My migration was saddled with discovery, the discovery of race. I had grown up in Nigeria as a girl, but in the UK I became a black girl, not a black British type, but a black African type.
I was plunged into a discourse of race and had to cut through the layers of labels and stereotypes to find myself, other times finding safety in the streotypes; using them as a camouflage.
I learned that you weren’t just born Black, you had to live Black. I learned that it is possible to “be” Black; it is in your nuances, your speech, your taste. In fact, after time the icing to a story or the determining factor of a joke being funny was hinged on if the character(s) was White or Black. When a friend tells a story of something that happened at the train station, I wait a second or two and then I ask; Was she black? Was he white? A black group of girls? A white group of boys?
I learned that what a black person did miles away could have a bearing on me.
I had first encountered England in Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, and then in the movies and tales from relatives. My enthusiasm of learning in such a great country was quickly dampened by reality.
I am one of the lucky ones. I came at an age where I could never forget being Nigerian, as well as able to adopt, even if shabbily and temporarily, a different culture. The unlucky ones like my Rwandan friend end up existing between two worlds, two cultures. Not accepted into one due to years of absence, and not feeling completely at home in the other.
I assumed the title ‘Immigrant’ and I saw and heard my fate constantly debated on the news.
But being an African girl, offered me no refuge in my dignity. It didn’t matter that I paid international student fees and got no help from the government, I was seen as an outsider not an explorer. An outsider in search of greener pastures.
A parasite feeding off others resources.
I was dumb; I sounded different. I was blind; the meanings were different.
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