Tuesday, November 17, 2015

On Black American Hypervisibility

My point of view comes from someone who is first generation Nigerian Black in America. I feel like my perspective gives unique insight because I can see things from all sides of the coin . I was raised in a Nigerian household but I have lived in America as a Black person my whole life . My experiences are shaped by both my ethnicity and by my race. 

I think it's problematic when people say that the Hyper-visibility of Black Americans equate to privilege over other Black people in the western diaspora . Blackness in America has been commodified and exported throughout the world reducing Black people in America to a product of capitalism. By reducing Black people to a product , Black people are rendered invisible . There is literally no tangible benefit of being Black in America in a global world if people do not see you as a human being but rather a product that everyone is entitled to consume . Being seen as "cool" or "down" is exploitive no matter how many Black people say they love it. Everyone want to be Black, but don't nobody want to be Black. To people around the world, you are entertainment. You are a science project that they can dissect and analyze. You are not a human being . 

Likewise , Black Americans are not seen as human beings in America . Black people are dehumanized and reduced to racist stereotypes to perpetuate White supremacy. What does it mean to be Black in America when "citizen" is not applied to you as a Black person . Black people in America don't even have human rights , let alone civil rights . I think the same can be said about Black Canadians , French , British , German , Dutch , etc etc . What does it mean to be Black in a country that sees you as subhuman . The very function of #Blacklivesmatter is to assert the radical idea that Black people are human beings and deserve the same human rights as everyone else . 

No matter where Black people are , other people's experiences are used to silence and erase them . For example, after the horrific attack in Paris , people all over social media used the deaths of Parisians to erase the experiences of Black people in Missouri. People told Black Americans to shut up and realize that they are not oppressed . In fact , real oppression is happening over there in Paris and Black Americans should be grateful for not being seen as human in America . This happens all the time when people commodify the experiences of Africans (because every African in Africa has the same experience ) to tell Black Americans to be grateful for being seen as subhuman in America . 

The same thing is done in France when Black French take it to the streets to protest anti-blackness and xenophobia. People in France commodify Ferguson and use it to silence Black French people. Because Black French people should be grateful that they are not being shot by police everyday in a country that does not recognize their humanity . Because Black people in France supposedly don't get killed by police . 

A Black British person may come to America and be told "I didn't know there were Black people in the UK." Similarly , a Black American may travel to the UK and be asked "But where are you reallyyyyy from?" because many Black British people are 1-2 generations removed from Africa or the Caribbean . But even within this context , there are Black British people who are neither direct descendants of Africa or Caribbean but rather are similarly situated as Black Americans because of slavery . I think people forget that European countries also enslaved Africans . 

Who benefits from all of this ? Black people are literally rendered invisible everywhere they go and their pain is exploited to shame other Black people in the diaspora . It's not "better" for Black people anywhere and what does "better" even mean for Black people . I think sometimes it's a coping mechanism to think that there is a place where you can escape anti blackness but there isn't . 

Moving to the UK won't help .
Moving to Malaysia won't help .
Moving to Brazil won't help .
Moving to South Africa won't help.
Moving to Australia. 

I recognize my western privilege as Nigerian Black who has traveled to "third world countries ". But I think that is true for Black people who come from any western country . They have class privilege and probably come from a background where they had enough money or education to travel .

Who does it serve when one says people in Africa don't even have running water? It reduces African people to props or tools to make White people feel better about their oppression in their homecountry of America or France or Canada or the Netherlands or Russia . It reduces African people to poverty and disease . As Chimamanda says , the danger of a single story . It also ignores the fact that there are Black people in America who are poor and don't have running water . It assumes that everyone in America is similarly situated and that being poor and Black is not a thing because you are in a western country . What is happening in some village in Nigeria shouldn't be used to silence Black people in America . Especially when people don't even really care about what is happening in that small village in Nigeria . 

Similarly , the experiences of Black immigrants or Latinx immigrants or Asian immigrants are used to shame and silence Black American experiences and further the myth of American exceptionalism and the American Dream . Without fully understanding the history of Black people in America , people will use some arbitrary experience to silence them . All in all, it functions to erase the oppression of Black people globally . 

People may even argue that non black Americans are able to navigate through America easier such as the entertainment and arts industry . Where Lupita, Idris, Chimamanda , and Uzo are praised and given opportunities but I think that is a messy conversation and only promotes in fighting . So I will not get into that. 

But the fact of the matter is , most Black Americans don't have a passport nor are they traveling all over the world. Black people in America are struggling to tackle voter ID laws because mandatory identification cards negatively impacts Black communities. Most Black Americans who are traveling are first generation who are traveling back to their home countries . I think nuance is necessary in this conversation . And I think it's important to understand what these terms mean . There is nothing good about hyper-visibility . This is why people draw the distinction between visibility and hyper visibility . Hyper being negative and harmful . Hyper contradicting visibility and rendering you invisible .  

Anti blackness is global and anti blackness manifests differently in different parts of the world . But the function is the same . The function is to dehumanize Black people and render them invisible and justify oppression of Black people . So I would be hesitant to make broad comparisons of separate countries that have different histories and different ways anti blackness manifests . 

I have an American passport . I have a Nigerian passport . I have traveled to many different parts of the world . Central America, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East . My passport allowed me to get to those places but my passport didn't prevent me from experiencing racism in those places . But I also have two degrees and I come from an formally educated middle class household. I am only one generation in America so I don't represent the vast majority of Black Americans . Even though 3 million of Black Americans are immigrants,  we all have different stories . We all have different ways we got here . Not every immigrant is an America citizen nor do they have an American passport . Not every immigrant came on diversity visa . Not every immigrant is formally educated . Not every immigrant came to America by choice. Not every immigrant is flourishing in America . 

So no, I don't believe the hyper-visibility of Black Americans is a privilege or benefits Black Americans. I don't know when hypervisibility in the media became a good thing for Black people anywhere. I don't think showing Black people getting killed everyday without justice is beneficial. To assert this would be to believe that showcasing Black pain around the world somehow leads to justice in America for Blacks. But I know, you know, we know; that it does not. 


  1. Thank you for writing this. My point of view comes from someone who is non-American Black:

    I think non-American black people are confusing hyper-visibility with representation. Hyper-visibility being the language African Americans use to talk about how problematic their visibility is. I think it's important for myself and other non-American blacks to understand that hyper-visibility is a specific way African Americans are represented which is not a positive and representation itself is not necessarily a positive. The idea that Afr Ams ARE represented is flawed because a lot of people forget to consider that NOT ALL Afr Ams are represented equally or at all - we're only now really seeing a decent number of Black LGBTQIA people on screen but where are the disabled Black people? or disabled Black people who are LGBTQIA? And of course it's not just about identities but the stories which are being told. Because even when Afr Ams are represented, how are they being portrayed? I think it would be foolish to assume more Black people on screen is a win just because they're visible.

    I know you didn't want to get into it but the thing about non-American Black actors is important because we must talk about how incredibly hard Afr Ams work towards creating platforms to be seen and telling their own stories. If Afr Ams weren't creating these platforms would any of us in the disapora be seen in the entertainment and arts industry at all?
    I don't know may be we should be look to Nollywood...

    1. Thank you so much for this comment. It was everything and more!! Wish I could have captured this in my post. But Thank you. I wholeheartedly agree! I think many people are creating online through vimeo and youtube and its awesome! So many beautiful and diverse stories being told. <3

  2. I like your fresh insight on the issue. Ethnic minorities should continue to advocate for a fairer share of the wealth, here, in the U.S.

    More grease to your elbows ;)