I often receive remarks about my personal by-default preferences such as why I love befriending people that look like me, why I love African prints, head-wraps, African music and dance, aswell as tribes culture and traditions, why my prince charming is by-default black, why I get angry each time I read books and articles about slavery, segregation and racism or watch documentaries mostly depicting Africa as a poor, hunger-dying and under-developed continent, why my dream travel is a tour to African countries instead of Europe or Asia, why I get over the moon when I get two or three shades darker during summer, why I relate more to black achievements and concerns. Overall why I am so attracted and attached to everything related to Africa and “blackness”. My answer is often a shrug or a rhetorical “because”.
“I am not African because I was born in Africa, but because Africa was born in me.” Dr Kwame Nkrumah
During my childhood, I was full of myself, my perfectly curly hair and doll-like figure thanks to my grandfather (may he rest in peace). At an early age, I had never really understood the weight of the difference between myself and my Caucasian friends, classmates and fellow citizens. For me, skin colour was a feature just like an eye, or a leg, or a mouth, just a thing that anyone has, a part of who we are.
With age and the teen’s overwhelming desire to fit into the surrounding and to fall into a pattern, I started comparing myself to others. Instead of fitting in, my skin tone, my hair, my everything made me stand out. During my schooling, I often was the only coloured in the classroom, the “irregularity” in the classroom. It was not that bad after all, yet I didn’t quite like it. At home, I was surrounded by people like me, to whom I belong. Elsewhere, I often didn’t find such comfort.
I did not have role models in my life other than my parents. My parents did not have the chance to fulfil and live their dreams. Somehow with age and life commitments and hardship, their life expectations shrank. My parents were the basis and the foundation and I needed topping; i.e people who made it, people who would provide more insights, people whose lead I can follow.
Unfortunately, I didn’t see black representation in my society. Role models found at that time were mostly white. And given my country’s proximity to Europe, my surrounding lacked that African belongingness. Consequently, I just could not bond with my surroundings. I could not relate to the existing representation. It just was not possible for me. I needed someone like me, looking like me, on the same wavelength, with issues, worried, dreams, hopes and life expectations just like me.
After a hair crisis, following some thorough research, I had to look beyond the geographical boundaries. I learnt about the “big chop” method (sisters know) and many other concepts. That crisis opened my eyes to other experiences, testimonies and stories that mirrored my own. I discovered other people with the same issues, concerns and worries, people who made it, people who’d overcome that race “inferiority” that had been injected into their system at an early age, people who broke that dependence on other’s acceptance of their being. I got to know people that I clicked with, sometimes without even talking to or meeting with them. How to explain this to someone who does not relate to what I relate to. Shrug.
And then came books, Ted-ex talks, movies, talk shows and comedy shows that discuss blackness in all its magic and realities, to which I deeply related. The more I read/watch, the more I understood my struggle and that of many others, the more I grew proud of who I am, proud of my roots, of my gravity-defying curls, of my big lips, of the white layer on my skin from dehydration, of my hands and the dark lines on my palms, of my everything.
I cannot, not relate to everything related to Africa, Africans, blacks, their joys and miseries, “because”. I regained that childhood status of fully enjoying who I am, unapologetically black.