Dr. Chibuihe Obi Achimba wrote a stirring Op-Ed in Sunday’s New York Times about navigating the perilous terrain of coming out gay in Nigeria, then seeking refuge in the United States where he was the target of all the headwinds that affect Black men, “I learned how to carry myself to protect my safety back home,” he said, “only to come to the U.S. and face a different danger.”
Here in America, masculinity added to melanin multiplies into something monstrous — in the white imagination, that is.
I came to the United States in 2019 as a scholar-at-risk fellow at Harvard University. After I was kidnapped and tortured in Nigeria for being gay and daring to speak openly about it America offered me refuge. But this spring after videos of the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd surfaced, I’m coming to terms with the fact that the country that promised me safety is one where Black men like me face a different kind of danger.
Each time I tell someone why I’m here, the sad irony of it hurts like a gut punch. I’ve traded one perilous identity — being gay in Nigeria — for yet another one: being a Black man in America. The anguish cuts deep into the bones.
Growing up on the other side of the Atlantic, I was well aware that in America, Black masculinity is pathologized and the Black presence relentlessly policed. The story of Martin Luther King Jr. is often read side by side with the story of Eric Garner. You can’t idolize Barack Obama and not shudder at the tragic murder of Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. The glory of America is global, and so is the struggle of its Black citizens.
And yet, somehow, I managed to believe that my queer identity would protect me. Not because it offered any immunity against racism, but because I still have on my body the fresh wounds I suffered on the front lines of L.G.B.T.Q. activism in Nigeria. I thought: If there is any justice in this world, I’d be spared the fraught realities of another marginalized existence. I thought: Surely, my masculinity, considered too tenuous and inadequate in Nigeria because of my sexual orientation, cannot be considered threatening in America.