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Do Your Eyes Deceive You When You See Skin Color?

Loic Youth
Loic Youth

When I landed in the USA in 2011, I was Loic Youth, this skinny, five-foot, seven-inch, 16-year-old Cameroonian, getting ready to take on college at tiny Manchester University in Indiana. Like most Africans, I came armed with my thick accent along with my default buzz cut.

Today, I am Loic Youth, still thin but no longer a boy, now American educated and acculturated, with dreadlocks that flow past my shoulders and with pierced ears, (both of which my mum hates). I have worked on that thick accent of mine, but six years later, I am getting ready to return home as my visa will run out.

I did not grow dreadlocks to look African-American. I decided to grow out my locks to create my own look.Having spent all my years under my mum’s roof and abided by her rules by keeping clean cut, my change of hairstyle meant a change of personality.This was me growing into my own person and making my own independent choices.

Those choices revealed that I belong to more than one place, more than one culture, as both student and teacher.

When I first got here and spoke, people automatically knew I was international. Where was I from? When I said Cameroon, most people had no idea where that was. It was an opportunity to teach a mini geography lesson.

How did I get to the States? How did I learn English? Did I live in huts before I got here? The most striking question was whether I witnessed the birth of the Lion King.

As crazy as that sounds, those were real questions. Many Americans I spoke with of various backgrounds generalize Africa as an uncivilized country, rather than a continent, and the popular culture's portrayal of Africa is all most had been exposed to.

So while it was never my intention to blend in, but create a new persona and make my life easier, I am now automatically taken for a black American, even among fellow Cameroonians, other Africans and Americans as well.

Most people assume I’m just a regular guy from Indiana, Maryland or, now D.C. The difference comes when I tell them I'm actually not from America. All of a sudden people get interested because I don’t speak like an African, and I certainly don’t act like an African. Occasionally, for those who have a hint of French, they get curious about my first name, pronounced Low-EEK.

In my college town of 6,000 residents, Manchester, Indiana, there were not many blacks around. So everywhere I went with other African-Americans, and certainly with internationals, we stood out.I remember my first weekend, going to the Dairy Queen to grab some food with a couple of friends: two from Palestine, one from Colombia, and one Bulgarian.

The moment we walked in, it got very quiet, and I could feel the eyes looking our way. That wasn't unusual, and I quickly got used to it. The one time I really felt my skin color stood out was the day before my graduation when my neighbors yelled at my friends and I to get our Negro president and leave the country. They certainly had a drink too many, and so had we. Things got a little heated, but that was the first time I felt any sort of racial tension.

Once I moved to more diverse cities, it was pretty regular. I would go out to clubs or bars, and when making eye contact with people black or white, we’d just nod and go about our business.

But when I get to talking to African-Americans and tell them I am fully African, their reactions are always hilarious. I get the "No way, that’s crazy!" reaction more often than not. They want to know what Africa is like, and how it differs from the USA. It’s actually funny because they are fascinated by Africa when I tell them about how civilized we are, and how we speak English and many more languages.

They usually laugh at themselves for only speaking English and never having left the country.

I don’t have to repeat myself as often, and I am able to blend in more easily than when I first arrived, which makes people feel more comfortable and curious about this Africa we speak of.It certainly quells stereotypes they have of my continent.

The best example I can offer is my friend Mo, who was friends first with my sister, Susie, who was two years ahead of me at Manchester. (Susie speaks English with a Cameroonian accent.) When he found out she was my sister, he was like, "You from Africa, bro?" I said yep. And out poured the questions.

He was baffled how Africans are healthy and not starving, and how we can speak proper English. I showed him pictures of back home with tall buildings, flashing lights and the beautiful women. He says he wants to come check it out.

Aside from that, I won’t say I have been treated very differently! I get the occasional lady quickly walking across the street at night when she sees me walking on the same street, but I guess safety first, right?

Stereotypes and assumptions are hard to put aside, no matter who you are, American, African, or any combination of them both.I am proud to have informed so many minds.

What do you think about stereotypes? Please share your suggestion in the comments here, and visit us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, thanks!

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Tips for first-year international students in the US

FILE- In this March 14, 2019, file photo, people walk on the Stanford University campus beneath Hoover Tower in Stanford, Calif.
FILE- In this March 14, 2019, file photo, people walk on the Stanford University campus beneath Hoover Tower in Stanford, Calif.

Book your flights right away, get a U.S. phone plan, make sure you have linens for your dorm and attend orientation – that’s some of the advice international students have for first-year college students coming from abroad.

U.S. News & World Report compiled helpful tips for students studying in the United States for the first time. (July 2024)

Survey: Social integration, career prep are important to international students

FILE - FILE - In this March 14, 2019, file photo students walk on the Stanford University campus in Santa Clara, Calif.
FILE - FILE - In this March 14, 2019, file photo students walk on the Stanford University campus in Santa Clara, Calif.

A recent survey of international students in the United States found that before starting school, they were concerned about personal safety, making friends and feeling homesick.

Inside Higher Ed reports that international students want specialized orientations, peer connections, career preparation and job placement to help make their college experiences successful. (July 2024)

US advisory council ends Nigeria visit, signs student exchange deal

Deniece Laurent-Mantey is the executive director of U.S President's Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement.
Deniece Laurent-Mantey is the executive director of U.S President's Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement.

Members of a U.S. presidential advisory council have approved a student exchange deal between an American college and a Nigerian university as part of the council's effort to strengthen collaboration on education, health, entrepreneurship and development between Africa and Africans living abroad.

The council also visited a health facility supported by the United States Agency for International Development in the capital.

Nigerian authorities and visitors chatted with members of the U.S President's Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement as they toured a healthcare facility in Karu, a suburb of Abuja, on the last day of the council's three-day visit to Abuja and Lagos.

The facility is one of many supported by the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, to improve the management of childhood illnesses, family planning, immunization and delivery.

The tour was part of the council's effort to promote African diaspora-led investments in technology entrepreneurship, education and healthcare delivery.

"They're doing a phenomenal job there, it really gave us a sense of what the healthcare system is in Nigeria," said Deniece Laurent-Mantey, executive director of the advisory council. "This is our first trip as a council to the continent and we chose Nigeria for a reason — the diaspora in Nigeria is very active, very influential, and they're really a source of strength when it comes to our U.S.-Africa policy. And so for us coming to Nigeria was very intentional."

The council was created by President Joe Biden in September to improve collaboration between Africa and its diaspora in terms of economic and social development.

Akila Udoji, manager of the Primary Healthcare Centre of Karu, said officials in Nigeria were pleased that the council members were able to visit.

"We're happy that they have seen what the money they have given to us to work with has been used to do, because they have been able to assist us in capacity-building, trainings, equipment supply and the makeover of the facility," Udoji said.

Earlier, the council signed a deal for a student exchange program between Spelman College in the southern U.S. city of Atlanta and Nigeria's University of Lagos.

Laurent-Mantey said education exchanges are one of the council's top priorities.

"In Lagos, we had the president of Spelman College — she's also a member of our council — she signed an agreement with the University of Lagos to further education exchange programs in STEM and creative industries between those two universities," Laurent-Mantey said. "And I think for us it's very important, because Spelman College is a historically Black university, and so here we are promoting the importance of collaboration between African Americans and Africans."

In March, the advisory council adopted its first set of recommendations for the U.S. president, including the student exchange initiative, advocating for more U.S. government support for Africa, climate-focused initiatives, and improving U.S. visa access for Africans.

The council met with Nigerian health and foreign affairs officials during the visit before leaving the country on Wednesday.

American Academy of the Arts College announces closure

FILE - Signs and writing denouncing the closure of the University of the Arts are seen at Dorrance Hamilton Hall on June 14, 2024, in Philadelphia. More recently, the American Academy of the Arts College in Chicago announced it would close.
FILE - Signs and writing denouncing the closure of the University of the Arts are seen at Dorrance Hamilton Hall on June 14, 2024, in Philadelphia. More recently, the American Academy of the Arts College in Chicago announced it would close.

The American Academy of Art College in Chicago announced it would be closing after 101 years of preparing students for careers in art and illustration.

WTTW news reported that like other art colleges, the academy saw enrollment drop after the pandemic, and officials made the decision to close the college last month. (July 2024)

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5 killed, dozens injured in clashes over Bangladesh jobs quota system

Protesters of Bangladesh's quota system for government jobs clash with students who back the ruling Awami League party in Dhaka on July 16, 2024.
Protesters of Bangladesh's quota system for government jobs clash with students who back the ruling Awami League party in Dhaka on July 16, 2024.

At least 5 people were killed and dozens injured in two separate incidents in Bangladesh as violence continued Tuesday on university campuses in the nation's capital and elsewhere over a government jobs quota system, local media reports said quoting officials.

At least three of the dead were students and one was a pedestrian, the media reports said. Another man who died in Dhaka remained unidentified.

The deaths were reported Tuesday after overnight violence at a public university near Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka. The violence involved members of a pro-government student body and other students, when police fired tear gas and charged the protesters with batons during the clashes, which spread at Jahangir Nagar University in Savar, outside Dhaka, according to students and authorities.

Protesters have been demanding an end to a quota reserved for family members of veterans who fought in Bangladesh's war of independence in 1971, which allows them to take up 30% of governmental jobs.

They argue that quota appointments are discriminatory and should be merit-based. Some said the current system benefits groups supporting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Some Cabinet ministers criticized the protesters, saying they played on students' emotions.

The Bengali-language Prothom Alo daily newspaper reported that one person died in Dhaka and three others, including a pedestrian, were killed after they suffered injuries during violence in Chattogram, a southeastern district, on Tuesday.

Prothom Alo and other media reports also said that a 22-year-old protester died in the northern district of Rangpur.

Details of the casualties could not be confirmed immediately.

Students clash over the quota system for government jobs in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on July 16, 2024.
Students clash over the quota system for government jobs in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on July 16, 2024.

While job opportunities have expanded in Bangladesh's private sector, many find government jobs stable and lucrative. Each year, some 3,000 such jobs open up to nearly 400,000 graduates.

Hasina said Tuesday that war veterans — commonly known as "freedom fighters" — should receive the highest respect for their sacrifice in 1971 regardless of their current political ideologies.

"Abandoning the dream of their own life, leaving behind their families, parents and everything, they joined the war with whatever they had," she said during an event at her office in Dhaka.

Protesters gathered in front of the university's official residence of the vice chancellor early Tuesday when violence broke out. Demonstrators accused the Bangladesh Chhatra League, a student wing of Hasina's ruling Awami League party, of attacking their "peaceful protests." According to local media reports, police and the ruling party-backed student wing attacked the protesters.

But Abdullahil Kafi, a senior police official, told the country's leading English-language newspaper Daily Star that they fired tear gas and "blank rounds" as protesters attacked the police. He said up to 15 police officers were injured.

More than 50 people were treated at Enam Medical College Hospital near Jahangir Nagar University as the violence continued for hours, said Ali Bin Solaiman, a medical officer of the hospital. He said at least 30 of them suffered pellet wounds.

On Monday, violence also spread at Dhaka University, the country's leading public university, as clashes gripped the campus in the capital. More than 100 students were injured in the clashes, police said.

On Tuesday, protesters blocked railways and some highways across the country, and in Dhaka, they halted traffic in many areas as they vowed to continue demonstrating until the demands were met.

Local media said police forces were spread across the capital to safeguard the peace.

Swapon, a protester and student at Dhaka University who gave only his first name, said they want the "rational reformation of the quota scheme." He said that after studying for six years, if he can't find a job, "it will cause me and my family to suffer."

Protesters say they are apolitical, but leaders of the ruling parties accused the opposition of using the demonstrations for political gains.

A ruling party-backed student activist, who refused to give his name, told The Associated Press that the protesters with the help of "goons" of the opposition's Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami party vandalized their rooms at the student dormitories near the Curzon Hall of Dhaka University.

The family-of-the-veterans quota system was halted following a court order after mass student protests in 2018. But last month, Bangladesh's High Court nulled the decision to reinstate the system once more, angering scores of students and triggering protests.

Last week, the Supreme Court suspended the High Court's order for four weeks and the chief justice asked protesting students to return to their classes, saying the court would issue a decision in four weeks.

However, the protests have continued daily, halting traffic in Dhaka.

The quota system also reserves government jobs for women, disabled people and ethnic minority groups, but students have protested against only the veterans system.

Hasina maintained power in an election in January that was again boycotted by the country's main opposition party and its allies due to Hasina's refusal to step down and hand over power to a caretaker government to oversee the election.

Her party favors keeping the quota for the families of the 1971 war heroes after her Awami League party, under the leadership of her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, led the independence war with the help of India. Rahman was assassinated along with most of his family members in a military coup in 1975.

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