There Is No American Dream for a Black Man
Growing up in Cameroon, I believed America was the only dream. But the reality is much more complicated.
As a kid, I always knew I’d leave Cameroon to pursue my education. My older cousins had left, and talks about higher education in the country were hopeless. I was the firstborn son, so it only made sense that my parents would go into debt, borrow from “ndjangui houses” (community credit unions), and find a way for me to join my cousins in Germany or the U.S.
The image of my impending escape was so clear that when I turned 17 and finished secondary school, but didn’t leave Cameroon, I had no idea what to do with my life anymore. It crushed me so hard that I almost never took the leap of faith to move to the U.S. again. At 17, I lost all hopes of building a future in my own country — partly because I let my parents’ insistence on college overshadow my own ambitions, but also because I didn’t have a backup plan if my dream of leaving the country failed.
When I moved on to college, the usual adventures followed. I lost my virginity, found friendships, drank myself into a stupor. I broke hearts, and I got my heart broken. Over the next few years, I became who I thought was, on my own terms. I had an identity and some image of what I thought my life meant. Discussions about the meaning of life, our roles as humans, and our place in society aren’t conversational staples in Cameroonian culture. Yet, fed by the largely American content I consumed, I gravitated to introspection — something that molded my perspective then, and even more now as an immigrant.
My worldview was influenced by the books I read, videos, and podcasts. I found mentors in people who showed me a world I couldn’t see around me — a world where learning only required that I made the time to learn. A world where it was okay to be misunderstood. Part of me was aware of how different my world was from these authors and speakers, but I desperately believed in them. I started thinking and walking like them (in my mind, at least), and quoting them every chance I got. There is truth in the power of belief and hustle. But there is also truth in the reality of being born into privilege and not having to deal with the color of your skin (among other…