When I went to college in Alabama, I had friends of all shapes, colors, and sizes, and was even invited to join the African American Sorority, although I am Caucasian myself. But now I live in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri. I attend a church that is mostly Caucasian. I go to story time at the library with many other moms who are mostly Caucasian, and I shop with people who are mostly Caucasian. I never thought much of it… until I was asked to interview someone for this incredible Journey series we are on.
I have no one in my immediate circle of friends who are of a different race than I am.
My world is so small.
So, I reached out to someone who I’d met once or twice, through a mutual friend.
Victoria is a beautiful mama with two little boys and sweet baby girl due in just a few weeks. She moved to Georgia from Nigeria in 2000 to attend college, and there she met her husband. His job moved him to Kansas City in 2015, and they’ve been here ever since. I was honored to sit with Victoria and ask her questions about her experience, both in Nigeria, Southern America, and the Midwest.
Do you prefer to be called black or African American?
When you first moved to Georgia, did you ever feel like you were treated differently because of your race?
Not really. I moved when I was much younger. I moved for college. My first four or five years I lived in a really small town. It was mixed with Caucasians, but this particular school was a very good school and there were a lot of international students. It was very well mixed and I was very involved with the international students. I found myself, hanging out with Africans there, a lot. The first year I lived in a dorm and I never noticed anything. I came straight from Nigeria, so my accent was much thicker, it took people a little while to understand me when I spoke, or people would ask me to repeat myself. I had a few friends who would ask weird questions, but I never took it as if they were asking from a racial standpoint. More that they were asking from an ignorant standpoint. Britney Spears was popular when I came a couple of Nigerian friends and I would sing and people were like, “Hm? You know that song?” or “They do that in Africa?” They were genuinely surprised that I would know these things coming from Nigeria. Some of my [African] friends probably took offense to it, but to be honest, I just never did. The advantage I had was that, before I moved here, since I was maybe ten years old, for eight or nine years, my family had been coming to Orlando for vacations in the summers. My parents owned a timeshare. So, I kind of knew what to expect when I moved here.
Do you know anything specific that separates the culture of Nigeria and surrounding countries?
Not specifically, but the first thing would be language, and then clothing, and then food. We eat a lot of rice. Back at home in a takeout box, the rice goes in the big portion and the meat goes in the smaller portion, but here I picked up my box and they put the rice in the little area and the whole half a chicken in the big section and I was like, “Where’s my rice?!” Another traditional cultural difference is not announcing our baby’s name until the seventh day. Maybe I will announce it to close family and friends. We call the baby, “Baby (last name)” until we announce her name. Then the mom doesn’t really go out, so our Bible Study won’t see much of me, until the baby has been dedicated to God around 12 weeks after delivery.
When you moved to Kansas City from Atlanta, did you notice a difference?
A very big difference. Not in the way we were treated, but in racial diversity. We are less diverse in Kansas City. I remember announcing to a few of my friends in Atlanta that I was moving and when I said Kansas City, many were like, “Oh, good luck!” Some people even tried to scare me. I came here not expecting good, as far as being treated well by people. We were concerned about our little one going to school and being the only African American. But I’ve been surprised. It has not been what we thought. Me and my husband try to get our kids very involved in many activities, and we do find that in most activities we take our kids to, we typically are the only African Americans in the group. My husband is especially conscious of this. I typically don’t notice or care about those things, but it’s hard not to notice it because it is very obvious. What I’ve been surprised about, is that people have been very friendly, to my amusement. Of course, the first people we met were church folks, and they’re very friendly, as can be expected. But even people that we don’t know from church, even taking a walk in my subdivision, people are just very friendly. That was a good surprise for me.
I struggle sometimes because I feel like all Caucasians get grouped into one category. What’s your take on that?
That’s where I struggle, too, and my opinions differ from my black American friends because, to me, it’s a one-on-one thing. Black Americans weren’t always as friendly to African Americans that I hung out with, they had their own cliques, but I never took it personally. That was their choice and I hung out mostly with Africans. Subconsciously, we all gravitate towards our own people.
Were there times that you were treated differently because of the color of your skin?
Maybe. But I’m oblivious to it. I’ve never really found myself being offended by a situation like that in my life. Not that it didn’t happen, maybe it did, but I’m oblivious to it because it isn’t something that I go out and look for. For example. Maybe me and another African American parent have a child who gets a “red grade”, the first African American parent might say, “Oh, he’s getting a red because he’s African American?” I just don’t think like that. I think, “What did he do to deserve this?” And I would try to find out what he did. And I think I like that, because I don’t want to walk around being angry. There’s just no reason to be. Sometimes I ask if I’m protective of my child enough? But that’s just the way I am, and I think I like the way I am. I am fearfully and wonderfully made! My experience might not be the average. I consider myself favored.
I went into this interview expecting to gain a new perspective about how someone of a different race really feels about “hot topics” in the United States today.
But I got something completely different…
I learned that by keeping my world small, even though it wasn’t intentional,
I am hindering myself from the beauty of knowing other cultures.
I miss out on the incredible wisdom I can be taught by members of the Church who are from other parts of the globe.
Our interview was so much longer, because it naturally flowed into pleasant conversation about being mamas and carrying babies.
We met for an hour longer than we planned because we just talked.
I gained a friend.
My world grew.
I may not have learned everything I imagined learning when I talked with Victoria, because God had something much different in mind. He wanted to tenderly whisper to me, “Kendra, friendships can be richer,
our love can be deeper,
your world can be more flavorful,
if you work to expand your world.
At the very end of our time together, Victoria said, “Kendra, you mentioned that you are wanting to expand your world even more, and I do hope I’m a part of that.”
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