I’m not Black. Black is not my ethnicity. In fact, Black isn’t an ethnicity, it’s a race. And race isn’t real. Race, Blackness, whiteness, these categories were created by white people in order to define who they were oppressing and who was doing the oppressing. Check your history y’all. Despite this, Black is something I identify with politically and socially given that I’ve spent so much of my life in the States and I do see myself as part of a global Black community of people—some of whom are/were immigrants to Europe, the States and other parts of the world and others who are descendants of the Africans kidnapped from Africa in order to be enslaved in the States, South America, the Caribbean and so on. Blackness is not a monolithic identify. It’s an umbrella term like Queer. I’m a dyke but identify with a Queer community politically and socially. Countless times, people, Blacks in America mostly, tell me I’m American. “Oh well you were born here so you’re American.” #labelfail. No I’m not. I’m a Nigerian who happened to have been born here and I will be Nigerian until the day I die and in my next lifetime too. It’s that serious.
I’m not Black. I am Nigerian. Period. I am not Nigerian American. I am Nigerian. To be specific, I am an Ijaw and Urhobo Nigerian. (DELTA STAND UP!!!) <-- had to do it. I didn’t even know what soul food was till college. I fetched water as a child. I have a long ass Nigerian name with mad vowels up in it. On the census, I wrote in Nigerian. (We have an African prez and the Census can’t be more inclusive? #sideeye.) After being baptized as a baby, I didn’t go to an American church until college. I’ve learned to be a part of Black American culture and given that I live in the States and contribute to the evolution of Black art forms with the art I create, yes, I claim hip hop, soul music, Black American dance styles and the performance arts. I’m still a Nigerian within all that. Whenever anyone asks me where I’m from, I say Nigeria. Because na so. When I answer in this way, I sometimes get confused looks from people because they want to place me into a category that makes sense for them. They want to either tell me I’m someone else than who I just said or let me know they know who I am. I’ve heard more nonsensical facts about people’s relationship to Nigeria than I can list here. It is okay—to not know. Just admit it. Don’t try to create a familial bond with me and/or my culture where there is none by spewing random facts about Nigeria. You ain’t know about Nigerian heat or suya or NEPA (now PHCN) or pyoowatah or the go-slow or red soil or roasted groundnut.
During a twitter tag team rant session with Zara Emezi, I wrote:
what the fuck i look like meeting a Chinese person & telling them how much i enjoy wonton soup? you think they give a fifth of a fuck?
(Wednesday, September 08, 2010 10:36:07 PM)
people tell me all their random thoughts & experiences re: Nigeria when they meet me. i'm serious--eg: i like Nigerian food. #uhokay
(Wednesday, September 08, 2010 10:35:24 PM)
what the fuck i care you gave your son a Nigerian name? there are over 150 million Africans with Nigerian names. #perspective
(Wednesday, September 08, 2010 10:34:29 PM)
These conversations are tiring. From the woman who, upon finding out I’m Nigerian, takes pride in informing me that she works to set up schools in 3rd world countries, of which Nigeria is one. Do you want a cookie? Fuck you and your NGO. If you really cared, you’d find NIGERIANS doing good work (there are millions), give them that first world loot (which by the way is built on third world backs) and LEAVE. That’s revolution. That’s being an ally.
So many Black people challenge my Africanness. Black people who, by the way, claim the African identity they attempt to deny me. So many Africans challenge my Africanness. All around, my authenticity as an African gets questioned, judged and minimized. It’s not my life’s work to make the world see me as I see me. It’s my life’s work to be me as I see me and let the world do what the world will do.
Me: "I'm Nigerian." Her: "You speak really good English." Me: "We were colonized by the British." Can't make this stuff up.
(Thursday, August 12, 2010 6:56:40 PM)
Every moment is an opportunity to decolonize our spirits and I seize these moments. Part of that decolonization is to never allow my identity to be defined for me by anyone. There are times when ironically, Africans place me in the same category as Blacks in the States and look down on me because to them, I sound American and have lived here for an amount of time that means I’m Americanized now. I let them know a.) there’s no need to look down on Blacks in the States and b.) I’m so Nigerian my blood is made of palm oil. I love you but sit down.
It annoys me greatly the ease with which Blacks take on an African identity while doing little to no research/reading whatsoever. Spending a semester in Ghana does not equate with my life as an African. People still ask me if I’m Yoruba and pride themselves on knowing that one ethnicity. *Blank stare* Asking me if I’m Yoruba when you find out I’m Nigerian is like me asking you if your name is Keisha because you’re Black and live in the States. Yes, it is that ridiculous. I’m not Yoruba. I’m not Igbo. Abeg, please stop asking. Going to see Fela on Broadway does not qualify as an education on my country. It doesn’t even qualify as an education on him, given there’s only so much a two-hour performance can contain of a person’s life. We all love Chinua Achebe and Ben Okri and Fela but Naija done produced more brilliance than the likes of them.
Can we please be accountable to the way in which Blacks travel the world as tourists with the same or similar kinds of destructive manners/patterns as rich white people? Tourism in third world countries is another form of colonization. Beautiful portions of the country are often off limits to people indigenous to that country in order for hotels and resorts to be made available for tourists and the tourism economy. Traveling to someone else’s home in search of peace of mind, relaxation or a deeper sense of self is the most colonial bullshit on the planet. Black Americans do this in Africa and the Caribbean, looking for a rugged, vacation lover to help them forget the woes of their lives. Please, please read Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place for an amazing analysis of what tourism has done to Antigua. I don’t travel to other people’s countries to get free. I would never be so arrogant or disgustingly first world. I go home. Or I travel because I want to partner to make art and/or partake in activism that is led by those indigenous to the place I’m traveling to. Any Black person with the privilege and resources to travel to another country to find themselves, and who does this, is feeding into a racist and violent tourist economy.
South Africa, Kenya, Ghana are some of the chosen countries that everyone outside of Africa wants to travel to, specifically Black people. The sexiness and allure of Yoruba culture is due, in my opinion, to how far it’s traveled (Brasil, Cuba, the States) and the exotification of Brasilian and Cuban cultures/languages continues to feed into the way in which Yoruba is a commodity and a spiritual practice laden with inaccuracies (as it is practiced in the States by those initiated into it) and commerce.
It can be strange to talk about my culture to Blacks in the States. One of or a combination of things happens: they can’t relate at all or they make weird statements that highlight their ignorance of my culture or try to make me see how much they know (asking if I’m Yoruba or Igbo) or there’s a sadness that they don’t have the same linkage to their culture that I do to mine. At times, there’s a visible resentment that wo/manifests in challenging my choices, eg: asking me why I hang with so many Nigerians. < --- Um reeeally?! Why do you have so many Black friends? So many gay friends? Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? I guess the same reasons why all the Nigerian queers are eating jollof rice in the park. Sanity dey with family sometimes. And there are all types of family. A lot of my chosen family are queer Nigerians and I’m blessed to have such a beautiful community. I also rock hard with Caribbean folks, Africans from other parts of the continent, South Asians, Latinas and so on. My family wide. I will not apologize for loving my Naija folk and anyone that asks that is selfish and just weird.
I’m surprised that folks sometimes are surprised that I miss home and the extent to which I miss home:
people wonder why i talk about Naija so much & hang w/ Nigerians so hard... Wednesday, September 08, 2010 10:27:16 PM via web
...dude--you know i ain't from here, right? you know every breath i take away from my country breaks my heart right? #dontgetittwisted. Wednesday, September 08, 2010 10:27:41 PM via web
All Black people are not the same. The reason I do not identify as Pan Africanist is because so much of its application (from my perspective) of the ideology is about making Black people everywhere the same. We aren’t the same. I live here but I am not from here. First world privilege, third world blood. Na serious.
So many people want to say we were kings and queens before the white man came to Africa—yeah, like 10 of us, and the rest of us were just regular folks. This hyper-romanticization of Africa is terribly aggravating and completely ahistorical. Nigeria is hella modern, is hella rural, is hella lots of thangs. It ain’t full of “nubian kings and queens.” #realityfail. Africa today is not some fantasy, nor has it ever been. It’s a real place, filled with 54 countries, thousands of ethnicities and languages, countless hairstyles, clothing styles, culinary magic and so on. Africans are real people, not mythological fodder for folks’ fantasies about what they’d like Africa to be for them. When I hear there are ethnic conflicts in Nigeria, I call home to make sure my family is okay. I don’t shake my head and keep sipping on my coffee. That is the difference.
I am from the Delta and I am proud. If ever I choose to have babies, they will know exactly where they are from because we will live there and there will be no English spoken in my household, besides Pidgin of course. I’m a Naija elitist in this way. And that is as it should be. Allowing anyone with wide eyes into African culture is part of the reason our land was haphazardly partitioned for colonization by Europeans in the first place—abeg our heart bigger than the universe we dey in, sef.
Black people are descendants of Africans. Of course. But they aren’t African. My great grand mama is from Trinidad. I am not Trinidadian just because she was. Na difference, you see? To ignore these differences, to gloss over them is to pretend mac and cheese is fufu. Na lie.
I am intensely patriotic and deeply proud to be a Nigerian. I can’t even explain it, it’s mad intense. I love Black people. I be marching, writing poems, mouth behind bull horn, loving hard, soft, tender and fierce for the sake of ALL our COLLECTIVE freedoms regardless of what continent we were born onto. We are a global community and we are connected. Let’s respect who we be and who we ain’t.
“It’s not that I’m heartless. You don’t understand, my heart is buried in Nigeria.”
My bodi dey here.
My heart dey in Naija.