Plan to Start Early
“For many parents of color, having the race talk is a natural progression of parenting a child in America,” says Erlanger Turner, assistant professor of psychology at University of Houston–Downtown. When asked how early this talk started in her household, Olivia Adesanya said it started at different times for her children. She says it depends on how ready the child is to handle the conversation and the experience that necessitated such a conversation. For example, she recalls how difficult it was to have the conversation with Ester at the age of five, during Trayvon Martin’s murder and the subsequent Black Lives Matter rallies.
It is a great mistake to pretend that racism does not exist. Therefore, the earlier you prepare your children, the better. So, when the inevitable happens, you want them to be able to say, “We knew already.” That is how the Adesanya’s see it, and it gives them peace of mind. There are many ways to imbue confidence in your children. But psychologists agree that the younger your child the more concrete you must be. For example, you can tell your child that he is a strong black man by plainly saying, “You remind me of your grandpa. He was a strong black man.” Making constant statements of affirmation about who they are instills a sense of pride in them.
Lead by Example
It is not enough that you talk to your children about racial pride; it is also important that you show what it means to be a proud Nigerian. Whether it is the Yoruba outfit, the Igbo attire, or the Hausa Babban Riga, it’s important to put these attires in front of them as nothing to be ashamed of. Nkemalom and Angela Madu, Nigerian-American parents of Igbo decent who live in Salt Lake City, recall when their daughter asked them why they do not wear Nigerian clothes. Both parents were consumed with a Eurocentric style of dressing that reflected their success as medical doctors.
“At that point it dawned on me that we have to do better in how we present before her,” says Angela. She now sees her appearance as an important way of teaching Ezinma to be proud of who she is. She now rocks her Nigerian clothes with pride and hopes her daughter embraces her heritage as she continues to grow.
Promote Cultural Activities
Nigerians across the United States are just beginning to celebrate cultural activities in big ways. For example, in Boston, August 10 has been dedicated as Igbo Cultural Day. This event features different styles of Igbo attire and songs and a speaker who gives a keynote address in the Igbo language. The event also features Igbo masquerades and dances. Recently, news media in the Boston area have covered the event.
“If there is any event our children look forward every year, it is the annual Igbo day celebration” says Dr. Ejike Eze, president of the Igbo Organization of New England. Dr. Eze understands that the event is an important way for parents to teach their children to be proud of their heritage while taking part in shaping future of America.