Diamond McGee Shares Her Experience as a Young Liberian
My name is Njeri Mungara. As a member of the racial justice committee, I was delighted to get a chance to interview Diamond McGee and learn more about her experience growing up in Muscatine. As a black woman who grew up in Muscatine, we had a lot of similar experiences and were able to make many connections. When I say “our” or “we” in this piece I mean the Muscatine community. I hope you enjoy reading about her experience as much as I did interviewing her and hope that the community can continue to celebrate more of our Liberian citizens and other immigrants alike.
Diamond McGee arrived in the United States when she was four years old. Thanks to her aunt, her family has been able to call Muscatine their home. Diamond received her citizenship while attending McKinley Elementary School. She is 21 years old now. The McGee family has witnessed the community, and themselves grow and change over the years they have spent here.
But this was not always an easy experience. Kids are usually able to mingle with each other regardless of factors such as race, religion, nationality, etc. Diamond noticed that as kids got older those factors start to affect the way those of us who don’t fit the “status quo” socialize. Our differences, for better or for worse, become noticeable and affect our lives.
“In elementary school I noticed that I had a different culture than everyone else so I judged myself on that.” Diamond said.
As a young girl, Diamond quickly took notice of not only real life differences in culture through events such as visiting her friend’s houses, but also through media portrayed in movies, TV shows, and other forms of pop culture, such as children’s programs and movies featuring mostly white American families.
“You see what the standard is and you realize you’re not doing that and you kind of feel like the odd one out,” said Diamond.
As children of color become more aware of these differences, so can their classmates.
“Middle School was kind of hard for me. I guess in elementary school, speaking in terms of race, I realized I was different,” Diamond shared. “By middle school I was kind of just seeing those differences even more.”
For many people of color in predominantly white areas, it can seem fruitless to truly try and fit in. It seems like no matter what we do we will never feel completely accepted. But online communities create spaces for people to find those that they can relate to on a level that can, in fact, go as deep as race. By high school, Diamond felt supported by some of these online communities.
“I felt like there were more pros to being African,” Diamond said. “People wear wigs and do their hair and it felt like I got to see black empowerment online for the first time.”
The internet created space for Diamond to feel seen. It was a space for her to see other black people thriving in a way that isn’t always possible in a predominately white town.
“There’s so much… culture!” Diamond says of the black community. “It’s hard to describe but there’s so much to live up to. But, then there’s so much you have to think about to not be a stereotype.” Diamond says.
She recalls her and a friend who would turn down their rap music in public because they knew of the prejudice some people have.
“Even something like wearing cornrows - you continuously and always have to think about how you’re perceived through every stage of your life,” Diamond said.
While growing up in a predominantly white town came with hardships, Diamond was able to find spaces to thrive. She tells of a time in elementary school when she brought plantains, a banana-like fruit used for cooking, that her mom made to class, and many of her classmates enjoyed them.
She especially enjoyed the Minecraft class that West Middle School had to offer, giving her an opportunity to discover a game she could play for years to come. In high school, Diamond found new outlets to spend her time in.
“My friends and I started a K-Pop club in high school,” Diamond mentions.
The club, where students choreograph dances to K-Pop music, is still ongoing at Muscatine High School. She also participated in choir and show choir at MHS.
Diamond appreciates and has a great love for black culture as a whole.
“We do so many amazing things even with every trial and tribulation,” she shares.
Diamond knows that some people may see black hairstyles as unprofessional. It means everything to young, black women to see positive representation of hairstyles in the media.
“You see somebody on People magazine rocking it!” Diamond said “We take those things and we make it so amazing, the culture is beautiful and I really love that.”
Diamond last visited Liberia in 2015 and stayed for 5 or 6 months. Her family, originally from the Ivory Coast, had arrived in Muscatine in 2004 as refugees. Diamond has clear memories of her first time going back to Liberia when she was around 16.
“It was crazy, it was a total culture shock… Everyone was so nice. You can drive for miles and never see the same thing twice,” she contrasted our midwest landscape. With the details of Liberia fresh in her mind, Diamond set to return again in early 2021.
The Muscatine community has been a source of comfort for Diamond and her family.
“A lot of the teachers helped us, whenever we needed something, we got a lot of help,” said Diamond.
She had many friends that would treat her with constant kindness and respect, making her feel welcome here regardless of the cultural differences they may have faced. She also appreciates the overall patience and understanding that her and her family has been shown by community members.
At her core, Diamond now knows that wherever she is is where she belongs.
“Every kid has to figure out how they do things and who they are but I feel like I had to figure out how I was different first… even though I did different things I was still basically the same as the other kids... “ Diamond said. “You’re different but you don’t understand until a certain age that it’s beautiful.”