By Paul Omoruyi
Most Africans in the diaspora would concur with me that when they first immigrated to the United States they wanted to speak, look and swagger like Americans. This writer was not an exception. Understandably, America is the current world power and an American identity gives some sense of pride – false or real. It is not different from the days of the Roman Empire where everyone wanted to be identified as a Roman.
While attempting to prosodic and modulate intonation to mimic American accent, some Africans accent become ridiculously and preposterously difficult to understand. A situation where Americans cannot understand them and Africans cannot understand them either!
From my experience, it takes some couple of years living in America for most African immigrants to realize and understand the uniqueness of their African Accent. After years of biting my tongue and speaking jargons, my evolutionary journey back to authentic African Accent began to emerge especially after Amadou Diallo – the 23-year-old African immigrant from Guinea that was shot dead by NYPD plain cloth officers because they thought he had a gun – case had catapulted police racial profiling on to America national consciousness. It was not uncommon then (sadly even now) to see young black males stopped and frisked like animals by police officers.
I had to figure out very quickly what to use to reduce the likelihood of being “Dialloed” on the streets of New York just in case something goes down.
As a college student, I worked at night. The location of my job required me to walk past some public housing to get to my job site. Police presence was always very strong in the area. Like a crime scene, they stand on every block around the neighborhood. On several occasions at night, while walking to or from my job, I would notice marked cop cars slow down to look at me. Sometimes, under-cover cop cars will do the same. When there is an incident of gun shot or drug bust, the neighborhood would erupt into a “war zone” as tens of police cars with sirens blazing would envelop the area stopping, frisking and questioning every living creature!
One winter night, the cops stopped and asked me if I lived in the neighborhood. Needless to say, I was wearing a hoodie. I took off the hoodie immediately to display my petrifying “African face” and said “I come for work for here” with a concentrated and cavernous African Accent. “What?” one of the cop retorted. “I said I am going to work for there” I replied again pronouncing every syllable in each word in a typical African enunciation. “Have a good night sir”, they said rather frustratingly as they drove away.
Obviously, it appears they were looking for someone and do not want to be bothered with my African face and Accent. I am not sure what would have happened had I used my American Accent that I tried so hard to develop over the years! Or maybe they think folks with my Accent do not fit the profile of who they were looking for? Your guess is as good as mine.
Long before the absurd and senseless death of Travone Martin, I have adopted two survival strategies on the streets of New York to protect myself as a young black male in America: No hoodie at night and the almighty African Accent. The African Accent works more like magic. So the next time you find yourself in a dilemma on the street of New York and you want to survive, please use your authentic African Accent or speak African pidgin English as best as you can. You will be left alone and will be glad you read this piece.
But for all those Africans out there that are still biting their tongues in an attempt to phonetic like Americans, I wish you all the best in your evolutionary journey back to authentic African Accent. I will see you on the other side. God bless Africa and all her children in the diaspora.