Social media have been inundated with news reports about those brilliant high school students who gained admission to a boatload of Ivy League schools. That many of them are first-generation black Americans (children whose parents come from countries in Africa or the Caribbean) made headlines, too. Not to mention that “Tiger Mom” Amy Chua put out a list earlier this year singling out the Nigerian culture for its prowess at rearing high-achieving students.
It seems as though something special is happening in African and Caribbean households that is making their children excel. It makes you wonder: What, exactly, are their parents doing to raise such successful children?
A handful of hilarious YouTube videos demonstrate some of the antics used by black immigrant parents to get their kids to take their studies very, very seriously. Parents will also be happy to know that some of these spoofs can moonlight as great history lessons. So be prepared to laugh and learn.
1. Nigerian Dad
This Nigerian father is utterly appalled and disgusted that 1) He had to remind his son to bring his report card to him for review, and 2) his son’s average grade was a—wait for it—90. When his son tries to explain to him that he earned the highest grade in the class, his father immediately rejects that line of thought and encourages his son (in an aggressive but hilarious manner) not to compare himself to others. In many ethnic black households, regardless of how well the student does in school, parents often encourage their kids to focus on the test questions they got wrong so that the next time around, their child will not get any questions wrong. Perfection is the goal.
As punishment, the Nigerian dad tells his son that he will be eating Ghanaian jollof rice for dinner—and this is where the history lesson comes in. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Nigeria was a hot spot in West Africa. The oil economy boomed and a lot of people from neighboring countries like Togo and Ghana came to Lagos to work and fraternize with Nigeria’s working class.
After a while, when Nigeria’s economy slowed down and jobs became few and far between, the country needed to get rid of its excess labor pool—and thus the “Ghana Must Go” movement was born. Ghanaian immigrants had to take whatever belongings they had, stuff them into medium-sized checkered grocery bags and return to their country.
That brief history (Nigerians were expelled from Ghana for similar reasons in the late 1960s) has always been at the heart of the harmless enmity between Nigerians and Ghanaians. That’s why the Nigerian dad teases his son by suggesting that he will eat Ghanaian jollof rice as punishment: He’s taking a dig at a longtime West African rival.
2. Jamaican Dad
It’s parent-teacher night, and this Jamaican father is not pleased with the feedback he’s hearing about his son’s behavior in math and music class.
At one point the father launches into the lecture that nearly every child has heard: the “back in my day” or “when I was your age” rant. But what’s unique about the African and Caribbean version is that it typically involves walking miles and miles to school—barefoot; not having enough resources to learn once you got there (45 kids to a classroom); getting swats across your wrists if you even think about challenging your teacher; and having to do your homework at home with little to no light (or electricity) available.
This spoof also illustrates the code-switching that happens in a matter of seconds in ethnic black households. In one moment, the father is using his heavy patois accent to chastise his son for his pitiful conduct in class, and in less than a millisecond he switches over to use the Queen’s English to converse with the teacher.
Another really important point made that you might have missed (because of all the comedy) is when the father explained to his son that he “worked too hard for you to come through my visa” and not excel in America. I think that pretty much explains the immigrant hustle: Parents don’t allow their children to take for granted the opportunities they’re afforded in America.
3. The Quintessential African Mom
During a parent-teacher conference, this African mother has little to no interest in what her daughter’s art teacher has to say.
“Where are the proper teachers?” she asks annoyingly, referring to the biology and science teachers—subjects that she deems more worthy and critical to her daughter’s success.
And when the biology teacher tells her that her daughter does not have a mind for science but does have one for the arts, the mother becomes peeved again. Their back-and-forth represents some of the arguments under way in education-reform discussions that look at how the arts are marginalized and in many cases eliminated when new initiatives are created to help low-performing students excel. There’s the idea that the new wave of reforms tacks on extra hours for reading, math and science and does away with those subjects that are often deemed subsidiary or recreational, like the arts.
In fact, Kerry Washington and first lady Michelle Obama are a part of an effort to amp up arts programs in low-performing schools, in hopes that children will use the arts as a vehicle to improve their overall performance in school.
Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features expert advice forTV and film’s most complex characters. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.