“Acting Black”; When did ignorance become synonymous with being black?

Arriving in the UK as an African girl with my luggage in tow and a massive grin on my face, bursting with expectations,  I was halted in my steps by a discovery. I found that in the western world, it wasn’t enough to be born black, it is possible to act black, dress black, talk black.

I realised that just as there is a box often made for each and every one of us, which only the daring and non-conformists manage to escape, there is a box made for black people in the western world to fit into, in the UK and even more so in the USA.

I was often told by black people who grew up in the UK (Black British) that I act white. When they see that my playlist isn’t filled with songs that refers to women as bitches and men as niggas, when they see artistes like Darius Rucker, Bryan Adams and Bill Withers as opposed to Wiz Khalifa or 50 cent, when I refuse to speak slang or use words that are considered part of the lexicon of what is often referred to as Back English or Ebonics. In fact, I was surprised that I used better grammar as an African than some Black British.

Whilst my intention isn’t to claim that there is something wrong with rap or speaking slang, I am very much concerned with the concept that everything paramount to respectability and career advancement in a civilised society is termed White and the opposite, Black. For instance,  “acting black” means you are ghetto, uneducated, not well spoken, dressed like a tramp, loud, while “acting white” connotes good manners, eloquence, educated, cultured, reserved, successful.

It is the reason why my 14 year old cousin came back from school gobsmacked to have seen a White schoolboy sagging. In her words; “No, it doesn’t suit white people, it’s for black boys.” Need I remind you that sagging is very likely to get you stopped and searched by the police and very unlikely to help you make a good impression at a job interview.

Teenagers are often more susceptible to this form of ingrained stereotypes for fear of ostracism. As a teen the first thing on your to do list is to fit in. A black teenager will more readily play the role of a stereotypical black kid and in fact take it on as an identity than fight against it, to avoid being called a Bounty or Oreo (like the chocolate and cookie, black outside and white inside).

After all studies find that “during the teenage years, young people are influenced by a huge array of factors, which can increase vulnerability and risk. These can include; puberty and hormonal changes, wanting increased autonomy from family, peer pressure, body image and self esteem issues, the influence of the media, an increased capacity for cognitive reasoning etc” (Kelly, L. 1988).

Since these formative years are the foundation on which a person’s life is built on, a sparse vocabulary, bad grammar and other attributes synonymous with “acting black” could very well jeopardize the chance of a solid higher education or career prospect. I am yet to see a professional that says “innit”.

I’d say as an outsider who grew up in a country were I wasn’t constantly reminded of my race, and amongst an educated family who encouraged me to receive the highest accolades possible and press for success, it was easy to spot these stereotypes and recognize them as a totally false depiction of me.

I came out of my mom’s womb black and that is as far as that colour determines my person. I was born black and therefore do not have to “act black” “dress black” “talk black” to earn a place in the black community. These phrases have no meaning to me and it is a pity that some have accepted these attributes as black culture. It doesn’t matter if I take up golf, love the Beatles, or speak eloquently, I am very much BLACK.

Black and Intelligence aren’t mutually exclusive and I refuse to be deceived into accepting a set of pre-instilled stereotypes as my culture or be considered a sell out for “acting white”.

PS: Did you know Will smith had to hide his books in pizza boxes so people in his neighbourhood don’t see that he studies?

Reference:

Kelly, L. (1988) Surviving Sexual Violence, Blackwell Publishing/Polity Press.

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Alakowe, what language can you speak?

I was applying for a graduate development scheme when confronted with the question, “What is your first language?”.

This isn’t the first time I have had to answer this question and all the previous times I’m sure I have answered differently. Why? Well because I am an Alakowe (literate). I grew up in Nigeria and the obvious defining quality of a literate is their ability to speak English. Though the market man may know his sums and from experience learn the skills of communicating with his customers, if he cannot speak English, he is termed an illiterate.

I grew up speaking English, in fact I also think in English, and though Yoruba is my mother’s tongue, I cannot hold an intellectual conversation in it.  Often when I am trying to say something heartfelt, I switch to Yoruba, but then my Yoruba is laced with English words and my English tinged with errors.

English is Nigeria’s official language, and it affords Nigerians, a people of over 300 languages, to communicate and cohabit. Unfortunately, it also contributes to the subjugation of the country’s tribal languages and the immense dilution of its culture.

The outcome is citizens becoming language handicaps; I can speak two languages but perfectly command none.

It was a wonder to me then, when Nigerians went into a frenzy on social media over Commandant Obafaiye Shem’s interview on Channels TV. If you don’t recognize his name, you will the phrase “my Oga at the top”. While it was an opportunity to sink our teeth into someone who at the time somewhat represented  the oh so incompetent Nigerian government, it was also sheer folly for us to laugh at him for using a nuance “Oga” understood by most Nigerians if not all, in the place of the English word, Boss.

Half of us still have our parents seek our assistance in accessing their emails, so that he forgot the dotcom in the NSCDC website address shouldn’t have amounted to much comedy or surprise. After all, Nigeria is one of the technologically backward countries till date.

I also find it amusing that a lot of Nigerians see it as a dignifying attribute to speak English and not their mother tongues.To them, the native language bears a pejorative connotation, one they don’t want to be associated with. These kinds are often called Ajebutters (rich kids). I can only imagine the shock they’d be met with once they step out of the four walls of Nigeria.

When I did step out, I realised that a French man would comfortably express himself in francaise, but apologise about his inability to speak English, so will a Spaniard, a Mexican, an Indian. It was only then I began to realise how the education system in my country short-changed me, how terming my mother’s tongue “vernacular”, and taking the native language class trivially in school had done me a massive injustice. I went online to see if I could take some classes in Yoruba so I can speak it adeptly, and the thought of having to pay to learn my mother’s tongue hit me hard.

The truth of the matter is we all cannot speak English, and a sadder reality is we also cannot speak our native languages. We sacrificed it on the altar of westernisation.

The effect of this is a stunt in creativity. If I think in English, but can’t speak English well, then my thinking is stunted. Like my favourite Russian author Frank Kafka, whose works originally written in Russian has been translated to English, maybe I could be creative in my language if only I had a good command of it, or maybe my ideas will remain unformed thoughts even unknown to me.

What about you? What language do you speak?

Election Antics in Ngeria

The General election is fast approaching, and there is no way you haven’t seen the rallies and campaigns, haven’t heard of the promises of security and good roads, even the sudden drop in fuel price. Yes, a miraculous coincidence that the price of petrol suddenly reduced weeks before election, a feat the Occupy Nigeria  protest of 2012 couldn’t achieve. It’s also possible you have received the PDP customised agege bread or rice or palmed off between N500 to N2000 to attend rallies and maybe influence your vote, and why shouldn’t you?

I mean, I think if you deftly manage that agege bread, cut thin slices everyday and not be tempted by greed, it’s possible to feed yourself with it for the rest of your life. In fact, if you are innovative enough, you could even invest it and reap security, safe transport system, employment and even medical treatments in return for yourself and coming generations.

Even more pertinent are the celebrities who have decided that they’ve done enough in the entertainment field and so, a political calling is imminent. According to Kate Offiong Henshaw, yes Offiong is also her name. She remembered it just in time for the campaign;

“I have a strong interest and desire to serve my people and especially show that there is a better more humane way to do things when you are in a position of leadership. Putting the people first and being accountable to them as well as being accessible”.

The same Offiong who participated in the Occupy Nigeria, protesting against the removal of fuel subsidy during Jonathan’s term, now campaigns alongside him. Her sudden desire to serve her people is very timely. This desire has also risen in other celebrities; Desmond Elliot, Desmond Olusola Elliot, Abolore Akande, Yemi Solade, Julius Agwu, Bob Manuel and some more.

You’d think they would start with a campaign against malaria, raising awareness against HIV, adopting maybe, starting an orphanage, or even putting up a post about the recent Baga incidence. Better still, just like the renaissance use their art form as a way of enlightening the people and criticising the government act, the likes of Fela, Eedris Abdulkareem, instead of regurgitating stale plots.

Musicians also readily join in these political campaigns, beating the drum of the highest bidder, further stealing from the same people who have enriched their pockets and supported their talents.

If only Nigerians will realise their power in unity, lay aside all tribal and religious prejudice and demand change. A good start would be boycotting all entertainers who have been paid to lull their fans in favour of a party, taking to social media to criticise the government, calling global attention by action not self-pity or despair and demanding accountability from leaders.

How else can one explain his audacity to re-contest after the statement;

 “Four years is enough for anyone in power to make significant improvement, and if I can’t improve on power [electricity] within this period, it means I cannot do anything, even if I am there for the next four years.” (February 2011 campaign)

Not only is electricity in Nigeria abysmal, the 30 million dollars worth of debt which the ex president, Olusegun Obasanjo,  paid off during his tenure is not only back in the nation’s debt books, the country still borrows. The insurgence in the north has gained momentum, conspiracy or not, a true leader would’ve uncovered the scheme, preventing the deaths of citizens he was sworn in to protect.

#IAmBaga

Victims of the Baga attack in NigeriaMy heart and condolences goes out to those who lost families, friends, relatives in the recent happenings in France and the Boko Haram bombing in Nigeria that claimed 2,0000 lives in the name of religion.

Over the clamour made by the killings in France, the uproar it sprung on social media networks, the bustle of world leaders congregating in France to devise a solution as well as stand in solidarity with the French nationals, it was so hard to hear the bomb blast in the village of Baga, Nigeria that has been termed one of the the group’s deadliest attacks by Amnesty International.

When the news finally trickled around, a lot of people used the hashtag #AllLivesMatters, asking why the 12 lives in France are more important than the 2,000 in Nigeria. Others blamed the western media and the Nigerian government for its lethargic reaction to the incident, though it can be contested that there has been a response at all.

In fact Jonathan Goodluck, Nigeria’s president though expressed his condolences for the victims of the massacre in France, remained silent on the Boko Haram attacks. Probably so as not to further taint his chances of a second term by reminding voters of the failure of his administration in lieu of the upcoming election. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala also sent her sympathy to France, ignoring Baga. These all the more insinuating that the lives of those in France is of more value than those in Nigeria and further reminding me of how Nigerians jumped on the #icebucketchallenege while it was a cool trend, forgetting the one million and one challenges they are constantly forced to live with. A country where some of its population still struggles to get clean water, a very basic amenity.

While we might validly ask why world leaders are congregating in France and not Nigeria, we should also note that the valour of life cannot be measured and both cases of killings are as important, but lets not get tricked into believing that problems in Africa are only Africans problem.  Only recently, Ebola was deemed a West African problem until it spread to western states.

Lets not also forget that the fact that people of different cultures and religion, who speak different languages are cohabiting as nationals of this country happens to be one of the nation’s greatest problems and a result of colonisation.

Nigeria is plagued by a myriad of problems and its government is only a fraction. The amount of “God will help”, “God is in control” that I have heard since the commencement of these attacks is a pointer to one of the country’s greatest problems: religion.

Nigeria though a developing country has some of the richest religious leaders; pastors with harem of private jets, decked in expensive clothes and living in mansions. Pastors who dine with corrupt leaders and offer them front seats in their churches. Pastors who manages to convince their congregation to donate half of their earnings and then go ahead to build schools half of their congregation cannot afford.

I believe if Nigerians are convinced that there is no God and no one is up there looking out for them, we will see changes and very fast too. Religion has rendered its citizens complacent, we quickly drown our sorrows at altar in churches and dump all our problems in the hands of God and then just as quickly turn around and discriminate against people who practice a different religion from us .

2014 in review

First of, I say a sincere thanks to those who followed my blog, those who liked, commented and shared my post. Thanks a dozen, your support is duly appreciated.

Season greetings!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 520 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 9 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Baggage of a Migrant

lone walker

From: Getty Images http://www.gettyimages.com

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.

Read more immigrant stories here

“…because you are a woman”

By Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton

From Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton

I saw this post on Brandon Stanton’s Instagram page (if you don’t already follow him, I recommend you do), and it cemented a resolve I had made from childhood and an experience (shared farther down) relayed by a lady from work, let’s say, further carpeted this resolve: I refuse to live for a man, I refuse to aspire to marriage as a culmination of my life and when I do marry, I refuse to use it as a guise to adopt a grown man-child. I refuse to selflessly give without receiving as much in return.

I have watched many women throw away their dreams, toil in and out of the kitchen. I have heard my mum say, upon quitting her job to meet with the demands of my dad’s job so she could raise the kids and tend to domestic chores, “if my children are happy, I am happy”. Only to later watch her almost slip into depression. I have heard my aunty say “there is no rest for a woman” as she rushed from work to look after her hospitalised son. Sat by the hospital bed brow furrowed in worry, she asked if I had cooked anything for her husband to eat when he comes back from work. She also wanted to know if I dished it and put it in the microwave as “you know he won’t eat if his food hasn’t already been dished.”

In fact, I refuse to rejoice at the prospect of a man who will cook when his wife is sick or heavily pregnant, and I find it appalling that some still won’t (I’ll save you from the story of a man who waits expectantly for his pregnant wife to come back from work so he can usher her straight to the kitchen. Ladle in one hand, vomit bag in the other). There is a list of things I can tolerate and a man who thinks the kitchen is a woman’s only territory just doesn’t make the cut.

Let’s take a few steps back.To cook, you need;

  1. Hands (not a necessary tool. See this amazing chef )
  2. Ability to follow a recipe (from memory or a cook book)
  3. Ingredients (believe it or not: sold in the market to every gender)
  4. A functional kitchen

Now, looking at the above list you must see why I am lost with the “a woman should cook” mantra.

For those who are quick to throw the Proverbs 31 woman at arguments like this, let me remind you that the same book you’re quoting from also asked you to “love your woman as Christ loves the Church”. I’ll also remind you that this is a charge you can only aspire to, you can’t attain it. After all, Christ lived solely for and died for the church. So even after you’ve loved your wife so much so she looks at you alarmingly and says “baby you love me too much I can’t take any more love, not an ounce more!” You’d know you still haven’t done enough.

For those of you who are painstakingly obedient to tradition, irrespective of how irrelevant they become, let me remind you that women didn’t use to work and as partners (key word: partners),  it was only reasonable for them to do the house chores and cook for a tired husband who had gone out to earn a living.

Now, why would you wait for your wife A.K.A Magic Fingers to come back from work, presumably tired, to prepare you dinner? Let me guess, because you lose an inch every time you cook? Isn’t it caring if whoever got home first made sure the other person has something to eat?

So back to the grandmother from work. After a long day at work of running to and back from the kitchen trying to please sometimes fussy customers, she excused herself to go to McDonald before going home “because I am sure my husband is sat at home waiting for me to come cook him dinner after work.” With mouth aghast in shock, I asked;

“Really? You also think it’s unfair for women to cook all the time?”

“Of course! I did it when we had our kids at home, but now that they’ve moved out, I don’t any more.”

(something like that, I didn’t memorise the conversation)

You see this lady encouraged me as I sometimes panic that I’ll never find a man to marry, and wonder if I should just give in to a life of servitude. As a Caribbean lady in her late sixties, she grew up in an era and place where women predominantly embraced house chores. She went on to tell me how she sometimes feel she wasted her life caring for her first husband; cooking, cleaning, picking up after him and the kids and vowed not to do it with her second husband, advising me likewise.

Like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said, women are brought up to aspire to marriage. I realised that most women never loved it, I mean its tiring and boring, they only did it because it was expected of them and discussions like this wouldn’t have garnered any weight at the time. Growing up, I remember my mum backed up almost every chiding with “when you get married-” whenever I was negligent with house chores.

Now, don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with cooking for or cleaning after someone you love, some women even love it.  My friend for instance says while she would want to do most of the chores, she won’t want a husband who requires it of her. Neither do I expect a chart that says who cooks on Wednesday or does the laundry on Friday, but surely as a responsible man you won’t watch your woman labour so much without helping. Even though she barely slept during the day looking after the baby, you won’t expect her to wake up at night when it starts crying.  A relative I know even asked his wife to stay in the guest room with the baby so they don’t keep him awake at night. How is this love?

There is nothing unmanly about cooking, after all most world class chefs are men. It’s also the height of ignorance when a man assumes that cleaning and cooking are intrinsic to women. Cooking is an essential  survival skill and everyone  who feels hunger pangs should learn how to.

Read: 5 Things my vagina doesn’t make me here by Doreen Akiyo Yomoah on the blog, MsAfropolitan.