It's Sunday afternoon, December 29.Looking out my apartment window in New York, I see a misty grey skyscape and a chandelier of steady rain strokes. I woke up to Jonathan Schwartz Jazz and Blues Sunday show on WNYC, the permanent parking lot on my radio dial. Being a hopeless romantic, this is the perfect weather for cuddling up with that special guy and preferably an African, but I believe my luck is running out when it comes to finding such a person.
In my opinion, African men and romance don't appear to be synonymous and I've come to find out that most African women are not romantic either. I turned inward to examine when I became this liberated romantic woman of virtues and I realized that the essence of the person I’ve become happened over the thirty years I’ve lived in America. But I continue to ponder what’s happened to the morality of my Diaspora African male counterparts who have spent the same amount of years in the west. Why have some of them remained chauvinistic? Why do they continue to disrespect me and my Diaspora sisters? Why have they become so irresponsible and detached that we women continue to bear the burden of raising their children alone?
I’ve pondered what the problems are over the years. Why is it almost impossible to find a compatible African mate? Is the issue class, exposure, lifestyle, past experiences and baggage? I haven’t found the answer yet but one thing is certain; I’ve gotten to know me better. I will continue to be the African woman of virtue that I was raised to be and I’m determined to find that soul mate that deserves me. I will not compromise my values and the simple pleasures that I enjoy in life. But sadly, I realized that I may have to look beyond my African enclave.
Let's talk about the typical Nigerian man for a minute. And by the way, this account is not just from my personal experience. As a journalist, I’ve been engrossed with the issues of cultural clashes and gender inequality for years but I have been reluctant to write or talk about some of these sensitive topics. So my account on relationships between Diaspora Nigerian women and Men is not just based on my personal experiences but also on interactions and informal interviews with several hundred Diaspora Nigerians in the past two decades. I've only been in a long term relationship with one Nigerian man since I migrated to the US. This is largely because I was trying to discover myself. I was a young woman when I left Nigeria but I had a good idea of how the men were and how they related to the women. It was and continues to be a male domineering society where women's rights are not equal to men's. But for the most part the men in my "circle or class" if you will, are the sole bread winners of their families. They still play the traditional role of men like my Dad did - paying the bills including their children's tuition. But I notice that they only take care of their wives financial needs as long as she’s obedient and subservient. Their attitude change the moment she decides to pursue a professional career. In my many firsthand observations of these types of situations, the men became somewhat resentful and began to treat their wives like business partners the moment she started earning income. But the good news is that on the continent, the Nigerian men of means continue to play the traditional role of a husband - taking care of their families.
Conversely, most Diaspora Nigerian men treat Diaspora women very differently. I believe one of the core reasons why Diaspora Nigerian men behave differently toward Diaspora Nigerian women is because of the social economic structure of western society – which gives women more power in society. So the more economically independent Diaspora Nigerian women are the more challenges they face in their marriages or in finding the right mate. It’s also important to draw a distinction between the two demographics of Diaspora Nigerians; Diaspora Nigerian women who are not formally educated tend to be more traditional and subservient to the men so they are likely to face fewer challenges in finding a mate. The other group with which I identify and have had most interactions are college graduate Diaspora Nigerians between the age of 35 to 55 who have been in the US for at least 20 years; have worked in corporate America for at least 10 years; and have somewhat assimilated into the American culture. So the calculation on my part and close friends and my circle is that we share a lot in common with the men in this group and we see them as potential future husbands with whom we could retire and “live with happily ever after” - back to the motherland. But to our disappointment and perplexity, these men are so different from the memories we have of them - growing up together in Nigeria. They are callous; disrespectful, disconnected and believe that a woman should cater to them. In addition to that they expect their wives to pay fifty percent the household expenses and also take care of the children. The irony is that they treat their foreign girlfriends or wives better stating that because these women are not Nigerians, they don’t expect them to play the traditional gender role. I found this even more appalling.
On the personal note of my relationship with the Nigerian guy - it lasted about four years. I was really excited at the possibility of an African soul mate and a Nigerian at that. Just so you know I'm not the average Nigerian woman. I'm a real New Yorker, an “American-African.” Meaning, I'm sexually liberated. I love the theater, jazz clubs, and International cuisines. I go to the movies at least once a month, I love taking long walks in the park. I particularly love the foliage, season, romantic dinner etc. Now you get the picture? So I was so excited to share all of these with my Nigerian prospective soul mate. We were both strongly attracted to each other so that was great. We grew up in the same period and came to New York about the same time so it was like finding an old high school buddy. Then the first bombshell occurred a few weeks into the relationship. I had prepared dinner and instead of saying thank you when he sat at the table, he complained about how dinner was served. And to utter surprise, he proceeded to eat without waiting for me. I thought that was so uncouth. Then he finished eating, left me at the dinner table and did not even pick up his plates. I was outraged! That was a red flag alright. Here comes the “Nigerian man - the king”, I noted quietly but didn’t want to make big deal of it. Another time, he called me on his way home from work and asked that I make him some tea. Ok – a simple and reasonable request I thought. He walked in about thirty minutes later and demanded the tea - so I turned toward the kitchen to reheat the water that I had previously boiled but turned off until he arrived. He got very upset that the tea - pardon, the "tea pot" was not on the table when he walked in. A second red flag right, that my prospective Nigerian soul mate wanted a subservient woman – which I am not. But again I dismissed the incompatible warning signs. On the issue of sex, he believed that as the man he should be the initiator most of the time. And it should be how he wanted it – when he wanted it.Third strike and "Hell No" I wasn’t having it. I finally got it; he was one of those male domineering control freaks. I suddenly realized why I had stayed away from my countrymen for so long. The relationship became a bumpy ride from there on in. During the four year relationship, we went to dinner twice. I continued to cook but he never once volunteered to buy groceries, never walked into my house with a bottle of wine. He didn’t like to travel because he said "why pay for hotel when I have a house". Didn’t like going to the movies. All he ate was home cooked Nigerian food so he refused to go out to the restaurants. No matter how much I tried to find a common thread to make the relationship work, I hit a dead end over and over. I finally realized that I had nothing in common with him other than the nostalgia of growing up in the same era in Nigeria.
My girlfriends and some other people I interviewed are not as western as I am – granted, but their experiences are worse. One of them talked about a guy who liked her very much and she eventually invited him over to her house - a Nigerian thing because in American culture a woman would normally not invite a guy to dinner at her house on a first date. Anyway, the guy walked in without anything and had the nerve to ask her after dinner if she could cook for him again. "Thank you - the food was so good, do you mind cooking for me from time to time," he asked. She was so upset with him and told him never to call her again. It turned out that this guy was married to an African-American woman. It is rampant among Nigerian men who are married to American women to cruise the Nigerian community looking for single Nigerian women with whom they can shack up from time to time for sex and a good meal that their American wives don’t know how to make. These Nigerian women accommodate them because they are lonely and believe that the men would eventually leave their American wives for them. As we all know, these kinds of arrangements only result in heartaches and broken homes - so “we can't have our cakes and eat it too”. There are serious consequences to such reckless behavior.
My beef with my generation of Diaspora Nigerian men is what happened to the good men we grew up with? What happened to the fundamental sets of values that were instilled in this generation? I cherish the good old time memories and prosperity of the late sixties and seventies in Nigeria. Our parents were good people with good core values. Why have some of our men taken on the isolating, “me-myself-and I,” attitude of western culture? What happened to our responsible, caring and compassionate Nigerian men who loves their family and takes great pride in taking care of them? Do these men see us women in the image of their Grandmothers, their Mothers, Aunts, Sisters and Daughters? And by the way studies shows that our children would rather date and marry a foreigner. This is very sad.
We have lost each other and we need to find ways to reconnect. We left Nigeria together and we need each other to raise a generation of healthy American born children with authentic self identity.
Bukola Shonuga is an independent journalist listed with the US Foreign Press Center.