Finding a Taste of Home in Small Things

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img_5438No matter how long, how many years or decades you live in a foreign country, as an immigrant, chances are you’ll always miss home. You’ll always miss certain things about home: the music, the people, the languages (yes including the ones you don’t understand), the regional accents that make you smile the minute you hear them, the food, the clothing, the hair styles, the familiarity.

It was a culture shock when I first moved to the United States, but then came Arizona. Who would have thought my home away from home would be a desert. A relatively diverse desert. Arizona actually has a pretty big African community. At least the Phoenix metro does. I went to a church full of Nigerians. There were also ethnic food stores around, so even though I still missed home, there were hints of it here and there. I knew I could go to church every Sunday and see and hear that familiarity. I knew a friend or a friend of a friend would throw a party where we’d all be reminded to be on time (meaning no African time- I’ll explain this in a later post) and YET we’d all still show up late. I knew the party would have jollof rice with goat meat or fried rice. Puff puff. Buns. Meat Pie. Yum. I knew we would all get down and dance to African music (By the way I’m so happy P-Square is back together. )

Then I graduated from ASU and moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The cold wasn’t the only thing that surprised me. The unfamiliarity did. I had to drive an hour and a half to get to the nearest African grocery store and they sometimes didn’t have what I wanted. Then I moved to Missouri. Things got better (the nearest African grocery store is about 20 minutes away and the owner is Nigerian.) I still miss having an authentic African community around, people who understand my quirks and jokes, people who shout out and break into a dance when Tekno comes on. People who eat pounded yam or eba with their hands and love drinking Vitamalt at every social gathering. I mean EVERY. Bottom line, it’s the small things, which brings me to this past weekend. I went out for dinner while on vacation in Nashville. We decided to take an uber back to our place. When I got in the back seat of the car, I noticed a Ghanian flag hanging on the driver’s rearview mirror. He greeted us with a Ghanian accent. (Cue angels singing!)

The ride back to our place was about 15 minutes but it was more than enough time to get to know him. He had moved from New York to Tennessee for work. He works in the army (big thank you to him for his service) and would like to be a ranger. He moonlights as an uber driver because he wants to properly use his free time. He speaks six languages. (I’m jealous). Like me, he has a big family. Six siblings. I’ve got five. His father is Ghanian and his mother Nigerian. (Yay for intercultural marriages). He’s proud to serve in the U.S military even though this isn’t his birth country. He’s prouder still to be an immigrant. Proof in the fact that even though he has lived in the U.S longer than I have, his Ghanian accent is still as sweet as ever. Every word from his mouth oozed with African pride.

We both laughed at the fact that whenever many Americans hear we have relatives in Nigeria they immediately assume those relatives are in dire straits. “Are they in danger?” “I hear Boko Haram has taken over the country.” (Side note, they have not. Having said that, asking that question is like asking if all of Missouri was destroyed when chaos erupted in Ferguson). We laughed about “419”. It’s what we Africans call the email scam in Nigeria. You know, those emails where some so called Nigerian Prince asks for $100 in exchange for $1,000. Why are people still falling for it? Finally we talked about what most African children and their mothers often talk about: the fact that he’s still single and his mother won’t stop pressuring him to get married. (I immediately pictured an African woman in her buba and wrapper saying in a thick Nigerian accent, “when are you going to get married and give me grand babies? I’m not getting any younger you know.”) That was our last topic before he dropped us off.

Our conversation was more than enough to make my night. More than enough to make me smile from cheek to cheek. For a few minutes, I was home talking to someone who sounded like me. Someone whose jokes I didn’t need to work hard to understand. Someone who made me feel completely and totally at ease because we share something. We are foreigners. Immigrants. It was a reminder that not only is home where the heart is, but that a little familiarity, in any situation, goes a long way.

Black Women and Hair Shaming

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afro3A Facebook friend once wrote a post centered on black women and their hair choices. Why can’t they wear it natural? Why wear weaves? They have no edges (can I just say I have no idea what that means, I think I have an inkling but I’m still uncertain). They look ghetto with blonde weaves, or it gives them bald spots etc. Basically it was a post meant to encourage black women to simply enjoy and show off their natural hair, but it ended up being condescending.

It seems so many people have something to say about how black women wear their hair. It comes from all directions. Both men and women. Some women with natural hair believe that because they spot an Afro or a natural hairstyle, they are therefore proud of their roots (pun intended). They also can’t be accused of trying to assimilate to white standards of beauty. It means they aren’t sellouts. These women look down on other black women who wear weaves or relax their hair. It’s like they turned into the spokespeople for natural hair and black pride the minute they began spotting a fro. Really?

I should point out that this isn’t an American or black issue. It’s prevalent in Africa too. I once watched a Nigerian music video about African pride. The artists were talented, the song was amazing, yet numerous comments about the video were centered on the female singers and the way they chose to wear their hair. One person asked how they could sing about African pride yet wear straight hair extensions. That’s what some people took out of the video. Again, really?

Here’s my question. What’s it to you? Hair is not a cultural statement. Hair is just that, hair. The one thing many of my white American friends always marvel about is the versatility of the afro hair. You can do whatever you want with it. You can wear it natural, relaxed, natural and straightened, in box braids, crochet braids, twist outs, weaves and extensions, headwraps, dreds, faux locs, the list goes on, literally. Choosing to wear weaves, extensions or relaxing your hair doesn’t make you any less proud of your heritage, your self worth, or your background, just like wearing your hair in its natural state doesn’t automatically mean you’re oozing with black pride.

wrapHair shouldn’t be a dividing factor among women or people of African descent. So can we please stop with the nonsense? Stop with the shaming! Stop the noise. Do what works for you and your budget. Do what makes you look good, what you’re feeling that day. It’s all about you and your style. Anyone who feels the need to comment how much they hate or can’t stand another person’s hair should cough up the money for the necessary changes. If you can’t do that, stay out of it. It’s really that simple.

somaliThere are lots of black people with naturally long flowing hair. Just ask East African women. Their choosing to straighten that long hair doesn’t make them sellouts. There are lots of women who wear weaves as a way to protect their natural hair, and women who chemically straighten/relax their natural hair. It’s all a choice. Their choices don’t make them victims of colonization or western beauty ideals. Do we accuse white women who complain about their natural curls and undergo expensive treatments to acquire straight hair sellouts? Do we accuse them of hating their culture and having a low sense of self worth? I don’t think so.

If you really want to be revolutionary, if you want to showcase your pride for your roots and background, learn to speak an African language, speak out and stand up for issues that affect people of color and above all, STUDY. It’s the best way to build knowledge about your African or black heritage, and knowledge is everything. Shaming women who choose to wear their hair a certain way doesn’t help achieve any of these goals.

I’m sharing this Facebook screen shot from Tonya Jones. She beautifully sums up this issue a post years ago. Bottom line, do what works for because how you choose to wear your hair is not and should never be a cultural statement.

Capturea

Worth the read: Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala

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Anyone who knows me, knows I love books. They are tireless storytellers. Always available, ready and eager to tell you a new tale. One that promises to take you to another world. Worlds that are sometimes pleasant, uplifting and full of great lessons. Other times, you get a tale of unhappy worlds. Ones that are daunting, full of pain and despair. Or you get a world that just doesn’t fit into a category. A haunting yet soothing nightmare. Depressing yet exhilarating. A world foul and worthy of condemnation, yet there’s a tiny air of hope. That’s the world Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala takes the reader into.

It’s set in an unknown West African country and follows a child soldier named Agu. Because it’s written in first person POV, you’re fully immersed in Agu’s painful journey. It’s easy to understand him even though the novel is written in broken English or as we West Africans call it, Pidgin English. You see Agu go from being an innocent little boy to a “man.” A “man” who butchers, kills and rapes the unknowing victims in his path. He too is a victim to The Commandant, a brutal, predatory father figure whom he loathes but sometimes admires. He bemoans the idea that he is no longer a little innocent boy. That his bloody experiences have washed it away. He wonders about God, the God he grew up believing in. The God who seems to have turned a blind eye to not just his suffering but the agony he inflicts on many men, women, and children throughout the villages he travels through. He questions whether God will ever forgive him. He wishes to stop fighting, to stop killing, but laments the fact that in his present world, the only time the killing stops is when you die. He doesn’t want to die.

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One of my favorite lines in the book is when Agu questions how the sun can continue to shine so brightly amidst the chaos. “If I am sun,” he says, “I will be finding another place to be shining where people are not using my light to be doing terrible terrible thing.” This is just one of his many harrowing thoughts.

Ultimately, I think the novel explores what it means to be human. What drives our humanness. What it is that makes us do the horrible things we do to our fellow humans. How we process those appalling deeds and why we continue on even when we know it’s wrong. Even when it pains us to do them. How we ourselves cope with suffering, hopelessness, the unending smell and presence of death around us. It’s about the death of innocence but also about its tenacious grip. Finally, it’s about hope, albeit small. Hope of someday prevailing from the arduous situations around us. As I turned each and every page, I couldn’t help but to pray and anticipate when Agu would finally be free. Free from having to kill or the fear of being killed.

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Idris Elba and Abraham Attah in Beasts of No Nation film adaptation

I know some have seen the Netflix film adaptation. I haven’t, but now that I’ve read the book, I will. I highly recommend you read it too. Besides, movies are seldom as great as the novels from which they are derived. So go ahead. Buy, checkout, and read Beasts of No Nation. It’s only 142 pages long so it’s doable in just a few hours. Happy reading…although happy isn’t the best word to describe this book!

 

 

Skin Color Doesn’t Define Beauty

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tumblr_inline_nsr7alzY051rdvlce_540It was at the cosmetic store. That’s when I heard it again. The never-ending belief that a lighter skin tone defines beauty. That people, from Africans to Black Americans, South Americans, and Asians, are more beautiful if or when their skin is pale or fair or light. The very pregnant black woman doing my make-up started by saying I had great skin, no visible pores. I thanked her. Then she said it. “You’re so lucky you’re light skinned. This lipstick, a lot of colors will look amazing on you…I hope my daughter comes out light. Light skinned people are beautiful.” Mind you, my skin tone is more milk chocolate than light. How sad…for the unborn child. She’s already under so much pressure to look a certain way. How sad…that her mother may not see her true beauty if she doesn’t come out with caramel skin. Maybe I should have said something but sometimes, in certain moments, there’s simply nothing to say. Besides, I chose to assume she was just trying to sell me some make-up.

For the longest time in Nigeria, commercials, movies, music videos, always featured light skinned women. Things are very different now, but there’s still this belief that a “fair complexion” -that’s what we call it- is more beautiful. Hence, why the skin bleaching industry continues to boom. Women are flocking to skincare stores, buying lotions that promise to lighten their skin, to make them more attractive. The irony is they are really not “caring for their skin,” they are destroying it. Literally.

Nigerian/Cameroonian Singer Dencia

Nigerian/Cameroonian Singer Dencia

This mindset is not just in Nigeria, it’s in Africa, it’s in the United States. It’s all over the world. Heck, I learned about the the brown paper bag test in the U.S. Basically, if your skin tone didn’t match that of a brown paper bag, you weren’t allowed to join certain social organizations, fraternities and sororities. It sounds silly but the practice still exists among teenagers, even some adults. It’s a determinant of how cool, good-looking or acceptable a person is. It determines whether a person is dateable. It’s a big part of Hollywood. Especially when it comes to women of color. It’s called COLORISM and Emmy winning actress Viola Davis sums it up pretty well.

That’s the whole racial aspect of colorism: If you are darker than a paper bag, then you are not sexy, you are not a woman, you shouldn’t be in the realm of anything that men should desire.

Which explains why some magazines deliberately lighten the skin tone of naturally darker skinned celebrities. Again, the problem is worldwide. It’s why this commercial from India implies that finding true love, getting married, is possible if you have “white beauty.” The woman’s boyfriend leaves her for someone else because she doesn’t have a fair complexion. The message? “Don’t want to lose your man? Lighten your skin!”

igp0260brownThe problem or the cause may be due to years and years of colonization. The mindset that anything European or foreign is better. It’s due to years and years of slavery. Where slave-owners gave preferential treatment to slaves with fairer or lighter complexion, while slaves with darker complexion worked outside. Nevermind that sometimes part of the reason for this was because those light skinned slaves were family members – children of slave masters and their female slaves. Ultimately, the idea that fair skin is aesthetically more beautiful, more appreciated than dark skin was born. The problem could also be due to class issues in various Asian countries. Way before the influence of colonialism. Where the ruling class stayed indoors all day while the peasants toiled outdoors in the sun. Their skin darkening as a result. So light skin was associated with the elite and dark skin with peasants.

Kenyan Actress Lupita Nyongo once beautifully summed up her struggles with having dark skin.

Lupita Nyong'o

Lupita Nyong’o

I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin. I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned…My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome…Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far away gatekeepers of beauty, but around me the preference for light skin prevailed. To the beholders that I thought mattered, I was still unbeautiful. And my mother again would say to me, “You can’t eat beauty. It doesn’t feed you.” And these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be.

Nigerian Actress Genevieve Nnaji

Nigerian Actress Genevieve Nnaji

Truth is there are no gatekeepers to beauty and beauty has no shade. It doesn’t matter what that commercial on the T.V screen says. It doesn’t matter what society says because as we all know, the “ways” of society are fleeting. What’s considered beautiful or “in” today may be ugly or “out” tomorrow. True beauty isn’t fleeting because it transcends the physical. Beauty is confidence. Confidence in your own skin. Be it dark or light. Confidence in who you are, exactly the way God created you. Beauty is kindness, compassion, humility, love. It’s respect for your fellow human being. It’s heart-deep. Maybe realizing this will stop people from paying billions to lighten and destroy their own skin. Then women, like that pregnant woman at the cosmetic store, will long for their daughters to be kind and confident instead of “light-skinned.”

Cecil the Lion: Why does this Matter?

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This is my first blog post of 2015…I’m clearly slacking! My mantra moving forward is Must – blog – more. Must – blog – more. So here goes!

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Dr. Walter Palmer

By now I’m sure you’ve heard of Cecil the lion’s death. I think much of the whole world has. Much of the whole world has also had a very distinct reaction to it – Anger.

But now I’m seeing and reading a lot of articles. Articles pointing out that most Zimbabweans are surprised by the attention this lion is getting. Surprised that so many people care that some random lion was hunted and killed. Articles arguing that those angry about Cecil’s death should shut up and focus on bigger priorities like world hunger or ending the reign of Zimbabwe’s current president.

Just for laughs

Just for laughs

I totally understand. I mean it’s just a lion. Right? Besides lions are known to terrorize plenty of other animals. Indeed where are the millions of people in uproar over the fact that Zimbabwe’s president is by all accounts a dictator? Where are the millions of people angry that some in Zimbabwe barely have enough food to eat? Where are the millions of people angry that some die from curable diseases? I raised this question with one of my co-workers and his explanation made sense. Simply put, he explained that it’s much easier for the world to be up in arms about an issue with an easy fix. Think about it, it’s easier to complain and sign petitions asking for Dr. Walter Palmer’s extradition and maybe even get it than it is to solve world hunger.

Here’s the thing, the fact that Zimbabwe has bigger issues than a dead lion doesn’t mean the problem of illegal hunting shouldn’t be discussed. It doesn’t mean it should be swept under the rug. It doesn’t mean the actions of Dr. Palmer should be ignored. By crying or saying that people should be more focused on hunger in Zimbabwe or the world devalues the issue at hand. No one ever say the nation’s president was a saint. No one ever said the country or our world isn’t dealing with major humanitarian issues. It’s just that, that’s not the point here. That’s not the argument. That’s not the issue at hand.

According to the National Geographic, “populations of lions in the wild have plummeted in Africa, from an estimated 200,000 a century ago to some 30,000 that live in isolated pockets.” The point is that if everyone with a knack for hunting is allowed to go to Africa or whatever country and hunt/kill every freaking lion, rhino, elephant, or other vulnerable and endangered species for that matter, we’ll eventually be living in a world where the only place we see such animals will be the zoo. That’s an issue!!

Yes, there are hungry children and adults in Zimbabwe AND all over the world. Yes, the president is a dictator AS are many leaders in other nations. Yes the human condition is deplorable in some areas of the country AND in other parts of the world, but that shouldn’t stop people from addressing illegal hunting/poaching.

Point is, silencing people who are angry about illegal hunting by pointing out the many problems in Zimbabwe or the world won’t stop or solve those problems…it just silences an issue that needs discussion.

Why I See Race

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Mosaic

Dictionary.com defines the word Mosaic as “a picture or decoration made of small, usually colored pieces of inlaid stone, glass, etc.” It goes without saying that those small colored pieces of glass are what make the mosaic beautiful. No one looks at just one of the stones. They are individually different but together they make one piece of art.

As a Nigerian American, I’ve come to realize that the one thing that makes this country so great, so appeasing is its people and culture. It’s seriously flowing with diversity. Just imagine you could sit on top of the clouds and look down. Look down at New York City for example and you’ll see it. Different people, different skin tones, different foods, different beliefs, different experiences, different backgrounds. It’s what I’d call diversity at its finest. It’s fascinating.

That’s why I always shake my head in wonder, in silent disagreement when I hear someone say, “I don’t see color,” or “I don’t see race.” It’s a statement I hear more often from many of my white American friends especially in the wake of the Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner decisions. It’s something said in passing to enunciate their stance that race doesn’t matter. Or maybe it’s said as a way to prove that they are not racist? I don’t know. What I do know is this: that statement is at the core of what is wrong with race relations in America.

diversity-word-cloud-620x272There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeing color. How can we celebrate, welcome and accept diversity if we don’t see color? How can we talk about the differences in our experiences if we don’t see color? How can we have a bigger and honest conversation about race relations if we’re so quick to shut down the conversation in the first place by proclaiming that we don’t see color?

Allow me to call to your bluff on that one. We all see color. Saying you don’t see color is like saying you don’t know the difference between a man and woman. Even children see color. Back in 2013 during a birthday dinner with some church members, I joked that the white friend sitting next to me was my sister. One of the little boys nearby chimed in saying, “but how can she be your sister when you have dark skin?” We laughed. It was a simple, cute and innocent question. The little boy noticed that I had a darker skin tone than my friend, but that didn’t make him treat me like a lesser human. It also wasn’t something he avoided to prove that he wasn’t racist. If anything, he saw the obvious.

diverse-handsIf it’s indeed true that people don’t see color, then I marvel at the many things they can’t talk about. When you see color and are comfortable with it, then there’s a whole lot of conversation to have. You’re not going to have an insightful conversation with your black friends about how their encounters with law enforcement differ from yours unless you’re open to it. Then again, you’re not going to delve into all that because hey you don’t see color. Right?

When we don’t see our differences, we’re canceling out the opportunity to really, really talk. To have that vital dialogue about race. Conversations to help us better understand our society and maybe even change the status quo. When we don’t see color then we haven’t really seen each other. We’re like classmates who talk during class but ignore each other outside school. We know very little about each other. We’re really just acquaintances.

No. I’m not saying our race or the color of our skin should be used as a modifier. I’m not saying it should be used to define who we are. I’m not saying it should be the most important thing about us. I’m saying we need to acknowledge it. That it exists. That it sometimes affects how we treat or perceive others.

So here’s my challenge for the New Year. Maybe the conversation should no longer be about how we don’t see color. No. Let’s ask each other things we’ve always wondered about without fearing that we’ll be labeled as racists. Let’s be open-minded. Listen. Let’s really listen before jumping into conclusions, even when we disagree. Then little by little, we’ll become more like a mosaic. Better yet, we’ll be a country flowing with people who welcome and accept the differences in their cultures and experiences. A country that celebrates diversity. A country with citizens of different colors who are ultimately one people.

Bring Back Our Girls

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It’s been months since I’ve written a new post and in those months a lot has happened in our world, in the African continent, in Nigeria. Many young school girls missing, and now Ebola. The latter will be tackled in another post. First, the girls. The event that gave birth to the hashtag “bringbackourgirls.” A hashtag that seems like it’s now dead to the world. Forgotten.

On April 15th, Boko Haram a Nigerian terrorist group kidnapped 273 girls. These were secondary school girls, or high school girls. Today is the 133rd day since they went missing and aside from the few who escaped, approximately 230 are still missing. 230.

230 daughters. 230 sisters. 230 young children.

Some got word that the Nigerian government failed to act quickly when they heard about the abduction. Word that they ignored warning signs. That some police officers went into hiding when they saw the men coming.

Even with foreign countries getting involved, the girls have yet to be found. Some say chances of finding them all are slim. Some say chances of finding any of them are small.

Many have waited and watched and then waited some more. I have. 133 days. Aside from the girls who escaped, the others are still missing. My heart bleeds for the girls, for their parents, waiting everyday for their daughters. Reminiscing on the old days. Maybe even wishing they had held them tighter, given them a hug before they left for school that day.

Question is where were the country’s leaders when things got to this level? Didn’t they see the beginning signs of this group? Of the problems they could cause? Why didn’t they act earlier, stop them before it got to this point? So many questions but none so far that has led to finding the girls.

I think it’s safe to say Nigeria was once one of Africa’s leading nations. Now it’s dealing with problems from left to right. Problems that make some weep for the country. I weep. Like many out there, I’m still looking forward to the day when it rises again. Until then, let’s all keep praying and hoping that the girls will be found. All of them. Let’s keep the momentum going. Keep the hashtag #bringbackourgirls alive. Say it aloud and keep it on the minds of Nigerian leaders until they actually bring back our girls.

 

 

Beauty: What has skin color got to do with it?

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Is it possible to run from your self? Is it possible to change the way you were created, to peel your skin – like a snake – and emerge with a new one? One that much of society says is the ideal? Is it possible to effectively lighten your skin tone without any future ramifications?

Lupita Nyong'0

Lupita Nyong’o

The beautiful Oscar winning actress Lupita Nyong’o once gave a daunting speech about the color of her skin. As a child she prayed to God for lighter skin. She talked about the disappointment of waking up the next day to find that God hadn’t answered her prayer. Her story is real. It’s one many young girls, many women in Africa and the African American community know too well.

When I was in Nigeria, one thing was clear: light skinned women were seen as the true definition of beauty. When I say light skinned I don’t mean a woman of mixed race. No. I’m talking about an African woman with a “fair” complexion. That’s what it was called. I believe that’s what it’s still called. Fair skinned women dominated the entertainment industry so much that when the dark actress Genevieve Nnaji emerged as one of the leading actresses in the business, many took notice. Even in America, the beautiful black women who get all the rave are “fair.” They are the Halle Berrys, the Beyonces, but what about the Tika Sumpters, the Gabrielle Unions, the Kerry Washingtons? Those women are beautiful too. It’s no wonder women all over the world exclaimed in joy when People Magazine touted Lupita Nyong’o as “Most Beautiful” on its cover. Finally, a beautiful woman with a dark complexion gets some recognition. How amazing, right?

Genevieve Nnaji

Genevieve Nnaji

But wait! Why is this a big deal in the first place? Beautiful is beautiful. Or isn’t it? The answer is not really, it’s all up to Society. It’s up to pop culture. Society says being light is the way to go. There’s this idea that it’s the only form of beauty. That’s what the movie industry in Nigeria says, that’s what the entertainment industry in the U.S says, that’s what much of the world says. So people follow it. Young and old. Some now use lotions to bleach their skin, others sadly bow to the idea that they are indeed not beautiful because they are not light, not fair. What a shame because dark skin is lovely. It’s just as beautiful as lighter skin, just as eye-catching, just as worthy.

That’s the message little girls everywhere need to hear. That a person’s self worth isn’t based on society’s biased norms. That as far as they know and accept that they are beautiful, the world will too. That the way they carry themselves, the way they hold their head up speaks volumes. Then someday, those little girls will grow into women. Women who can stare at their reflection in the mirror and proudly say, “I’m beautiful, dark skin and all.”

 

 

One Woman, Two Different Cultures: Which one Reigns Supreme?

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Nigeria-America-flagWe were on our way to interview the lead character in our documentary production. Four girls. College students majoring in journalism. Two white, one Mexican, the other African. Somehow we started talking about culture. We were talking about why it’s important to hold on to it. How it’s kinda sorta part of us–especially for the African and Mexican girls. The latter said she sometimes felt like she didn’t belong whenever she was around her immediate family. That’s because she speaks English with no trace of an accent and to top it off she can’t speak spanish. For that reason she said she often felt like an outsider. She said when she is with her American friends, even though she is American born and raised, she also feels the same way. Her friends are quick to point to the fact that she’s Mexican. They expect her to know everything about her culture. They expect her to speak Spanish. So in the end, she feels like she’s stuck in the middle–not entirely Mexican and not entirely American.

“As an African, do you feel that way too,” one of the white girls asked the black girl.

“Yes, yes I do,” she replied.

The three girls waited for her to continue, to elaborate, she didn’t. She didn’t have to. The Mexican girl had summed it all up. Most of it, at least.

That was almost a year ago and now, I do want to elaborate. Expound. Annotate. I want to explain her point of view according to how I, “as an African” see things. Finally, I want to clarify.

nigeria-flag-2I am an African woman born and raised. My mother used to say, to know where you’re going you have to know where you’re coming from. I do. I’m African and I’m proud. I have never seen myself another way. Problem is when I talk to my African friends back in Nigeria–even via Facebook–they say I’ve become “a typical American.” Funny, because how can you make such an analysis from a computer screen? They are quick to point out the things that make me “so American,” and for anyone who’s wondering, an African saying another African born person is acting or coming off as American is rarely ever a compliment.

On the other hand, my American friends are quick to point out the things that make me African. The accent, the hairstyles–before I landed a job where Afrocentric hairdos are not exactly conventional–the mores, the everything. They usually do this with a smile though. They appreciate it. At least the culturally astute ones do. Strangers stop and smile and chat and ask questions when my siblings and I are out and about speaking our language. Still sometimes when I tell my American friends that I am Nigerian, they say, “No, you’re American. You live in America.”

One woman. Two very different cultures.

It is cause for pondering though. It’s like living in Diaspora. Now, after ten years of basking in a big and culturally diverse city flowing with people from the motherland, I’ve moved to a small one where I have to drive miles and miles just to find the closest African store.

American-FlagThere’s sometimes this feeling of Middleness–yes, I just made up a word. Like I’ll never be completely and totally African again because there are all these things that kind of make me American. Things I can’t completely turn off when I’m interacting with Africans. Then there’s the fact that I’ll never be American either because there are all these things that make me African. Things I want to hold on to for the rest of my life. In a way, it’s kind of the same feeling my documentary friend alluded to, and it’s a feeling many of my African friends who now live in the U.S understand as well.

That’s the beauty of life, though. It is an adventure. It’s a mixing of cultures and people and places and customs and things. It is a journey. I’m still trekking. I live in the U.S now, but tomorrow I could be in South Africa, India, Australia or back to Nigeria. The possibilities are endless.

To my fellow immigrants living anywhere in the world, yes, there can sometimes be a feeilng of “middleness,” but let it be known that we’re not stuck in the middle. We’re experienced. Experienced in various beliefs, ways, norms, traditions. We are Diversity.

Strong Black Woman: Why the “Black” is Unnecessary

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ASIDE: It’s been about six months since my last blog post. Sad. Every time I write, I tell myself I will keep it up, but judging from my lack of posts these past few months that hasn’t been the case. So here’s my super late new year’s resolution: I’ll write at least one post every month. Hopefully this declaration keeps me accountable. Having said that, here’s to a new blog post.

african-women-lami-tollaGrowing up in Nigeria I wanted to be like my mom. She was amazing in every sense of the word. I knew it, my siblings knew it, our neighbors knew it. There’s a saying that goes, “you’re the man.” Well, she was “the woman.”

You could tell she was the woman in the way she bargained for the best prices in the market place. The way she could get the most experienced taxi drivers to reduce their fare. It was in the way she stood her ground for anything and everything she believed in–even when the world disagreed. It was in her presence, her aura, her demeanor. All you had to do was take one look at her and you could see it: She wasn’t just any woman, she was a strong woman.

Dike (dee-kay). This word in my language means strong or powerful. It’s a word that’s usually associated with men. Young muscular men. It was used to describe village warriors in the olden days or skilled hunters. Brave men. It’s also a word synonymous with my mom and yes that’s what villagers called her. It was a sign of respect. As a child, I wanted that. I wanted to be the woman. I wanted to be a strong woman.

Fast forward years later. The Nigerian me, now living in the U.S hears “strong woman”, but too often it’s used differently. It usually goes something like this “…strong black woman…” It’s a title. I’ve noticed that in America the black part suddenly made being a strong woman not so admirable–and understandably so.

tumblr_mbrjdh9Ve51qdj0o4o1_500You see according to the stereotype, according to movies and T.V shows, a strong black woman is not good. No. It’s not something anyone should aspire to be. For the most part–not all cases–but for the most part, a strong black woman is usually rude, obnoxious, ghetto, rolls her head every time she speaks. She’s probably a single mother. She’s single because her strength leaves no room for a man–mostly because they feel emasculated around her. That’s often a strong black woman–in America. Either that or a strong black woman is expected to be tough in every situation. She can’t break down. She’s expected to hold it down in her career, her marriage, as a single mother e.t.c. She’s expected to move mountains. Oh yeah, after all she’s a strong black woman. She should have everything under lockdown.

Seriously though, why can’t a black woman just be a strong woman? Why the “black”? They are many strong women out there. They are mothers, married, single, young, old, black, white, hispanic, Asian. I’ve never heard anyone say, “wow now that’s a strong white woman.” So why put the black in the sentence when describing the strength in a woman of African descent? The problem here is once the “black” is placed after the strong, its true meaning is sometimes distorted.  It’s something that never happened in Nigeria.

In Nigeria there is no such thing as a strong “black” woman. There’s no such thing as race. I didn’t identify as black in Nigeria. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t a little black girl, I was a little girl. If I go back to Nigeria today, no one will call me a black woman. I’m simply a woman. A strong woman–quiet, introverted, but strong all the same. No, it’s not because I roll my head after every sentence, it’s not because I want to prove I’m stronger than a man, it’s not because I have an attitude, it’s not because I have everything under control. I don’t. It’s because I am my mother’s daughter and her strength flows in my veins.

flowers-of-africaSo here it is. I am a strong woman…forget the identifier, forget the black. I’m a woman among many women who are strong, smart and capable. Like all humans, we have moments when we ache, moments when we’re fragile, moments when we mourn. In the end though, our strength lives on–just like that of my late mom.