For some people, Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom was their first experience with the idea that America may not be the greatest country in the world. The gaspin the room when Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) expressed his doubt about it hints at how Americans may feel about the idea that something they’ve been told all their lives and one that may have formed the basis of sneering at people from other countries, may, in fact, be untrue. It’s how I feel when confronted with the facts that gnaw at the assertion that my country – Nigeria – is the giant of Africa.
Granted, Nigeria is so called mainly because of her population, but also because of its political power and wealth back in the day. It may be hard for many people to fathom this, but the Naira did not always cower at the sight of the Dollar.
For some of us, we’ve always felt we are way better than many of our neighbours in other countries; yet today, I have seen Ghanaians, who were once learning filmmaking from Nigerians, produce such beautiful pieces that Nollywood – Nigeria’s film industry – can barely match. That is just one of many examples.
Here is another – according to internetworldstats.com, Kenyans have an internet penetration of 87.2% while Nigeria has 61.2%. While some would raise intelligent arguments about population and other factors, one truth stands out; the average person in Kenya has better access to internet service than I do and that doesn’t help me when I’m in the middle of those very interesting and engaging Twitter wars between Nigeria and Kenya. So, we may lag behind most countries in the arts, tourism, internet penetration, healthcare, and infrastructure, but the Giant of Africa, we are.
Much like Nigeria, America’s might lies in numbers and stories. According to ‘the media’ (we’ll catch up with this guy later), America is the greatest country on earth. When I watch American movies, I can see why and how Americans would believe that. Americans always save the day. American superheroes save the world and the American SWAT team can do all things; but these pale when held against real news stories and statistics that mirror the realities of the American experience. I still cannot get over the fact that conversations around gun legislation are so polarised. To me, it is probably the most interesting thing about America – that people would worry more about guns than life, even their own lives. I know that I may be biased because I live in a country where people don’t just own guns. Apart from that one incident where a distant relative strutted out of his house with a dane gun and fired it into the sky to mark the new year, I have never been in doubt about how guns make me feel – threatened. Even at the hands of my country’s law enforcement officers, guns are a source of trepidation. So, I know that they are not playthings and I find it baffling that Americans don’t mind the risk of putting guns in the hands of “unstable people”; especially because they are notorious for this. According to the American Center for Disease Control, 39,740 people died from gun violence in 2018. Americans are supposedly smarter and this sounds like a no brainer, but what do I know. “The second amendment was put there for a reason” and every gun needs a home.
Well, a country where people have so many unchecked security loopholes would not be my first choice. Nobody wants to leave his house thinking, “if I drive carefully and no drunk person runs me over, maybe someone will hit me during a mass shooting at the mall; but thank goodness for 911. I know help will show up in time”. As a Black
person, this is heightened by the thought that anyone – even the police – may hurt me just because they feel threatened by my existence.
But why do I care at all, you may wonder. I am Nigerian and I live a safe distance from white supremacists, greedy pharmaceutical companies, and trigger-happy white people. All these should not be my business especially because I have many problems of my own. In an episode of ABC’s Boston Legal a citizen sued the United States for the ethnic violence in Sudan. The argument was that America’s declaration of interest in the fight against terrorism “wherever it thrives” made other countries that would have stood up to help Sudan, to hold back. Shirley Schmidt (played by Candace Bergen) the prosecuting attorney, asked that if America couldn’t rise to the occasion, it should say so. That’s how I feel about America in many ways.
As we wade through this pandemic, one can hardly quantify what the mixed signals from America have caused governments and individuals outside America, who still look to her as the greatest country in the world. One day, COVID-19 is a small fly and the next, it’s a serious issue; one day Hydroxy-Chloroquine is the answer and the next, it isn’t. One day, bleach can probably work to clear the human system and the next, it resumes its seat on the table of substances that are unfit for ingestion. In the words of Shirley Schmidt, “maybe as a compromise, we can get the US government to declare ‘hey, not our problem’. That way, the world will be on notice that someone else can “play hero” and we can turn our attention to a country like New Zealand, that is swift with a response to gun violence and pandemics and has a better healthcare system.
One may also ask, if all these are true and America is not the greatest country in the world, why are Africans still flooding U.S. embassies to get visas? Say hello again to our friend ‘the media’. Good stories make good believers and the American media does a fantastic job. I also believe that for most of us, it’s the devil we know. Our family members are there, we’ve learned their culture through movies, etc., we know the language and even if Black people are sometimes killed for no reason, we know we’ll find our own there as opposed to searching for countries that are even more welcoming of immigrants. The rules are more explicitly spelled. The risks too.
Americans complain about their current president so bitterly. I understand we are watching the deterioration of her democracy under his leadership, but I know this man. His kinsman has been my president since 2015 and will remain so until 2022, all things being unequal. If he berates women, embarrasses his state and office, has been part of efforts to oppress certain parts of the population, is uncouth with his words, and lacks empathy; he is pretty much my current president. The only difference is, Trump seems to love pressers but we haven’t had one with our President for years. It doesn’t also help that ours isn’t tech-savvy enough to handle his own Twitter account.
We know your demons, America and even if our issues are louder than yours, we can risk living with them. We can also live with the fact that, according to one of your journalists, Will McAvoy, America is “7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in the labor force and number 4 in exports.”
I will confess that beyond all the justifications I have given for my interest in America’s unraveling, there is a more interesting and selfish truth: while I live with the realities of my ailing country, I watch with an embarrassing amusement as Americans wake up to their problems and cry out so loudly over things like health insurance, dwindling respect for democracy and value of life; because as it appears, you are warming up to things my friends and I have lived with, and thrived in spite of. Over the years, we have tried to say that we who go out of our way to do honest work in this country deserve respect in the way you write about us in your movies and books, but all you have always chosen to hear and see is that we are all corrupt alms-seeking beggars.
Well, what if all I know about America is racism, drug addiction, a corrupt government, mass shootings, and the Capitol take over?