When I was young, I was not aware of how distinctly taller than my peers I was (until someone pointed it out) or how skinny I was (until some annoying human gripped my hand in theirs to see the space left in between).I was also very unaware of how dark I was, until some ‘you’re pretty for a dark girl’ comment was thrown. Up to date, I tend to forget how dark I am when am with other sisters; until one of them points out how ‘am dripping with melanin’. One other childhood joy was, I was not aware that I am a black person. This was not a part of my identity, you see. Up until I was 19 and in a dominantly white country.
See, in my home country, everyone is black; well the majority. And being black is not an identifier, neither is being African. The only distinguishers are ‘light skin/dark skin’ ‘man/woman’ ‘long hair/short hair’… etc. So you can imagine my confliction when I land in a white country and when it distinctly dawned on me that damn; Am black black! Then, I had to take up a new identity; black woman, black African woman. Something I never had before. I had to become aware of the different facets of my identity that had all over sudden been imposed on me. I had to develop a double consciousness I never had back home.
And this hit different when I was the only black African woman in a class. In this situation, not only are you a student, you’re also the Face of the Race. You’re also the Face of the Continent. You’re definitely the point of reference to anything African. Whenever an example of a black person doing something is given, the stares from your classmates will automatically shift to you. Whenever the synonyms to Africa: “poverty, ethnicity, war, hunger, drought, racism…” are mentioned, a reaction is expected from you. You are representing a whole damn continent!
Remember that time when a lecturer ‘genuinely’ asked; “Zipporah, can you please tell us how it is in Africa? What is the currency used there?” or oh… this was a good one; when your doctor on learning you’re from Africa went on and on about how majestic the lions and giraffes of Africa are? Or…oh wait for this; the gym instructor was certain you were a marathon runner cz you’re Kenyan?! (I hate running and can barely run 100 metres without collapsing).
Remember when the old woman in the Bus 4 to Centre Ville clutched on her dear handbag when you hopped into the bus? Or when the waitress asked if you were lost when you walked into the restaurant for lunch? Oh… what of when the Italian blonde project-partner asked why your English was so good? You remember these times? Remember how angry you were? Wish you knew then that to these white folks, you were the face of the race. Maybe even to some of them, you were the first black African woman they had interacted with. You were a ‘learning point’ for them. A point of reference. A representation of the native unknown then standing right Infront of them; imagine their enthusiasm, their fear, their perceptions; they all finally found a way to experience the native first hand – through you!
And every time you get defensive when someone claims that Nigerians are deceptive, or when you learn of a Mauritanian buried alive cause they were black… or of a black man shot by the police in California; every time you get defensive and reactionary to this, despite you never having stepped foot in any of these places; I want you to feel justified. Because by making you the Face of the Race and the Continent’s reference point, they automatically made you the Defender of the Race and the Continent’s Activist. You are to carry these emblems high up; wave them higher with such pride. Shout louder and stronger for your motherland. Let them call you The Angry Black Woman. Let them act surprised and shocked at how aggressive you are. Never let this deter you; never let their perception of civilization silence you as it definitely never silenced the slave owners nor the colonizers.