First things first, I would just like to say that nothing I write is written with the intention of offending anyone or to be derogatory in anyway. I hope we can all have open minds and hearts about sensitive subjects such as this one and know that it is okay to talk about them. Now that my disclaimer is out, I can get on with this next chapter of real talk.
Since we are all friends here, I feel like there is something that I need to tell you guys. It’s not really a big deal, but I feel like I am going all confessional right now. I am a first generation American. Both of my parents were born and raised in Nigeria, and they immigrated to America before I was born. So basically what I’m saying is that I’m African American, or Black. Whatever you want to say or however you want to say it, that’s who I am.
Now saying this, growing up was a little different for me than your “typical” African American home. My parents spoke Igbo on the phone and to me, we had traditional Nigerian food for dinner and the culture was different. Growing up in the home that I did, the way that I did affected my character and the way I acted around people.
Growing up black in America is something that never really bothered me. I mean, yeah slavery was bad, but it’s over now, right? Sure, segregation was horrible, but that kind of stuff doesn’t happen anymore, right? Racism? That’s totally barbaric, and isn’t happening, right?
I didn’t realize how ignorant of the world I was being until later in my high school career. I was so wrapped up in being “normal” and “socially acceptable” that I refused to see what was in my face. Sure, slavery doesn’t exist anymore, but that doesn’t mean that we weren’t suffering in other ways. In 2014, it is still more likely for a black man to be incarcerated than it is for him to finish post-graduate education. There’s still the idea that black is bad in society today.
Ever since middle school, people have told me that I don’t “act black”. At first I took is as a complement. In my mind, and in the minds of many African American adolescents acting black is synonymous with ghetto and ratchet. Acting black included, but was not limited to:
Being very loud at all times
Sagging for guys
Tight tops and big hoop earring for girls
A certain level of disrespect towards authority
Not caring about education
None of these things come even close to how I act, nor were they acceptable in my home. If my parents got a phone call from my school that I had been acting out, or that I failed a class, I would be dead. So obviously I didn’t want to be associated with what I thought “black culture” was. I tried my hardest never to be labeled as that one black girl because I thought it was something to be ashamed of.
There would be times that I would be talking to my friends (yes, I have those) at school, and I would see a group of predominantly African American students and in my mind I would think: Wow, they are acting so black! They obviously are hoodlums. It had gotten to the point where I didn’t even want to identify with my own race because I saw it as something negative. When situations would come up about race, people would say to me, “You’re not really black though, only on the outside.” or “You don’t act like they do, so obviously you’re not black.”
I’d like to say that one day I woke up and I was proud of my race. But I can’t. I’d like to say that everything in the world is okay and there is racial equality for all. But I can’t.However, time is a great teacher and I’ve learned a lot of things.
What I can say is that I have learned to have greater appreciation of myself and of my race. I can say that I have learned that the word black does not equal being ghetto or acting ratchet and that I should be proud of who I am. A lot of it had to do with just growing up. Now, my need to fit in is nothing compared to my desire to succeed. I know that whoever is in my life appreciates my for who I am, not what I look like. I also know that the world isn’t perfect, and there are people and places that will judge me because if the color of my skin. But that doesn’t make me any less human or any less valuable. It only gives me motivation to do better and to prove them wrong.
So now, when people say that I don’t act black, I reply: There’s no way to act black, I just am.