By Gbenga Ogunjimi | Washington Business Journal
I am an international entrepreneur living in America. I am demographically classified as Black, a cultural identity that I relish with pride. Like many who fall in this category, I never considered myself Black until I came to America — since everyone looked like me in my home country of Nigeria.
So, it is with pride and some level of ambiguity I navigate this version of my cultural identity — I humorously refer to it as “Embracing my American Blackness.”
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Weighing in on the wealth disparity in America is somewhat complex for me. As a successful African living in the United States, I am told I have privileges in America. Although I struggled to grasp this initially, it has become abundantly clear that some of my privileges are:
- My foreign name, although difficult to pronounce, is nonthreatening.
- My college education, although foreign, is debt-free.
- And most importantly, my heritage, although it is one not without struggle, is one of which I have no doubts.
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Therefore, I acknowledge my struggle to understand Black America’s wealth disparity. In my quest to seek understanding, I decided to build bridges shortly after coming to D.C. I decided to go beyond my borders, culturally and psychologically. First, I moved my office space from Northwest D.C. to Anacostia in Southeast D.C., the least developed quadrant of the nation’s capital. Then, I began living there as well to engage closely with the community.
This move was life-changing as it allowed me to recognize the inherent assets in my cultural identity. It became clear that many things I took for granted, like my heritage and culture, were an asset of my identity in the United States. It was in Anacostia I came to understand that if Africa was the source of the Black diaspora, then African Americans were the future.
As a result, I became a self-appointed cultural ambassador, educating the Black Americans I connected with to the possibilities of building bridges to Africa. This move also allowed me to see a different perspective on racial disparity in America. My newly formed asset-framing view elevated cultural equity above racial inequality. With that said, I considered a wealth-building model among the Igbo people of my home country, as a potential solution for addressing Black America’s wealth disparity.
The Igbo, an ethnicity largely found in eastern Nigeria, is one that has suffered grave injustices and ongoing marginalization in Nigeria. Gen. C. Odumegwu Ojokwu declared Igbo autonomy from Nigeria shortly after Nigeria gained its independence from the United Kingdom. This led the already fledgling nation into a civil war. The atrocities committed to the Igbo people were near genocide proportions and resulted in the unwritten, but widely recognized, societal judgment that no person of Igbo descent would ever become president of Nigeria, despite the merit they possess. The Igbo identity became weaponized in Nigeria, similar to what some would say has happened for the Black identity in America.
So what did the Igbo do? They turned to their superpower — cooperative economics. They harnessed their genius of wealth-making by first starting within their own community. They built economic centers and, after developing a proven model, proliferated across the country and the continent, replicating commercial hubs. The Igbo people had an unwavering conviction to achieve success through an aggressive level of specialization. After dominating the retail market, they set their sights on the entertainment industry. They created content for Nigeria, the African continent and the entire world, resulting in Nollywood becoming the largest cultural entertainment industry next to Hollywood and Bollywood, respectively.
This movement is what I refer to as the Igbo Phenomenon. They understood that equality is inherently and inextricably linked to equity and they had to be unwavering in their efforts to achieve it.
So how does this relate back to wealth disparities in America? Undoubtedly, racism is not only real in America, but it is also deep, systemic and implicitly cultural. The results are clear from law enforcement, the justice system and financial exclusion: Discrimination based on skin color — specifically Black skin — is alive and well.
Toni Morrison explained that the function of racism is a distraction to keep you from doing your work. For Black America, that work is bridging the wealth gap by reverting to its power of community wealth-building while continuing to push for holistic reforms. Therefore, in this unique land of opportunity, Black America adopting the unwavering spirit of the Igbo Phenomenon becomes worthy of consideration.
Gbenga Ogunjimi is founder and chief storyteller at GO Global, a D.C. leadership consulting firm, and author of “Borderless Voice: The Power of Telling Your Story and Defining Your Identity.”
Read from source Washington Business Journal