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Fortress ‘Black in America’: Closed to Africans?

In a real-life Killmonger-T’Challa story, a writer of Kenyan origin reflects on her experience as an immigrant in America and her struggle to find bonds with black Americans.
Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta and U.S. President Barack Obama meet in 2015. Something in common?
Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta and U.S. President Barack Obama meet in 2015. Something in common?Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

“Black in America” is like a fortress that is all at once forbidding and inviting. As an African arriving in America, I took it for granted that I would gain access to that fortress of black belonging by virtue of shared ancestry. How mistaken I was. When I moved from Kenya to New York City, my reception baffled me: The racist ridicule I got was mostly from black people, an experience many Africans in America tell me they have shared.

I was living with relatives in Briarwood, Queens, then a mix of Asians, whites, Latinos and some blacks, while pursuing graduate studies at a college in Manhattan and working as a teaching artist. In these classrooms of mostly-black students, I played a word-association game: I would write the word “Africa” on the board, and the volley of uncensored words the students contributed were all negative.