Boyah J. Farah on how America made him a Black man

A book cover and a picture of the author.
Somali-born and America-raised Boyah J. Farah loves his adopted country. But in his new memoir, he says he didn’t fully understand what it was to be a Black man until he became an American.
Photo by Ayub Abdikarim Ali | Cover courtesy of Harper Collins Publishing

Boyah J. Farah spent his earliest years in Somalia, surrounded by family and feeling free. War shattered that idyllic state, and forced his mother to walk her children to safety at a refugee camp in Kenya and eventually, to a new life in a suburb outside of Boston.

It was traumatic, but Farah was grateful for the respite. Since a young boy, he had been infatuated with America, and now he was here, where the grass seemed to be miraculously short without the intervention of goats, and the houses were equipped with both cold and hot water. His family assimilated. He didn’t think much about his skin color. As an immigrant and English-language learner, he already knew he was different.

He experienced freedom again once he started to drive. But that transition also revealed America’s racist underbelly. In his new, poetic memoir, "America Made Me a Black Man,” Farah recounts his frustration at learning that in America, Black people are never really free.

On this week’s Big Books and Bold Ideas, Farah joined MPR News host Kerri Miller to share stories about his nomadic journey, why he continues to both adore and be vexed by America, and how his mother’s belief in the power of words shaped his life.

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