Tag Archives: identity

#10 ~ Being beautifully rooted in the Diaspora

africa-roots

I have a friend who’s from my mothers home state in south eastern Nigeria. I think he finds me intriguing in a you’re-interesting-but-kinda-weird-way. Sometimes when we’re talking , I can tell that he humours me, he doesn’t necessarily ‘get’ me, but he listens and he finds it interesting. Sometimes I imagine that in his eyes I look like a lost sheep, slightly homeless and befuddled, but fuelled with a sense of directionless purpose. I feel this most often when i talk about my identity, my sense of belonging. He speaks Igbo, lived (if only for a short while) in Nigeria and knows the point at which he migrated to the UK. It was something he was contextually conscious of. He tells me if I went back i’d be welcomed home as a returnee daughter. Sure, for a period i’d be called oyinbo  or ‘just-come’, but in time I would settle, I would be accepted. He doesn’t, I feel, quite understand that diasporics never fully settle in already established homelands. He is rooted in a context, I, as I see it now, am rooted in rootlessness. 

My sister has never had an issue with this. Growing up my Dad’s pet name for her was ‘the Rock’, because she was solid. Some of this had to do with her physical build, which my Mum gave my Dad an earful about, but I think a lot of it had to do with her character. T is solid. When she sets her feet on something, it’s because she’s sure, and when she’s sure she stands her ground. She weighs her words carefully and speaks sparingly, often the quiet one in conversations. I used to think it was because she was shy, or didn’t always ‘get’ what was going on. Time told me it was because most of the time she had already worked out the answer, and found all us babbling self-proclaimed young ‘intellectuals’ wallowing in our existential crises at best irritating, at worst stupid and self indulgent. T is a firm foundation. She is rooted. And I think she’s rooted, because she is secure in what she is, and she’s made peace with that. In that sense we make a perfect team. I used to be called feet-on-the-ground-head-in-the-clouds and my mother’s nickname for me was spitfire, because I would flare and burn and run full steam ahead before burning out, sometimes with the job, passion or vision left unfinished.

These are crass and simplistic distinctions, but for a generalistic musing they’ll work for now. Whereas I pined for ‘home’, T was comfortable from the get-go with being British and Nigerian, being a Londoner and  from Anambra and from Ilesha – it wasn’t really a thing, it was just her, whereas I flitted from British, to English, to Nigerian, to British Nigerian, to Nigerian British, to Igbo, Yourba and Bristolian – I was very lost, and frustrated by this perceived loss.

I think part of it was to do with a strong racial conception of self from a very young age. I might regret saying this, but then Piaf had a more messed up life and managed to declare she had no regrets, so hey-ho. Growing up my mum was very fair. She’s never seen herself as anything less than Nigerian, never thought of herself as white but as the whole biracial discourse became more politically correct, when pushed she’ll say she’s mixed raced, but she was always secure in her Nigerianness,as though English was an historical technicality but had little cultural or even personal bearing. Yet when I looked around I was very aware that Mummy looked like the other parents, and the other parents were ‘right’. I was embarrassed by what the connotations of being black were, and growing up around non-Nigerians I didn’t quite get Caribbean culture, because that wasn’t home-life, and the Nigerian culture I saw was foreign (I’ve later realised that class has a lot to do with culture in the UK and ethnicity, but that’s for a later post). So, to be like Mum was to be better. If T was the chocolate baby, I was the yellow baby. But T had ‘fine features’ and I had the ‘African nose’ the ‘thick lips’, the things that made me more ‘Nigerian’ than her, the ‘coarse’ features.

Firstly I want to call Bullshit on such a distinction. That’s right, I call BULL-SHIT on the whole fine/coarse features thing. What it implies is that there is something refined and noble about caucasian features and something rough and ungainly about ‘traditional’ African features (read Aphra Behn’s Oronooko to see what I mean). Basically it means white pretty black ugly. So even though I had lighter skin I was still more ‘African’ than my sister – and people remarked on that shit. Ah Kehinde you have such coarse/strong/striking/Nigerian features. Ah Taiwo, you have such fine/european/english/pretty features. It doesn’t mean I wasn’t told I was beautiful, but it was a different type of beauty – so I went to find that type. I went to discover where that beauty came from. I wanted to go ‘home’ to an imaginary Africa, an imaginary Nigeria where my features were the norm.

Now the issue with such a distinction is that it creates a contrast. What if caucasian features were classed as ‘undefined, less-defined’ in stead of ‘fine’,as though they were delicate, fragile, precious. Think about it, if generic african features ( which really are generic, because if you look at the variety in African features from the Fulani to Ethiopians, Khoisan to the Sudanese you’d realise African features encompass ALL types of facial features, but, I digress) if things such as wide noses, thick lips, strong jaw-lines, big thighs etc etc were the norm, then anything other would be less, right? But I grew up in the UK, so it wasn’t the norm, and it sent me looking for it, it sent me towards this idyllic fairyland called the ‘home’ of black-consciousness and self-worth, it sent me back to ‘Mother Africa’.

A Diaspora is a ‘scattered population with a common origin in a smaller geographic area, or a movement of people from their homeland’. It implies that there is a ‘real’ place that you ‘truly’ come from, but for some reason or other you are not there.

And it’s  definitely true. There are plenty of diaspora’s the world over. Some of them have settled and are no longer viewed as diasporas (white people in America), others are less stable (Jewish diaspora, Turks in Germany), but they exist. The issue I have with diaspora as a definition is that I think it belongs to 1st generation migrants. The one’s that have ‘just-come’, the ‘freshies’. I think it applies to second-gen migrants who go back to that country of ‘ethnic origin’ regularly, speak the language, can flit easily between the two.

But for many children of African migrants who don’t go back, who have settled in e.g. the UK but still exist within their parents culture, we have another homeland emerging. See, I’m beginning to see things like my sister, to realise there isn’t one place that I ‘truly’ come from, or rather there is, it just isn’t a recognised nation-state. See, I come from the diaspora. I am a child of the diaspora, born and raised. I speak the language, I understand the culture, I breathe the history. I have that beautiful ability to morph regularly, to be at ease with Nigerians, with Africans in general, with whites, with Indians, with Far East Asians. I speak slang, I speak Received, and not just in English. When I go abroad I know how to adapt my body language, how to blend in and stick out at the same time. I understand cultural symbols, I understand how to act with elders, even if its elders from another culture. My straight up immigrant friends don’t know how to deal with that drunk roommate, or the friend who calls their aunts by their first name. The kids who tell their parents to fuck off in the supermarket cause they can’t get a Fanta and they’re not even in year 2! They think – He dey craze oooh. My homegrown friends don’t understand to call their ‘immigrant’ friends parents Aunty and Uncle, not Femi and Gbemisola, or Raj and Amina. But I do, because I am a child of the diaspora.

That doesn’t mean i’m totally secure in me (me is a fluid thing constantly evolving), but it means I am not diagramme_de_vennhomeless. I have a home. I’m not a global citizen (that phrase is so daft, cause we all know citizenship rights are NOT accorded to how many passports you have, citizenship is more than legalities), I am a disaporic national – and that can be ok. My home can be like a ven-diagram with Nigeria and the UK as the far circles that overlap to make ‘My Home’ in the middle. I can be rooted in that, and in being rooted in it, I can find a freedom that other people before haven’t had.

I can also begin to understand that human history is one of migration. Even those who’ve ‘been here for generations’ aren’t people of the soil. As one of my best supervisors once said (at least in regards to recent World History but it certainly goes back to the beginning of time)

Indigenous people were just the people who were there when the Europeans (read any kind of coloniser/invader) turned up. 

So yeah, i’m beginning to find my home -and i think i might just like it.

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#2 ~ For Colored Girls London: Reading the Foreword

One of the most beautiful aspects of putting on ‘FCG’ again, is revisiting ‘old friends’. Old poems and known characters who spoke to me with aggression when I was a fresh 18-year-old, excitement when I was 19, and now, at 20, with a depth, a caution, a humanity.

The first time I approached the script  all the words were literal. The poems, ranging from the very brief but powerful ‘Abortion Cycle 1’, to the long, lyrical lament of ‘Sechita’, were so vibrant, so forceful in their barraging voices all seeking to take centre stage, that the idea of analysing and challenging my first impressions was absurd. Of course Sechita should be a lament, she’s a washed up dancer who is serenaded by chipped coins that are dashed through the air to bounce on her thighs, which aren’t lovingly creamed with coco butter, but stained with sweat, smoke and semen.

However, as I read Shange’s forward to the second edition of the ‘For Colored Girls […]’, I see that the Lady in Purple’s persona is much more than that. Sechita’s journey is not just the degradation of a woman, but of a nation, a history and a people. It tells the story of the demise of the black African, from inventors and rulers of the Ancient world, to the chattel that powered the Industrial Revolution of the West.

I see that the Lady in Orange’s exposure to ‘mambo, tango, meringue’, in the dance halls of America, is a journey of discovery. The same discovery of other black people, communities, cruelty, misogyny and adventure that the Lady in Brown experiences when she meets Toussaint ‘in de library’.

I see that, whoever wrote the tag line for Tyler Perry’s bedraggled attempt at transforming page to cinema, was right in one respect. It is one poem, one story, one woman, one life – but told through many voices. Like the colours that form a single rainbow, it is the journey of a people, of nations, of humanity, embodied in one unified story of fractured experiences.

I look forward to the days I shall spend scrutinising these poems, these voices, and women as I seek to join them into my own cloth, my own woven pattern of a history, of a woman, of a colourful identity.

Join the journey.

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#365 ~ Death of the Writer 365

I was 18 when I started this blog. I was sitting in a room, it was clothed in shadow, with a yellow desk lamp, the same one that illuminates my food stained keyboard now, glaring at the screen, as I Skyped my older brother. I was depressed. Not in a suicidal manner, but I had lost any spark that ever glared behind newly framed eyes. I was apathetic. And my chest was burning. It was burning because I had this scream that was locked up deep inside of me, and it was tearing the enamel off my teeth, scraping the bristles off my tongue, inflaming the sores I had chewed into the lining of my cheeks. It was my voice. Disabled, disused and highly confused, and it lay mangled and crying in the back of my throat, trying to make me scream to release it. But I had no constructive way of doing so.

So came the idea of this blog. Coming to the end, albeit a month late and not in the fashion I wanted – this is more like the salutary face-plant I ended my first-year of Uni with –  I have arrived in a heap of words, and thoughts, and comments, and life lessons, here, in the last post, on the last day of January. And I have grown.

It’s bizarre. This blog has seen me age three times. From 18 to 19 and now to 20. When I began this blog, I tried to be extremely covert and dissembling. I wrote critical pieces about the representation of ‘Africa’ in the media. I spoke about my broken heart for the dispossessed, for sex trafficked women. My pain at the industry that promotes prostitution. I began to voice the niggling sensations that clawed at my mind about identity and being a post-colonial being, a British Nigerian who is neither and both and somewhere in the middle. I talked about being tall, having big feet, being a gawky student, not able to get down in ‘da club.’ And then I began to write poetry?! Some of it was at 3am in the morning, raw with spelling mistakes and odd imagery. Some of it was down right contrite. A lot of it was self-indulgent and a poor man’s escape from reading the news and commenting in a socio-political manner. I began writing Life Lessons, the easiest way to get a quick post done. I travelled to South Africa and worked with Ithemba Projects. I came back and was unable to write. I then re-wrote Psalm 119  in a series of meditative posts. At each centenary mark I worked with my sister and produced 100 words and photo – and that was a beautiful experience.

I re-created my identity in this blog. I discovered, I destroyed and I forced out a voice on this webpage. I became a woman. And I came to the end of my 365 days writing. And it really was a process that killed the writer. It is the Death of the Writer… and the birth of a person who has re-learnt how to speak, and found a multitude of avenues to express her voice. And that voice is wholly polyphonic, just like the truth, just like my identity. It bursts out, it sings, it cries, it laughs, it writes, it speaks and it has learnt – most importantly – how to be silent.

So where do I go from here? Well, in the mix of this journey, I have begun to write for a wonderful women’s magazine called Magnify Musings -so check that out for more of my work.

Oh, and that poetry that just appeared? Well…check out the video below.

I wondered whether, amongst ‘the pile of shit’ that no doubt clutters this blog, if you, the reader, would ever find a piece of gold. I hope you have. If you haven’t… search harder.

So…How to end this journey?

I bow out, with grace. Born on a Thursday 20 years ago, I end this blog on a Thursday, and look forward to the many more years, strung together with words, that are yet to come.

Good night, God Bless, and a lot of love.

Thank you for walking with me.

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#351 ~ Miscellaneous.2: I Had Forgotten

(Written during my month-long absence – during a slightly sentimental time it seems)

I had forgotten how beautiful I was. I had forgotten how joyful my life was, how my smile was a mega-watt lightbulb that lit up rooms, how my voice, when it stopped contorting and trying to be an acrobat, was so rich, beautiful, soft and tender, that it had a laugh that slipped through like a river.

I had forgotten how my greatest desire was to be in a band and to sing, and let my heart float through the notes and touch you. How I wanted it to escape my chest and burn in the atmosphere, my voice as a song, the song as my heart, my heart as a voice that sings straight into the dark and brings the filaments of the mega-watt bulb out, divides the parts and still shines.

My goodness, I had forgotten how incredible I was. I had let somebody walk off with my stuff and he didn’t know he had it because I didn’t tell him I had placed my soul in a plastic bag and sent it to him in a Facebook message – how foolish. To look without glasses at my picture and forget – who I was.

I had forgotten how powerful I was, how stunning, how I was changing the world by just being. I had forgotten that I was a joy bringer of power, that I had a desire and I could run and sing and shout and change the world

I had forgotten ME in that plastic bag and it came back in a song by people who chanted Freedom and I had Forgotten

I had forgotten

My God I had forgotten how Incredible IAM

was

is

I had

forgotten

I didn’t need idols

I needed you

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#335 ~ Kehinde

Name given to the second after twins in the Yoruba naming system. It means the one that comes/lags behind. ‘Technically’ the older of the two. When I was growing up I always lagged behind, literally, the family would be there and I would be here, the straggler of the pack. I was Kehinde.

But the spelling was all wrong. The H threw them off, and the N didn’t seem to quite work. It was a silent H you’d say, so the N must be hard they thought. So I/it become Ken-Day.

But Barbie had a boyfriend called Ken, and I definitely wasn’t going to play him in the playground games of Barbie and friends. So no way was I going to be called Kenny, the traditional nickname, by my relatives. Why did you never get that Uncle Gbenga. No. No, Kenny is not acceptable.

So I became KK, till my niece was born and she took that name too. I had lost half of me and had to resort to K, Kay, sometimes affectionately Cakes.

But it’s actually pronounced Keh (like a cough from the back of your throughout, expelling the air harshly), in, deh.

Yet my anglophone mouth was so used to Kaaaaay, it became Kaaayindaay. And I thought I was so right. They just shrugged, smiled, and said what can you do – Oyinbo child.

So…how do I say my name? What is my name? Keh or Kay?

Does it even matter? Yes, says the small voice, No says the rebel, Maybe says the academic. Maybe it really does matter. Yes says the Nigerian, Maybe says the English, worried about further mispronunciations. Yes, says the radical, No says the apathetic youth, Perhaps says the non-committal girl/woman.

Will it still retain a meaning if it isn’t said correctly? What If I re-defined my own meaning? Who says I have to be part of that language system, I have my own

But I’m named in that one….but born into my own. In this English one

Why then a Yoruba name? Hmm?

Why Kehinde?

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#304 ~ One Hundred Words and a Photo: 24

picture24

I watched myself running into the wilderness, braids stiff in the sultry summer wind, darting into the shades of heavily laden branches. Lost, with a purpose. Soles slapping concrete like the hi-fives I always missed. I watched myself. Running off into the distance. I shouted, asked myself to wait, impatient, you impatient child. STOP

Deaf I watched my shadow running off into the distance. My lungs had to beat faster, as I disappeared like Peter.

My shadow was running back as I ran away, watching myself running off into the distance, braids flying stiffly in the sultry summer – time.

Copyright: Victoria. O

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#299 ~ Psalm Series. 13

I used to stand in the grime mirror, with flecks of toothpaste making interesting patterns over my shimmering skin

and I would stretch my eyebrows, curl back my lips and pull my cheeks.

I tried to refashion my face, then I would pull at my neck

and warp fingers round my waist,

shift my tummy

try and see some rib cage

but the elasticity of my skin would always ping back

angrily

muttering under its breath.

Turns out, my body was quite happy with how it was

before I tried to pretend to be a human potter.

Psalm 119 vs 73 – Your hands have made and fashioned me, give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. 

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