“Our divide in America is between white and black, but there’s a divide between African and African-American that white people may not see,” said Shy’Kiya Lee, a nursing major and member of BSM.
Participants talked about how people tend to lump everyone with dark skin into the category of the black “other,” forgetting or ignoring that not all black people are the same.
Lee said there is a clear split between African and African-American UNC students.
“It’s funny how the black people say we know all of the other black people at UNC, but we don’t include all of the Africans here. When we say ‘black UNC’ we don’t include the Africans, and they should be included,” Lee said.
Although they see the need for unity between the two groups, the participants agreed they feel more comfortable with people who are similar to them.
“Even though I’ve been in America for so long, I was never really accepted by African-Americans in middle and high school, so I naturally became friends with other Africans when I got to college,” said Bolu Aluko, a junior who moved from Nigeria to the U.S.
Students who are seen as African-American said they do not necessarily identify themselves the way the rest of the world sees them.
“It’s hard if my environment tries to put labels on me that I may not want to embrace. What’s close to my heart is Jamaica and I identify as Caribbean-American, even though I was born in America,” said Jason Reid, a sophomore whose parents are from Jamaica.
Several participants said they feel black people cannot embrace their natural hair if they wish to be seen as professional.
“If I’m going to a job interview in America, I wouldn’t feel comfortable going with my natural hair. I’d feel like I needed braids or a weave. I’d wonder if my hair would be a distraction,” Aluko said.
Several students lamented that traditionally black hairstyles, such as dreadlocks, are not viewed as acceptable in the workplace. But Reid pointed out that these standards apply to people of all races.
“Businesses breed conformity. We all wear blue or black suits,” Reid said.
“It’s not just us — everyone has to conform to these standards. Business people have to find someone to fill a certain role, and if you can’t, they’ll find someone who can.”