Christian S. Dunbar is a 25-year-old fifth-year senior who played four seasons on Temple’s football team. Born in Liberia and the grandson of former Liberian President William V.S. Tubman, Dunbar left the West African nation at age 9 – not long before the civil war broke out.
He immigrated to the United Kingdom from Liberia and subsequently went to the United States after that short stint in Europe. Dunbar, an African American studies major and a descendant of Underground Railroad leader and abolitionist Harriet Tubman, discussed the tension between black Americans and immigrant Africans in an exclusive interview to The Temple News. The following is a direct transcription of a portion of the Nov. 14, 2005, interview:
“I feel like at this point in time since I been here in the [United] States long, most people don’t know I’m African unless I tell them I’m African. I have a slight accent, but not a strong enough accent for people to pick up that I’m from Africa. So for me, personally, … it [cultural tension] is not that same feeling toward me. But I know initially when I first got here, there was a lot of – maybe it was just kids being kids or what have you – but there was a lot of teasing and a lot of things that made me uncomfortable that I didn’t understand about black Americans, because they seemed to be more of a problem.
“You hear about the United States and you hear about racism or what have you, but as an African kid, not an African American kid, I felt that early on most of my problems in school came from black Americans as opposed to white kids.
“It was a relatively new phenomenon. Most of my life and my experiences had been around blacks – which happened to be Africans at the time. And to come here and see that there is a difference between the blacks in Africa and the blacks here [in the United States], even though a lot of times there isn’t a physical difference, but there is a cultural difference. So for me, coming from the situation I was in, it was a little difficult for a while.
“I didn’t understand why black Americans would view me in a negative light, especially from the family background I came from – my grandfather being president [of Liberia] and a lot of my family being within the political system – that was certainly new to me, because where I came from, my family name and who I was, was respected. And to come here and just be another African kid took a lot of time to get adjusted to.
“If you ask me, I think I’m still not completely adjusted [to American culture]. Because even though you sometimes hear comments about Africa or Africans from people who believe they know [Africa] from watching television or just the general information that’s here in the [United] States about Africa, I wouldn’t say I’m completely adjusted yet.
“I think assimilation is definitely not something that I’m trying to do, because I do value my culture and my values a lot, but I believe here in the [United] States, especially as a child coming up, it’s very difficult to integrate your culture into American culture. So to a certain level, you have to assimilate, because that’s only what is allowed of you here in the [United] States. It’s not … being white American culture or black American culture, as long as it’s American culture, if it’s not that, then anything else is different or perceived negatively.
“So I think that’s what goes into the racial tension between blacks [Americans] and Africans. So, certainly, I’m not intentionally trying to assimilate, but I do realize that as a child coming up and kids being impressionable, you do assimilate to a certain degree just to try to fit in. But as far as I am now, as a much older person, I value my culture a lot. I’m actually trying to reconnect to my roots and it’s not very difficult for me because I wasn’t even born here and my parents and their parents were not born here, so I’m still pretty in tact with [Africa] culturally.”
Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman can be reached at email@example.com.