I am not proud to say that it was relatively recently that I found out something I probably should have known decades ago. In 2016, while poking around through random long read articles as I love to do, I came across a throwaway line buried in an article about illegal immigrants in the United States.
The line made mention of an official from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) talking about the nationalities in Boston most guilty of overstaying their visas and living illegally in the United States.
There was mention of Mexicans and Central American nationalities, Haitians, Africans, some Eastern European nationalities and – to my immense shock back then – Irish. “Irish?” I thought, “Aren’t they already from a First World country? Why would they need to move to the US illegally?”
Fortunately, the article went on to answer my question and expand my horizon a little bit more. It is what I discovered and independently verified after reading that article 6 years ago that inspires this one today, especially in the light of recent events in the African online space.
“No dogs, blacks or Irish”
Before I go any further, I must point out that this is not an article about Tariq Nasheed or his affiliates who believe that they are not African, and are in fact native to America. Over here in Nigeria, we have people whose ancestors lived and died in Umuahia for centuries who wear the Star of David and make reference to an alleged Jewish ancestral root that is as hilarious as it is imaginary.
Confident ignorance mixed with toxic delusion is not something unique to “Foundational Black Americans” or “American Descendants of Slaves” – it is a pan-human phenomenon that can be observed as powerfully in Tennessee as it is in Okija.
The reason for this article, in fact, is that following the trash fire that took place on Twitter last week, there were a number of Nigerians who fell into a carefully laid intellectual trap. This trap goes thus: “Nigeria is not in great shape and as a result, many Nigerians leave Nigeria in search of a better life.
When they leave Nigeria, they often attain great success, even to the point of generating envy among other communities. Instead of emigrating to find success, why can they not stay at home and replicate their external success?” This is a giant red-herring argument that is made in bad faith by dishonest people with a preset agenda, and I will explain why using the example of the most surprising group of irregular migrants I have ever come across – the Irish.
For those who may not be aware, one of the legacies of British colonialism in the Republic of Ireland was the Irish Potato Famine which killed over 1 million Irish people in the 19th century. At the time, the Irish were not considered to be of the same Teutonic ethnic stock as those from England and much of mainland Western Europe.
Irish people were looked upon in a manner similar to how blacks were viewed at the time, and it was considered abominable to bring an Irish gentleman or lady home to mom if one came from polite society. Until well into the 20th century, in fact, Ireland was known somewhat derogatorily as “First World by location,” which was a backhanded way of saying that it benefitted much more from its proximity to Europe than it contributed.
The sum effect of all of this was that Irish people became some of the world’s most prolific immigrants. They left Ireland where they saw no future for themselves and moved…everywhere. They went to England. They went to Australia. They went to Canada.
They went to the United States. Some even went as far afield as Brazil, Argentina and South Africa. There was a time in living memory that one might look for an apartment in London and happen upon a notice saying “No Dogs, Blacks or Irish.” That is how low the Irish star sank at one point in the lifetime of some of our parents. Why is this an important point to bring up?
Here is the thing: when Irish people were fleeing their dying homeland in search of survival, opportunities and better lives anywhere and everywhere they could find, nobody – absolutely nobody – told them “Hey Mick, all you Irish people ever do is run away from your country and boast about your success in other people’s countries instead of fixing your own.
Why don’t you go be the successful car salesman you are, back home in County Armagh?” Certainly, no black person in the US would have dared issue such a challenge at the time – despite occupying the exact same economic spaces as the Irish immigrants and competing directly against them for the low-paid, menial jobs that were the only jobs available to black people back then.
The reason, of course, is that economics or no economics, the Irish inhabited a higher position on America’s racial totem pole. They would not be considered “White” and subsequently gain admission into the mainstream of dominant American society until World War 2, but even as low paid labourers doing the same jobs as the Blacks, they knew they were a notch higher on the scale of racial privilege, and the Blacks knew their place.
This is why the modern-day call for successful Nigerian migrants in the US and elsewhere to “go home and replicate their success is a dishonest red herring.” These calls do not come from a place of concern for Africa or a desire to see Nigeria prosper economically. They come from a place of deep-seated insecurity and an ethnicity-fuelled inferiority complex.
Think about it. Nigerians who migrate to the US are among the most likely to have or to obtain at least a Bachelors degree, of all ethnic groups in the US. As a direct result of this, the jobs that Nigerian migrants generally do are simply NOT the jobs that the supposedly Foundational black population in that country does.
That population, for reasons not altogether its own, remains the least educated and poorest in that country. In other words, Tunde the doctor from Ibadan, and Daquan the first-year college dropout from Akron, Ohio, are not competing against each other.
There should be no reason for Daquan to feel unhappy about Tunde’s presence since Tunde is not in competition with him – and statistically, Daquan’s “Foundational” population outnumbers Tunde’s Nigerian immigrant population by approximately 10 to 1 anyway, so what is the problem here?
The problem of course, is that Tunde’s existence contradicts the arbitrary laws of existence that Daquan has had imposed on him, and has subsequently internalised.
Tunde’s outperformance of Daquan, despite being the only person on earth whom Daquan thinks to be lower than him on the global totem pole – a black continental African with a heavy accent and an unpronounceable name – is proof that the majority of Daquan’s alleged oppression actually exists inside his own mind.
If an African who lives in a hut without internet can come to America and become a software engineer, then Daquan’s failure to transcend the streets of Akron is in fact, majorly his own fault. And boy, he does NOT like that.
The thing is though, that regardless of whether Daquan likes it or not, Nigerians, like the Irish before them, will continue emigrating to wherever opportunities exist. Today, there are Irish communities scattered all over the world, many of whom maintain strong links to the homeland even after many generations.
Their link is still so strong in fact, that they often bring distant family members from Ireland to places like Boston, where they simply overstay their visas and live freely, knowing that ICE is much more concerned with deporting illegal Mexican and Haitian immigrants, than overstayers from an OECD country.
There is even a decades-old Irish mafia and organised crime industry in Boston. All of this exists, and somehow nobody screams bloody murder about the Irish or objects to their existence – because why should they.
The same applies to Nigerians. If nobody has told Mick and Caoimhin, the successful financial market analysts in New Jersey, to return to Waterford and be successful there, then nobody should tell that to a Nigerian migrant.
We also have every right to exist.