As a TCK, I struggle with many of my identities. How I chose to label myself depends on where I am, who I am talking to, and comfort level. It is definitely a learning experience when I label myself a certain way and the reactions that follow. Let me explain:
I am a Nigerian-American who was born in the United States. When I am in the United States of America I am a Black American and that label comes with many stereotypes and challenges. When I am in Nigeria, I am Nigerian and that label as well has its own set of struggles. You follow me? Depending on who I am having a conversation with makes it even more difficult to navigate through the many labels and categories that we are given/forced upon us. When I am speaking to a Black America many sense that I am “from somewhere else” and when I talk to other Nigerians/Africans they know I lived abroad. Many times, I feel as if I don’t fit in either of the two but I know, because of my appearance and experience, I am all of the labels as well. This is one reason why I truly appreciate UYD magazine. It gives me a place to find others, like me, who identify with many labels. The more I think about it, I think it is true that nobody fits into a box. My hope to raise awareness on the single stories we all face and how to fight against stereotypes.
Being a Black woman in America is a constant struggle of emotions because I deal with racism that ranges from microaggressions to overt racism. According to Webster Dictionary, Microaggressions are commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults towards people of color. A personal example of this is when I was recently in a bus stop and a white woman who I did not know came towards me with her hand stretched and placed her fingers in my hair. Talk about complete disregard of personal boundaries! Believe it or not this has happened to me countless of times and it angers me to my core. Just because my skin is darker and my hair is kinker does not mean I am your animal at the petting zoo.
Not only do I deal with racial relations, but as a woman I also have to deal with sexism daily. I am sure women reading this can think of the many instances of street harassment, which is a hot topic right now, and other forms of oppression women face. Living at the intersection of these labels has provided me with a pair of lenses that I see the world out of and how the world sees me.
I will say this if you don’t already know this, but all black people are not the same, nor are all black women the same. We are not a monolith that think, act, and speak the same. We are different people, with different life experiences, and that should be honored, respected, and acknowledged.
What comes to your mind when you see/hear the words Black Woman? Is it the stereotypical neck rolling, gum smacking, multiple babydaddy, lady with tight clothes, and a sour attitude? If so, I challenge you to recognize your biases and confront them. It is not my goal to say I am above the woman I described previously-because there is always a reason as to why we act the way we do- rather it’s to say I am not that person. The words black woman should be associated with language like strong. At the end of the day, black women have no choice but to be strong. It is expected of us no matter the circumstance.
I recently watched a TED Talk by the phenomenal Chimamanda Adiche and she spoke of stereotypes in a wonderfully simplistic way that was titled, The Dangers of A Single Story. Chimamanda spoke of her experience growing up in a typical middle class family in Nigeria. As most families, they “had a houseboy” who did the cleaning and other chores around the house. All Chimamanda knew of the houseboy is that his family was very poor since this was all her mother told her. One day when she went to her houseboy’s village she saw many beautiful things that his family created and she was in shock. The only thing she knew of Jide, her houseboy, was that he was poor and along with that label came the generalizations of people who are poor face. Do you do this in a different context?
The answer is yes because we all do this, myself included. When you find out your neighbor is a black male or your boss is a woman, do you draw on stereotypes and generalizations to define them?
What do you think and how do you act around people who are different from you? I want to challenge everyone who is reading this magazine to make the decision today to be conscious of the single stories you hear and internalize and throw them out the window. Instead, get to know each person on a personal level. You may find some stereotypes to be true, and that is okay, but please do realize that by judging someone who faces different challenges from you with a single story you have heard is not only unfair but it also makes you ignorant. Think about all the stories in your life, some make you proud and some do not. Now imagine someone judging you based on one bad story they have heard about you… how does that make you feel?
As a Nigerian, as a black woman, as a human I am dedicated to social change. I refuse to leave the world unchanged because I hope that just because I am different from your idea of what an American looks like, you will NOT treat me like an exotic mythical creature. That you won’t judge me based on the single stories we hear from society, media, and peers. That you will recognize I am a human with emotions who has to live inside this body everyday and navigate the horrible circumstances that come with being a black woman in America. Do your part, by doing the right thing.