Little Boy: “You shouldn’t say a person a person is black. That’s being racist”
Me: “Says who?”
Little Boy: “my teacher. She says it’s racist to say someone is black”
Me: “Is your teacher black?” (I already knew the answer to that seeing as I knew most of the teachers).
Little Boy: “no”
Me: thinking how best to explain my thoughts without letting the rising sarcasm and righteous #blacklivesarenotinvisible Martin Luther alter ego come through…
“Sweetie, I’m African and black and I don’t mind being described as a black person or an African person because there are Africans who are white too. There are white people and black people and people of different colours everywhere and they make the world colourful…”
(Excerpt from my conversation with a little white boy)
One thing about being preggers that I wasn’t told or prepared for was dealing with insomnia. Sleep, for some reason, ‘don’t live here anymore’ (thank you, Rose Royce). So after tossing and turning and whispering a few prayers here and there, I decided to put my insomnia to good use.
For a while now, I have had this issue of ‘colour blindness’ on my mind (no not Georgia!)
Now, although undiagnosed, I think I am colour blind to some degree. Ask any of my kids at the nursery.
Me: “A, please could you hand me that blue bottle over there?”
A: “Do you mean the purple one cos the other one is white”
Me: “Oh that’s a lovely red dress you have on”
Child: “no it’s not. It’s pink!”
It’s a constant struggle to distinguish red from pink from orange to brown. Don’t even get me started on all the shades of blue!
However, as an African immigrant living in the U.K, one thing I do not need my glasses to be conscious about is the colour of my skin or the horde of colours that abound here for that matter. Which is one of the reasons I love my local church, the Kings Community Church.
I think it is incorrect to say children do not see colour. Children DO NOT RESPOND OR RELATE according to the colour of ones skin would be more appropriate. Here are a few questions I’ve been asked by the kids at work to prove my point:
“Why are you brown?”
“Are you black or brown?”
“Why is your hair all wriggly?”
“Your hair looks spongy. Why?”
“Why do you talk differently?”
“You are brown same as A”
“Where are you from?”
And my all time favourite…
“Why do you say bin bag (bean bag) instead of biiiiin bag (bin bag)?”
Sweeping our differences under the carpet and calling it ‘blindness’ or ‘overcoming racism’ isn’t really helping anyone at all. Because racism is what you do not the colour of your skin. I have developed friendships and relationships with people of other colours who couldn’t be racist, not even if their lives depend on it. And we tease each over our differences that are largely due to our cultural upbringing or our white/black/Indian/Chinese/to-be-decided ‘Thing’.
For instance, here in the U.K, people are generally quieter spoken than I’m used to. So one of the first things I had to do after I immigrated was to upgrade my internal processor speed and capabilities as well as number of ‘pardons’ to help me keep up with conversations ( I should also mention that the Scottish accent didn’t help either with all the never ending ‘rrrr’s’, it was almost like hearing everyone speak in tongues).
In Nigeria where I’m from, we are loud. Like LOUD!
Which was why the first time I went to a prayer meeting at my local church here in Scotland, I left feeling like I had attended a wake keeping rather than a prayer meeting because in Nigeria, after a prayer meeting, your voice better be as hoarse as an 80’s rock singer or just get tonsillitis so you can officially be mute for the next couple of days. “Go loud or go home” is our motto. Mmhmm!
So a ‘shouting’ Nigerian in the UK is a ‘just talking’ Nigerian in Nigeria.
You all know I like to cook (or more appropriately put, liked to cook – one of the side effects of being preggers). What you may not know is that I also have a passion for HOT pepper, lots of it. So sometimes, Bud and I have friends over for lunch or dinner and when I prepare the food, I certainly can’t be ‘colour blind’, particularly when we have British or European friends over (*in hushed tone* even when they claim to like spicy food).
No way! Your girl is no killer!
Also, what is seen as being confident in the UK, is considered as being rude and disrespectful in Nigeria and what is considered respectful and polite in Nigeria is seen as either being disrespectful or lacking confidence here in the UK. Let me break it down.
Remember the little boy who asked me about my age? Cute, innocent, curious and maybe sweet of him to ask me right?
In the U.K, sure! No big deal. In Nigeria, No way!! Especially considering the age difference – he was 4 and I was 27. That was just disrespectful on so many levels and he would have had the ‘fear of the Lord’ taught to him in ways that are not very… British.
Another thing is eye contact. Mmhmm! When speaking to an older person in Nigeria, it is considered polite and respectful to lower your gaze and head. Here in the U.K., I have been told it is disrespectful to not make eye contact. So sometimes, before or during a conversation, I let people know about this and explain that I use my ‘African averting gaze time‘ to reflect and assimilate what has been or is being said, as it is not my intention to be disrespectful.
My favourites, however, are the expressions and gestures Nigerians use. People in the UK, especially white people, talk primarily with their mouths. As they should, for that is one of the purposes the good Lord intended it for. Nigerians, on the other hand, need a little bit more for effective communication – our mouth, eyes, nose, facial muscles, hands, head, shoulders, hips, legs, basically the entire body needs to be involved in talking. No Kidding!
Sometimes during a conversation, I have been asked: “Am I saying rubbish just now?” And when I say “no, I totally agree with what you are saying”, they go like “phew! For a moment there I was afraid I was making no sense because of your facial expression” and in my head, I’m like “what face and what expression?”
Experiences such as are helping to raise my sensitivity level when I interact with non-Nigerians or generally people of other races as I try extra hard not to send the wrong messages. However, I still get misunderstood and sometimes get into trouble because as the saying goes “you can take the girl out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the girl”.
Personally, I choose to be sensitive rather than blind as I believe our physical and cultural differences make us unique and offer a lot of learning opportunities that help build our character and makes us more tolerant (sensitive) to each other rather than pretending or refusing to acknowledge that people are indeed different (physically and otherwise) from one another. Plus it saves me time when describing people with similar physical traits. For example, say I’m asked to describe 3 good looking, tall and well-dressed guys standing at a bus stop. One is Asian, one is Caucasian and one is black (not all black people are Africans). People! Our climate is changing, Kim Jong-un is getting crazier by the day and the UK maybe out of the EU anytime soon. So, I would describe them as a black guy, a white guy and an Asian guy, thank you.
That said if you are a non-African or not black and you encounter me….
I come in peace!
All photos used with permission.