THE TRAVAILS OF AFRICAN IMMIGRANTS IN AMERICA
Ozodi Thomas Osuji
People who leave their places of birth to go live in other places probably do so for many reasons. We may never be able to understand these many reasons until we ask all immigrants why each of them emigrated to where they now reside. Be that caveat as it may, we can reasonably say that Africans who emigrated from Africa to Western Europe and North America tend to do so for two primary reasons: to obtain higher education and to avail themselves of economic opportunities that do not exist in their continent.
Africa is characterized by grinding poverty and it is understandable why people would like to leave it and go to where the grass is greener. Africa does not have good institutions of higher learning and it is understandable why some persons would like to go to where such institutions exist.
Again, we do not know why many Africans emigrate to Europe and North America but the reality is that there are many Africans in Europe and North America (if given the opportunity to do so many Africans probably would like to escape from Africa's incredible poverty and badly governed statesÔÇŽjust about all young Nigerians would like to flee from Nigeria to wherever they think life is better).
African Immigrants to the West initially experience physiological and psychological rush; they are happy to get out of the excruciating poverty of Africa. In the West even if they are performing menial jobs they, at least, have access to good food, housing and clothes and those make them feel that life is good. If they are able to bring their relatives over to the West they have a sense of accomplishment; they feel like they have saved their kinfolk from Africa's killing poverty.
African immigrants in North America who have the skills demanded by the American economy (usually advanced college degrees, especially in the fields of engineering, medicine, finance and accounting) will obtain reasonable jobs and make a good living. If they have PhDs from good schools, especially in the pure and applied sciences, they may obtain teaching jobs at American universities.
Those Africans who have demanded skills tend to be those who came as students and after their education choose to stay on in America.
The majority of African immigrants in North America, especially East Africans (Ethiopians, Somalis etc) who came as refugees, do not have the skills that the economy value and therefore tend to perform menial jobs (such as janitorial, cab-driving, nursing home aiding etc).
Regardless of the type of jobs they are performing, in time African immigrants learn that as far as white folks are concerned they are invisible citizens. Africans are not considered candidates for higher positions in American society (of course, there are exceptions to every general rule; there are well placed Africans in North America).
STRESS AND ANXIETY
Living in a new land and in a different culture is stressful and generates insecurity in many human beings. People tend to feel secure in a world where they understand the lay of the land. The individual who grows up in a culture understands that culture and can get along with most persons in it. But if exposed to a different culture that he does not understand he may experience culture shock and generally feels anxious.
Anxiety is found in many immigrants regardless of where they emigrated from.
In the case of Africans, given their lack of opportunity to rise to higher positions in American society many of them who in their African environment could have become reasonably high in social status tend to feel marginalized and frustrated. The white man is not ready to allow an African with his heavy accent and other social baggages to rise to top positions in his work and social organizations. This situation leads to frustration in many Africans.
As a result of the frustrations they feel, many African immigrants in America suffer from mild mental disorders.
As a result of their frustrations resulting from their inability to obtain what they desired, many African immigrants tend to develop anger (temper tantrums) problems. Anger generally results when an individual is unable to get what he desires; anger is a response to disappointment.
Anger is often displaced; here, the individual feels angry at a person that did not directly cause his anger. If Africans are unable to secure reasonable jobs or feel pushed around by their American bosses and know that if they assert thimbles that they would be fired from their jobs they may go home and displace their anger to their spouses and children. Many of them are angry at their family members. Indeed, many of them have been required by courts to undergo anger management treatment due to domestic violence.
There is a whole lot of "masked depression" in Africa immigrants in North America. This depression is hidden and not acknowledged. Some African immigrants cope with their mild depression by drinking too much alcohol, and by becoming sex addicts etc.
Immigrants (non-Africans included) tend to suffer high levels of paranoia. Paranoia inheres in inventing a false big self and wanting to be it. When a person feels socially unimportant, weak and powerless he may compensate by positing a desired important self and present that false important self to other persons to relate to; he asks people to see him as if he is the false important self he wishes that he were. He feels angry if other persons do not treat him as if he is the wished grandiose self.
Africans and immigrants in general in America lose social prestige and feel inferior and restitute with false, important selves. They pretend to be false important selves; in effect, they develop paranoid personalities, even delusion disorder.
Many factors go into determining whether the individual immigrant would develop anxiety, depression or paranoia. The individual's pre-morbid personality structure before he emigrated and his culture of origin play roles in how he adapts to his new land. Those who were already anxious, insecure and had mild depressed or paranoid psychological structures (tend to be suspicious, do not trust other persons, desire to be seen as very important persons etc) are more likely to develop overt paranoia in North America than those who had normal personalities before emigration.
Biology plays a role in whether a person develops anxiety disorder, depression or paranoia (I will not go into discussion of the physiology of anxiety, depression and paranoia for such discourse would complicate what is meant as a paper for the general public).
What is the cure for the maladies that befall African immigrants in North America? The individual must figure out what he truly enjoys doing and have aptitude for doing and do it. If the individual figures out what he is good at and has interest in, trains in it and throws his life into doing it he tends to feel fulfilled regardless of whether he makes tons of money or not, or whether he obtains social prestige or not. The way to avoid the frustration which African immigrants are exposed to is to go do your own thing. (There are many vocational inventory tests that can help the individual to figure out his interests and aptitudes; Mayer-Briggs, and Strong-Campbell are examples.)
It helps to have a positive and strong social support system; this includes having friends who understand where one is coming from and can help one process ones issues in the new land.
Where there are overt mental health issues, such as anxiety disorder (there are many types, all characterized by the presence of anxiety and fear), depression (feeling lack of interest in the activities of daily living, such as loss of interest in food, grooming, sports, work, recreational activities, socializing etc), paranoia (feeling of persecution and grandiosity etc), mania (feeling of euphoria, as if one is on top of the world without reason for such delusional grandiosity), schizophrenia (marked by presence of delusions and hallucinations) the individual must see mental health professionals (psychiatrists and psychologists) for help.
Africans tend to be ashamed of seeing mental health professionals for in their world there is still a lot of stigma attached to mental disorders. However, they are no longer living in their African world where folks cushion their mental disorders. In North America their mental disorders is likely to be quickly noticed by other persons and, moreover, would generate loads of interpersonal problems for them.
I see many African immigrants with untreated personality and other mental disorders and wish that they could go see psychotherapists and work through their issues, get to know themselves better and become more able to cope with the exigencies of the foreign land that they now live in.
Epidemiological studies show that in every 100 persons randomly selected the various mental disorders occurs in a certain rate. African immigrants in the West exhibit the array of mental disorders, some severe, some minor, found in human beings everywhere.
In this paper I highlighted those mental disorders likely to befall African immigrants in North America at a higher level. I suggested what African immigrants could do to ameliorate their travails in North America and the West in general.
Ozodi Thomas Osuji
June 5, 2010