Yvonne Orji, the Nigerian-American actress best known for her role as Molly on Issa Rae’s hit HBO series “Insecure,” was unafraid to use her voice during Afropunk Presents Carnival of Consciousness 2017 Atlanta Edition. As a featured guest for the Freedom on Tap segment of The Solution Sessions with former MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry and labor scholar/MSNBC contributor Dorian Warren on October 15, Orji held her own, enlightening and educating many of those in attendance.
In addition to both hosts touching on “Insecure,” Orji’s Christian beliefs and her commitment to remaining a virgin until marriage, Warren specifically asked Orji to weigh in on the contention surrounding immigration in Trump’s America and how African immigrants factor into the discussion.
“I don’t understand the language that people have when it comes to [immigration],” she shared. “My mother was a nurse for 30 years at Howard University … and she worked hard. She put all of us through college, she and my dad. She was a bedside nurse. She has had two knee surgeries, and she was doing everything she could because this was the dream: ‘I’m going to bring my kids here. They’re going to get the best education.’”
Orji, at Warren’s prompting, tackled the often overlooked presence of black immigrants in the United States. “When you hear immigrant, you think someone from an Arab-like nation, you think Mexican,” she said in front of the intimate crowd.
“We have Haitian immigrants. We have [other] Caribbean immigrants. You have African immigrants, but we have a few [people] who think this immigration issue is just like ‘build a wall,’ ‘Mexico,’ or it’s at the airport,” she said.
“And it’s just, like, what are you talking about?” she continued. “Immigrants have contributed to the fabric of this nation forever. The last two kids that have gotten into all eight Ivy League schools are children of Nigeria, if I do say so myself. And one year somebody from Ghana, but we don’t know where that comes from. No shade but all shade,” she joked.
Orji expressed that she didn’t buy “the narrative that we’re not contributing.” And that’s because of her own personal experiences. “I, for one, I’m not a fan of the negative talk of immigrants, because I’m an immigrant and I know what my family did,” shared the Nigerian-born Orji, who was raised in Maryland. “We did our best to be law-abiding citizens. We did our best to be hard-working people.”
Like Orji’s family, more and more African immigrants are finding their way to the United States. According to the Pew Research Center, 2.1 million African immigrants lived in the U.S. in 2015. Those numbers represent 4.8 percent of the total U.S. immigrant population and mark a substantial increase from the 881,000 recorded in 2000. In 1970, Africans were just 0.8 percent of the U.S. immigration population.
Orji, who lives in Los Angeles, spent a few months in Atlanta filming her first movie, “Night School,” starring Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish. The Universal film is slated for a September 28, 2018, release. “Insecure” has been renewed for a third season, but HBO has not announced a release date yet. Also Orji, according to the L.A. Times, is developing the comedy series, “First Gen,” based on her personal experience as a Nigerian immigrant foregoing a medical career to pursue comedy in the U.S.
Afropunk actually ends its 2017 in Africa, in South Africa. Featured artists for Afropunk Joburg, taking place December 30 and 31, include Solange and Anderson.Paak. South African artists Spoek Mathambo and Nonku Phiri are also on the bill.