OPINION: Christian 'Toby' Obumseli's Death Shows We Need Healing Between African-Americans and Africans in America
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OPINION: Christian ‘Toby’ Obumseli’s Death Shows We Need Healing Between African-Americans and Africans in America

(Image: Instagram)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of BLACK ENTERPRISE

The tragic stabbing of Christian “Toby” Obumseli on April 3 allegedly at the hands of his girlfriend of two years, OnlyFans performer Courtney Clenney (aka Courtney Tailor), has brought to the surface long-simmering issues of white privilege, public disparagement of Black women, interracial relationships, and more complicated, the relationship between African-Americans and Africans in America.

We need to talk about the last issue. First, our hearts go out to the Obumseli family on the loss of their son, grandson, and brother. What a terrible way for someone’s life to be cut short. And after “Baker Acting” her way out of giving details to the police, his girlfriend was prancing about town without a care in the world.

This in the same week that we find out SoHo Karen gets a slap on the wrist for attacking a child. And after we practically had to March on Selma to get Cyntoia Brown out of prison for killing her rapist! It’s too much!

Black women are acutely aware that there is a double standard when it comes to crime and justice. We are still reeling from the callousness and disinterest in which the Lauren Smith-Fields case was handled.

According to a statement shared by Toby’s brother on social media, the Obumseli family wants “the community” to support their efforts to get justice for their brother’s death. However, based on Toby’s resurfaced tweets, he was loud and proud with his disdain and disgust for Black women. Therefore Black women collectively have reserved their energy, concern, and outrage. The prevailing response seems to be “sorry to this man”. We are still low-key mad that we collectively came to Christian Cooper’s defense just for him to accept Central Park Karen’s apology two days later.

Black Community is Tired of Being the Voice of Reason

The Black community’s general indifference is apparent.

In fact, among the top pop culture blogs, TheShadeRoom is the only one giving this story any traction at all with a whopping six posts in the last six days—despite the comment section filled with Black women almost universally panning the story. Noticeably, that blog’s first post of the story on April 7 generated many comments from Nigerian Instagrammers thanking it for bringing light to the story.

With over 26 million followers, TheShadeRoom has a larger readership than all of its nearest competitors combined. Why is the most influential pop culture blog forcing this story on their readers? By contrast The Jasmine Brand and other celebrity gossip blogs have only run a couple of stories and both with a focus on Toby’s past tweets and the culture’s take on them. Does it have anything to do with TheShadeRoom founder’s Nigerian roots?

Toby’s tweets, Shaderoom’s push, and black women’s response are all related to the barely below-the-surface tensions between African-Americans and Africans in America.

I was in college when this issue first came to my attention.

The Black students were organizing a protest against some issues on campus. As a student activist, I was charged with getting the leaders of the Caribbean Students Association (CSA) and the African Students Association (ASA) to get on board.

After getting the runaround for a couple of days, one member of the ASA finally pulled me aside and told me straight up that ASA was not going to sign on because they really didn’t identify with the African American students. She further explained that they were actually going to move their office space from the Office of African American Student Services and Programs (OSAP) to the Office of International Student Services because they felt they had more in common with other foreign students than with African American students.

I was dumbfounded. This was the first time I had ever heard about any differences between our communities. She added that she grew up watching shows like Cops and other shows that depict African-Americans in a bad light and that her parents warned her against fraternizing with Black Americans. They absolutely forbade her from dating an African American man. Later, I would learn that this was common. We’ve seen this issue pierce the national conversation before, for example, when Cynthia Erivo was cast as Harriet Tubman or when Luvvie Ajayi came for Tevin Campbell. We’ve also seen time and time again, that America doesn’t care whether you are African American or African in America. From Amadou Diallo to Alfred Olango to Patrick Lyoya, no one is immune from violence and discrimination. African immigrants and first-generation kids have a proud history of succeeding in the United States, but with the advent of social media, some of them are going beyond success and becoming high-profile cultural figures. Simultaneously, more African Americans are visiting and even moving to the continent.

I think it’s high time we bring this issue to the forefront, discuss it, and let the healing begin. Toby’s comments may have been made when he was a teen, but let’s not OVERLOOK THAT they were rooted in real beliefs that many Africans hold about African Americans.

Further, these ideas were planted and nurtured by the same people who made African Americans think all of Africa was the savannah and that people were living in mud huts and squaring up with lions and hyenas throughout the ’80s and ’90s. And the same people who perpetuated those stereotypes are the only people who benefit from this continued division. We need a truth and reconciliation commission for African Americans and Africans across the diaspora…I”m looking at you, West Indians. It ain’t just Nigerians who do this. I commend Luvvie Ajayi, who recently became a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc (congrats Soror) for her transparency in a 2014 collection of tweets about the word “akata.”

But a quick perusal of Ajayi, Ervio, and Bozoma St. John‘s Instagram posts show that while they have been active on social media, they have been silent on this issue. And these bicultural figures, along with our African American thought leaders, are the very ones we need on the front lines of healing this divide. They have the perspective of being steeped in both cultures. Their voices are needed to answer the hard questions and to hold both communities to higher standards.Just this week the funeral services for Dr. Doris A. Derby, a civil rights activist and photographer, were held here in Atlanta.  When I met her, Dr. Derby was the director of the OSAP office at my college. She was very invested in bridging the gap between Africans and African Americans and did a lot of work building community with Ivorian students to further her goal. I didn’t realize then how deep the chasm she was attempting to mend.

Let’s get to work, not necessarily by asking Black women to take on the emotional labor of demanding #justiceforToby, but by addressing the issues that originally led to this divide.

Reneé Mack Jones is a relationship mediator, speaker, and author of the Peace In My Home Planners for Busy Couples. She is the host of the upcoming podcast, I’d Rather Die Alone.


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