This is not a rant, nor is it a self-righteous call to action by yet another wannabe freedom fighter with a defiant Afro. This is not a rant, nor is it a cry for pity, “Woe is me, black woman; bottom of the heap; last to be picked when all the blonde-haired belles and caramel-toned lovelies are gone; sacrificial lamb; servant. This is a public service announcement, a sad story told on a slow, humid afternoon in Grandma’s house, a word of encouragement to curb the tears. This may seem cliché, as if every young, idealistic black girl in every town could identify, but that is not the case. This is simply, the truth.
You stepped off the plane, head bursting with ideas, ready to take full advantage of the first-class education that you have been blessed with. You would stride through the hallowed halls of higher learning echoing with the vast knowledge of the academics that passed through before you. You would make friends with ease, like-minded people who were interested in different cultures, and diversity, actual diversity, not the fake version sold on shiny brochures with the token Black, or Hispanic or Asian student beaming widely as if to say, “If I can be happy and well-adjusted here, so can you!” You would transcend boundaries and try new things you’d never tried and no one would stand in your way. Rock-climbing. Internships. Parties worthy of Animal House with red cups littering the floor. Your phone memory would be full to capacity with cool artsy photos of your rainbow spectrum of friends and cute little videos documenting your many jaunts into the city, and texts inviting you to go thrifting, or to get fro-yo or to have a late night study party on the deserted first floor of the library.
To your surprise, the welcome committee is missing from the ornate iron gates. The rich history of academia turns up its nose at your eagerness and only looks to you to expand its horizon to the far shores of Africa or anything concerning blackness as a concept because of course, you are an expert in that area. The friends trickle in occasionally, and when they do, their enthusiastic inquiries about your life and culture conceal a thinly veiled condescension that proclaims how lucky you should feel for being afforded this opportunity of civilization. Excuse me, did I say civilization? Assimilation? I meant education. You find that the expectations of others restrain your adventurous spirit. You are expected to conform, more Drew Barrymore than Angela Davis. But you must be a proud representative of your culture, very “ethnic” and “exotic”. Not too ethnic though, you don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. Confused, you look to those who bring you comfort by the mere fact that they look as though they would be perfectly at home sashaying down the street on a hot afternoon in Accra in a brightly printed tight-fitting dress. Unfortunately, your pursuit of acceptance is met with a sound slap in the face. You realize that your “sisters” a few centuries removed shun you and seem to be irritated by your mere existence as it serves as some sort of reminder of a bitter past. To them, your lilting accent sounds like nails on a chalkboard and your open smile fuels nothing but resentment.
You find yourself pushed and shoved in opposing directions by pre-conceived ideas that constrict your every move like shackles and leave you desperate to disprove the misguided theories. “Oh so you think you’re British? What’s with the accent? I love your accent; it’s so sexy! Girl, when are you going to fix that hair? This isn’t the motherland! I know Africans always think they’re superior because they know their roots, but we have culture too!” You attempt to dodge these daggers that rip holes in your identity but instead you find yourself inhabiting this grey area somewhere between basketball wife with a badly styled weave and tribal girl fleeing from subjugation and a life of marital slavery.
What do you do? You do not cry in your closet of a dorm room, waiting for a phone call from someone who truly gets you and doesn’t want you to serve as the token African friend but genuinely wishes to spend time with you. You learn to smile at everything. And everyone. You learn to glory in the fact that your laugh echoes the birdsong at dawn, and your grandmother’s sobs, and the clapping of hands in a heated game of ampe, and the frantic beat of drums, and loud cries in an unknown language. You will learn to patiently explain that the fact that you mention the “t” in water doesn’t mean that you talk “white” but simply that you have grown up in a former British colony. You will shrug off any attempts to dim the shine of your confidence. You will stride as if you know for a fact that the sun rises and sets on the mahogany plane of your skin and no one can tell you otherwise. You will glory in the fact that your “too wide” hips sway like palm fronds in the breeze and part crowds like Moses facing the Red Sea. You are nobody’s wallflower, only plucked when a taste of the exotic is desired. Know that your presence is blessed and you cannot, and will not, be ignored.
This is not a rant. This is a break from your regularly scheduled programming of insecurity and doubt. This is a palate cleanser, a cool shower on a balmy night. This is a lullaby, a hymn, a war cry. This is the sound of Yaa Asantewaa’s laughter at a joke Rosa Parks once told her to pass the time, in the front seat of a bus stumbling across the Afram Plains trying to get to Louisiana. This is the clinking of gold bracelets and beads, and the stamping of feet and the slapping of thighs. This is freedom and the twirling of skirts. This is a pattern drawn in the dust, and a carefree girlhood that is snatched away far too early. This is not a rant. This is the straightening of a million bent brown backs and the pulling back of shoulders. This is the fire in a million pairs of beautiful maroon eyes and the rejection of centuries of lies and “You’re not good enough”. This is not a rant. This is simply, the truth.
~Zoe Gadegbeku, Editor in Chief