“They used to laugh at me and call me ‘African booty scratcher,'” Olufemi A. Fadeyibi said, referring to black Americans.
Fadeyibi, a former Temple student who graduated last semester with an English education degree, was born in the United States to Nigerian immigrant parents. When he was younger, Fadeyibi used to get picked on by African Americans because of his ethnicity.
Being disrespected by black Americans, Fadeyibi said, along with blacks likening Africa to a “savage land,” gave him low self-esteem – reaching the point where he did not want people to know he was of Nigerian origin. “I used to tell people I’m from Brazil,” he said.
Fadeyibi’s grandmother gave him the nickname “Abdul Rasheed” when he was younger. Since then, Fadeyibi has told most people to call him “Rasheed” rather than “Olufemi,” because it was easier for people to pronounce.
Fadeyibi, 22, said playing sports helped him to become more accepted in the community when he was growing up. “People start to like you, to respect you” for being a good athlete, said Fadeyibi, who played basketball in high school and at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia for one year before transferring to Temple. Also, he said not having an African accent made his upbringing easier than it might have otherwise been if he had one.
But Fadeyibi’s outlook on life changed when he enrolled at Temple several years ago. The diversity element of the university was a new experience for Fadeyibi. “If you have an African name [at Temple], now you’re special,” he said. Unlike his days in high school, Fadeyibi told his college professors to call him “Olufemi” rather than by his nickname, though many of Fadeyibi’s peers still refer to him as “Rasheed.”
The Temple grad had negative experiences growing up in the Roxborough neighborhood of Northwest Philadelphia, but, from his perspective, African immigrants fuel the animosity between black people more so than black Americans.
“I know a lot of Africans who are racist toward African Americans,” Fadeyibi said. “It’s pretty bad. They think they’re lazy, untrustworthy, unreliable.
“It blew my mind. I didn’t know it was such a prejudice of stereotypical attitudes Africans have toward African Americans,” he said.
Fadeyibi said he confronts those who express those stereotypical beliefs, but he said he thinks it’s the individual who is at fault, not a larger faction or group. “It’s not a culture or ethnicity that makes a person bad,” he said. “It’s the individual.
“If the individual is going to be good, that’s what’s up. If the individual is going to be bad, that’s what’s up,” Fadeyibi said.
When asked if blacks could overcome the ethnic tensions and unite, Fadeyibi said, “I don’t know.” Whatever the solution may be, “it would have to be a uniting factor,” he said, but “it’s not going to be skin color.”
The larger tension among black people is a problem, but there is also small-scale division among specific black ethnicities, Fadeyibi said. “All Nigerians can’t even unite.”
Fadeyibi said the tension among people of African origin could probably be overcome if all black people had a common belief in Christianity and followed Jesus’ teachings. But he conceded it’s unrealistic to expect his solution to become a reality. Nevertheless, he said he believed it could theoretically unite black people.
“That’s my answer and I’m sticking to it,” said Fadeyibi, who is still active in a university Christian group, the Chosen Generation.
Despite being a son of Nigerian immigrant parents, “I consider myself more African American than Nigerian,” Fadeyibi said. “More African American friends influence me than Nigerians.” Because of that, Fadeyibi said he’s not really sure how to identify himself. “I say I’m Nigerian because my parents are Nigerian.”
Fadeyibi said he likes Nigerian food but is not too fond of some of the other elements of Nigerian culture. “I’m not into bowing down to people,” he said. Fadeyibi tells Nigerians “all the time” that he is more influenced by black American culture than by Nigerian culture. The Nigerian response is almost identical: “They say ‘You’re Nigerian; you’re not African American, you’re Nigerian,'” he said.
Gradually being accepted and befriended by black Americans when growing up, the Nigerian American said the diverse element of Temple is “awesome.”
“I think people grow up on these stereotypes,” Fadeyibi said, “but until they interact with people outside their culture,” they will remain bigoted.
Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.