Stephanie Odiase

Raised in New Jersey and based in New York, Stephanie Odiase is a graduate of Columbia University conducting psychology research at New York University. She focuses on developmental and cultural research in low-income and conflict-afflicted countries.

work Psychology Researcher location_on New York, NY
Immigrant family High School Protest tactics Intersectionality

Stephanie, do you want to tell me a little about yourself to start?

I grew up in New Jersey. I was born in New York but my family moved out to Jersey. And I’m first-generation Nigerian-American. My parents are straight from Nigeria. I have four siblings, including myself, I’m the youngest. I went to boarding school in Jersey for high school, then took a year and went to college at Haverford in Pennsylvania, hated it, transferred to Columbia. Had took a year off in between, and took my other three years at Columbia when I returned from my year off. And I bounced around a tiny bit since graduation, but now I am committing myself to psychology research and focusing on developmental and cultural research in low-income and conflict-afflicted countries.

A lot of the people that I’ve interviewed that are first-generation Americans have talked about their parents viewing African or African-diasporic immigrants as a different subset of Black from Black Americans. Is your family is like that?

Most definitely. And actually, funny enough, I was in line for the Daily Show with Trevor Noah, and I met some other girls, who, funny enough, were also at Columbia, who also went to boarding school, and we were talking about that. I forget how it came up, but I was like, “yeah, I’m Nigerian, I’m not the poster child for Black culture”–and the girl looked at me sideways. Like she was really offended.

And I’m thinking, I’m not saying that I’m not Black. Obviously I’m Black. Look at me, I’m Black….But Black culture and Nigerian culture are two very different things. I’m Nigerian first, and I was raised in a very Nigerian household, so I can’t identify with some of the things that my Black friends did or know in their childhoods.

What was your viewpoint on anti-blackness, before all of this other stuff was blowing up?

I think I’ve always dealt with anti-Blackness on a white people level, like you know—“we’re not about your life.” Implicitly, of course.

On a Nigerian level, people in my culture promote anti-blackness themselves, like, “we’re not like other Black people, you can’t be like akata,” which is a slang dialect term for Black people, which can be used as a derogatory term to mean “worthless people.”

Oh man, that’s rough.

It’s rough. So yeah I went off to boarding school—mind you, I graduated top of my elementary school, ground-breaking test scores, whatever…Then I get there, and then it’s like, “Oh, I don’t know if you’re smart enough,” or, “I don’t know if you’re well-prepared enough to take this class. I don’t know if you’re ready to take this class.”

“I don’t know if you’re ready for me.

And I would always take these classes, and I would do well in them. And then I’m like, “I don’t know if you’re ready for me.” One professor told me, in my freshman year, “I’m not impressed by you.” And I’m like, “I’m not here to impress you, I’m here to get an education.”

When Mike Brown was shot last summer, and then non-indictment of Darren Wilson happened…how did you feel about those incidents when they happened?

It really bothered me deeply, obviously, because it just seemed like a snowball effect. After Trayvon, things kind of quieted down slightly, and then you have these three waves, one after another after another. And I remember around December [2014], they had that Millions March in New York. I was there…And it was such a great rallying outcry for support. But in my head I always wondered, “what is the point of this?” You know, we’re out here, we’re freezing in the cold, we’re walking for hours, for miles, we’re chanting, we’re protesting. And I think that’s useful, very necessary, but how are we gonna roll this up into a bigger plan? How are we gonna actually change legislation, how are we gonna impact policy, how are we gonna change the protocol about how police treat not just Black and of color but people? And I still wonder that.

What do you think of the movement now, then?

I want to be positive about the movement now. I really do. But I feel like the movement isn’t doing certain things well enough.

Before this interview I did some more reading up…in the Washington Post, for example, they literally said “this is about the Black Lives Matter movement” and centered it on three people: one of the women who started the movement, Eric Garner, Mike Brown. And I’m thinking in my head, “no, no, no, three women started this, before that even happened.”

When you read [the manifesto of the three women who founded Black Lives Matter], they’re saying “all Black lives matter.” But we’re only hearing about Black men. Which is an important place to start. Because if we’re really looking at it, Black men are being decimated in a far higher proportion than Black kids, Black women, etc. etc. But it’s more than that. And I feel like they’re not doing a good enough job supporting the Black women who are being killed.

These women started this movement for all Black lives. There’s a lot more to the community than cisgender Black men.

Sandra Bland obviously got a lot of play, but what about Aiyana Jones, Rekia Boyd, why aren’t they getting the same airtime? And what about trans people? They’re getting chopped down. I feel like every week it’s another trans woman in Philly, D.C., getting killed. And no one’s really doing anything about it. I get it, you have to solidify around one topic and branch out, but it’s becoming a little problematic in the sense that these women started this movement for a different reason than where it’s going now. And I feel like we’re very quick to forget that these women started this movement for all Black lives…There’s a lot more to the community than cisgender Black men.

What do you think of the tactics of the movement right now? They’re a good way to open up dialogue, they’re a good way to start the conversation—but that’s not the end-all, be-all, Hail Mary. That’s not gonna save the day, it’s not gonna fix anything. If you think about this as a movement—it’s now a movement, not a moment—it’s still in its business startup phase, but soon we have to shift out of that and make bigger moves. People internationally know about the Black Lives Matter movement. We have to do more. And I don’t feel like we can do more until it’s addressed on a national political level. I feel like that’s the next step…

I think it’s gonna come from the Democrats. The Democrats have always been the party of the underdog, of the minority, of the women, of the non-rich-old-white-man. And I think they’re failing us. They’re blatantly and completely failing us.

At the Democratic [presidential] debate, the question came up. And it wasn’t even [from the moderator], it was a kid asking this question about Black Lives Matter…The same way they steamrolled Planned Parenthood, they steamrolled the Black Lives Matter question. And that would’ve been the one moment for either Bernie or Hillary–especially Bernie–to really address it on the head. It was referred to once, peripherally, and that was it. And I was so pissed off by that. You can’t say that you really wanna support these communities, and not talk about it…

You know that they’re doing a forum, right?

Yes, I do. I have feelings about that…It’s a consolation prize…these little town hall forums aren’t gonna do shit. Because they’re not held to the same regulations, the same rigor, as the actual nationally aired debates. So whatever these candidates say or don’t say, they’re not held to the same accountability. And that, to me, is a problem. We have an issue of national importance not given national airtime…That just cheapens the value of Black lives to me, it says to the world that this movement is not important enough to be discussed on a legitimate political platform…and they’re gonna use these silly town halls as an excuse to not bring it up at all in any kind of subsequent debate.