During the day, there were speakers and panels on Nigerian etiquette and business, as well as politics. Nobody was stressing over dual identities; people comfortably code-switched from Nigerian afro-beats to hip-hop like it was no big deal. Even while reporting, I was flattered how often people thought I was part of their tribe. Literally. I met half a dozen people who looked like my cousins. It was like getting an invite to the hidden international cookout where the aunties argued about jollof rice recipes instead of sweet potato pies.


However, being invited to the cookout doesn’t mean you know all the rules yet. The only “African” clothes I had for the big dress-up gala on Saturday night was an authentic dashiki I bought for the Black Panther movie premiere earlier this year. I was all ready to go and texted a friend, who sent me an adamant “NO” in response.

“Why not? It looks nice.” I texted back.

“You’ll look like a hotep-brother,” she said. And that was that.

I grudgingly put on a shirt-and-blazer combo and went to the gala. I was glad I listened because everyone there looked like they just finished the step and repeat at the MTV Africa Awards, all senator suits and geles (head wraps). If I’d worn my dashiki I would’ve looked like a black hipster who just left the campus Kwanzaa celebration.


“You’re the only African American here who could probably pass for Igbo,” laughed Nina Ngobidi, one of the conference directors when she saw me come in the room. That was literally the best validation I could have hoped for of my fashion choices. The next morning, I chatted with more people, asking how they felt about the conference, why they came and what they got out of a weekend of binging on their own culture.

“Y’know, I was so wrapped up in the weekend, I just looked at the news this morning and saw that racist Trump tweet about Don Lemon and LeBron,” said Chimezie Okobi, a lawyer from New York City. “And I was like, it was so nice to just have a few days of being Igbo, being Nigerian, and now we’re going back to being black Americans.”


Prior to my Nigerian weekend, I might’ve taken this statement as shade but in that moment I understood exactly what he meant and I knew how he felt. African Americans, for all of our pride and accomplishments always wrestle with the fact that our country basically hates us, doesn’t want us here, and never really has.

Whatever the issues there are in Nigeria, and there are plenty, everyone at Igbo Umo Unite knows that there is at least one country on planet Earth that loves them, whether they were born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and moved to Prince George’s County, Md., or if they only knew their home country from their parent’s photos. Over a couple of days, I got a glimpse of what that feeling must be like, even if it was all just from the shape of my head.