Why do immigrants perform well in America: the Nigerian example, continued

August 22, 2011

Arts & Culture

New “over-achieving” Nigerians 

The essay on why immigrant kids perform well in America (2): the Nigerian example back in June got  some views this weekend, and my, what revelations and good news!  I’ve decided to share the following as they may lie buried under the COMMENTS without many getting to read them:

Love this post, but what about the Ewedemi Brother who did his PHD in Chemical Engineering at Stanford and his only sibling who did her under graduate at Yale and is now a doctor in Texas?

Or ther four sisters from Minnesota that all attended Harvard?

Or the Nigerian twins that both attended Harvard and got what was a perfect score at the time 1600 on their SAT’s?

There are a tens of thousands of these Nigerian over acheivers. . . not only academically, but the 19 year old boy that finished college in 3 years and got drafted in the NFL at age 19? Notice in the last Superbowl, three players had charities and two of the football players were Nigerian? We have both brains and brawn, some of us have siblings that play in the NFL, NBA and yes even the NHL (those of use that made it to Canada) and also have siblings at the Ivy League.

What we’ve benefited from in Nigeria is a lack of direct experience in the last two hundred years with slavery, neither as slave owners or slaves and we know the sky is the limit for everyone, regardlless of race, sex or natural origin. It puts us in a serious advantage over americans who hold on to their “stereotypes.” for their existence.

Why can most caucasian Europeans breakdance and every white Americans can bearly do the two step? They’ve limited themselves to stereotypes.


I am half Nigerian and half African American, and so probably have a deep understanding of the rift between Nigerians and African Americans. I think many Nigerians perceive it as you describe, but African Americans perceive it subtly differently. African Americans perceive Africans (including Nigerians) as viewing themselves as different. There is a “we came here with nothing and we work hard, unlike you.” African Americans feel that Africans look at their situation, ascribe it all to slavery, and feel that they know what is holding African Americans back simply by looking, but not by doing any research into the situation. It is this attitude that African Americans object to, it’s not considered an arrogance, but it makes African Americans feel as though Africans think they are better than African Americans.

As far as your statement that nobody would tell a Nigerian kid they would not amount to anything, I know several examples of where that is false, having heard several Nigerian fathers tell that to their underachieving children to try to motivate them. It unfortunately backfired each time.

As far as why Nigerians and other immigrants perform so well, if you consider the immigrants who perform well, it is largely African and Asian immigrants from places like India and China, where there is ubiquitous poverty and education is highly regarded and seen as a way out of poverty. In the US, slavery is not what is keeping African Americans back, it is the aftermath of slavery, the products of segregation and the aftereffects of that. After World War 2, the first mortgages were allowed. But they were allowed only for whites. This resulted in whites being allowed to own homes, while blacks were not. What resulted was that whites took over suburbia while blacks were confined to urban areas, where inner cities developed. Fast forward to the 60s where this law was ended. Although it was legally ended, the practice continued until 2000, when it was finally enforced and blacks finally began getting mortgages at the same rate as whites. This matters because in the US, houses are borrowing power.

A family that bought a house at the end of WW2 was able to send their kids to college using that house. They could then give their children this house, and those kids could use that borrowing power to get a bigger house, more money for college, and so on and so on. What resulted was a widening rift in wealth that was tied directly into houses. For many African Americans without this access to that kind of wealth, college was only accessible if you could earn a scholarship, and these were limited. For the ones who got scholarships, they went on to succeed. For the ones who did not, some went into debt to go to school, while others found jobs. And there is where the problem begins. While the African comes here with nothing, but with the idea that education is a way out, the African American often starts with a huge debt that they are trying to pay, and sports is seen as a way out of that debt, not education. If they have to pay for that education, that is more debt that they can not afford. A scholarship for education will not help pay the debt and will not guarantee a high paying job afterwards, but a sports scholarship will. This is all very well documented by the PBS documentary “Race: the power of an Illusion” You can check it out on their website.

So to say that African Americans do not succeed because of slavery is to misunderstand the situation, and to again do what African Americans object to: set Africans as different because they did not experience slavery. No living African American has experienced slavery – it is a part of the shared history, but not a personal experience. Africans and African Americans both succeed at what they perceive as a way out of poverty: Africans see education as a way out, and excel at that like no other. African Americans see sports as a way out, and excel at that like no other. As example, you listed the Williams sisters and Tiger Woods. I would add to that all the basketball, track, football and olympic athletes that are disproportionately African American.

Thus, both Africans and African Americans are more alike than different: what they set out to succeed at, they do, whether it be sports or education.


Also, to add one last thought: I knew one of the Sangodeyi sisters while at MIT. At the same time I also knew two African American sisters who were not Nigerian, but one was at MIT and one was at Harvard. They too saw education as a way out of poverty.


In one of my replies to ANONYMOUS, I pointed out that the INSTITUTIONAL put-downs – subtle and direct – were my references about “… not amounting to anything” and not the ones by parents.  For my full replies, please check out my full replies to these submissions made some days ago on “Why immigrant kids perform …. the Nigerian example”.



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