February 27, 2012

Do you like to be called African-American or Black?

"Mrs. P., why do we call black people black? They're brown." questioned my blonde haired best friend.

Mrs. P. was our third grade teacher.

She responded, "Good question."

Mrs. P. proceeded to go into a deep discussion and teaching of black vs. African-American and white vs. Caucasian. This was the first time I ever heard about this. Black people get offended by being called black? It's not polite to call a black person black? All American black people must be from Africa, so they must be categorized as African-Americans? Oh, got it. Side note: not every black person is from Africa.

I never really understood the concept of being politically correct when referring to my racial identity, so I ignored it and called myself black. I wasn't offended by the term, so why should you care what I identify myself as?

Black is what I was (am) and black is what I didn't mind being called. I knew I was of Nigerian descent, so if anyone asked me the inevitable question, "What are you? Like, where are you from?"

I'd respond, "Well I'm black as you can tell. But, my family is from Nigeria so I am Nigerian-American."

Yup. I'm not African-American. I am Nigerian-American (same thing really). I picked up this term 6 years after the third grade lesson. My uncle came to visit with his daughter and I overheard them and my father discussing our racial identity.

My uncle turned to my cousin and said, "You are not just black, you are Nigerian-American. You know which African country you are from."

Okay, so was the term African-American only for the American black folks that didn't know which African country they identified with? Hm. While many African-Americans will find what my uncle said offensive, I understand where he is coming from. We all want to know and have a specific identity when it comes to our race and culture. Each African country is different, so to not have a specific African country to identify with, you don't really know who you are...or does it matter? The culture of being just an African and being an African-American is totally different. Although, it's probably the same now because African countries are so on-point with western culture.

I digress and move on.

In high school, this matter of black vs. African-American was revisited. I was a sophomore or junior and in my English class we were reading a book that involved racial tension. My teacher felt the need to single me out and asked, "How do you feel about being called the N word or being identified as an African-American or black person?"

Really? Were we about to do this at 8 in the morning?

I told her that in all honesty, "I don't know the full history of the N word, but that it is a derogatory term for black people and so obviously I did not like the word."

I mean, seriously though. What did she think I was going to say? Oh yes, master sir, I loooove hearing the N word. She never got the memo that I'm not one of those black people that fling the N word around as a term of endearment. She didn't get the memo that I come from a strict Nigerian background with parents who are not all too familiar with African-American culture. She probably didn't mean no harm with her question. It is a classroom after all.

And as I sat there at my desk feeling like I did in 2nd grade, I said, "Well, I consider myself Nigerian-American. My parents are Nigerian. I'm Nigerian, but was born in the United States, so I am Nigerian-American."

She went on to press the issue of why I should just consider myself black or African-American, but I didn't budge. HELLO, I was a stubborn teenager. But also, why did it matter to her? This was my identity. If I want people to consider me Nigerian-American, then so be it.

Nowadays I like to keep it simple and just say, "I'm black, but I'm of Nigerian descent."

January 5, 2012

You love fried chicken, right?


I prefer cake.

No, I actually don't. Nor do I like watermelon or listen to only rap. Ah, the stereotypes I had to endure growing up as The Token Black Chick.

It was at the 5th grade graduation party in the school auditorium where I won a dancing contest. No one had ever seen my dance moves before. I'm not sure where I picked them up from. I do remember copying moves from a Britney Spears music video I saw, but when asked where I learned to dance like that, I muttered what I thought was expected of me. After all, I was a 10 year old who hated being put on the spot.

I blurted out, "Soul Train! I learned how to dance watching Soul Train."

The fact is—sorry to all my classmates who I lied to—I never watched Soul Train, ever. You see, the thing is. Growing up as The TBC you get socially tricked into thinking you must sometimes adhere to what's popular in black culture. So you get an array of token black chicks; you may be one who strays so far from black culture you seem foreign to those who are "connected" to it, you may be like me where you embrace black culture and the rest of the world, or you are your stereotypical black chick that non-black people are referring to when they generalize black women. NOTE: Neither is better than the other. It's just a cultural observation I have made.

Anyway, I would see Soul Train playing on the TV while my older brother was home but I was more so interested in the new computer game my dad bought me. As a kid I listened to Pop music like Hanson, ate peanut butter sandwiches like they were going out of style and consumed my Friday nights with computer games, homework and TV (TGIF ANYONE?!).

I was raised by hardworking Nigerian parents, where proper English at all times in the household was a demand. Say "ain't" and prepare to be tongue lashed.

"That's not proper English!" My father would say in his fading Nigerian accent.

I was a health nut as a kid, which has to do with underlying body image issues that you can read here, so no I was not in love with fried chicken or watermelon or Kool-Aid. FACT: My mother did not allow Kool-Aid in our household because of the sugar content. Have you read the back of the label for that shit? Yeah. Put the Kool-Aid down unless you want Diabetes!

So what am I getting at? From elementary school through college, I had to endure ignorance depicted in the video below while living in the suburbs. These statements by uneducated parties about black culture were and sometimes are essentially harmless and can be brushed off. But continuous assumptions that I only date black men or that I only listen to rap (I actually hated rap as a kid, but later grew to love it. I'll save that for another post.) began to be a true annoyance.

Countless times I heard, "You don't really act like other black people." Or, "You don't talk like other black people."

Please. Tell me how "other black people" are expected to act? Do educate me.

I thought I had left the ignorant beings in my past when I went to college, but I didn't. Turns out the people I would meet in college may have been uneducated about black culture, but they were more open to learning that not all black people are the same. This was my general thought until I faced the "acting black" incident.

I pride myself of being a respectable and courteous person... because that's how I was raised. I'm a calm soul and a soft but assertive speaker most of the time. So when people see me "act black (?!)" they assume I'm not an Oreo or a black person acting white anymore. Can't a black person act dignified without being looped into the Oreo stereotype?

Wale, a rapper who happens to also be Nigerian, came to perform at my university and I was excited! I was so happy I could sing and dance to his music. Someone I worked with on the school newspaper was there taking pictures and saw that I was well, going nuts. I brought my Nigerian flag. I was waving it, dancing up and down and mouthing the lyrics to all of his songs. SHIT! I WAS HAVING A GOOD TIME! And when he performed "My Sweetie" I lost it. It's got a great African beat sample to it and it's true eargasm to an African Queen like myself. :)

The following week as we were putting together the newspaper, the same classmate who I saw at the concert turned to me as we were editing our pages and goes, "I saw you at the Wale concert. That was the first time I ever saw you act... black."

TRACK STOP.

In my head I was like, "Did this mother f*cker just tell me I was acting black?! Ginger head, fire crotch son-of-a..."

I wanted to go off and properly educate him on the fact that I don't have to act black because I am black and etc, but quite frankly, I didn't feel like wasting my time on such an ignorant statement. I learned growing up in the suburbs with a handful of black friends that you really just have to laugh it off and let ignorant statements go and try to educate people at the right time on the proper way to approach race related anything.

Anyway, I bring this up because of a recent video posted on YouTube entitled Shit White Girls Say... to Black Girls.



It's brilliant and spot on. However, I think Chesca (Can I call you that? I feel like we bonded digitally over this shared life experience that you conveyed.) left out a couple sayings:

Do you love fried chicken?
Do you get sunburned?
Why's your ass so big? Is it because you're black?
Gawwd, I wish I was black. I want a butt like yours.
If I turn off the lights, will I be able to see you?
I want to introduce you to this cute guy, he's black.
Why do black people love watermelon so much?
Do you celebrate Kwanzaa?
Why doesn't your hair move like mine?
Why don't you talk like other black people?
Why are black people so loud?

HAHA! I love my non-black friends, but sometimes you guys say the most WTF things.

December 29, 2011

Do you celebrate Kwanzaa?


I can't dress up as a Princess on Kwanzaa?
"Kwan-what?" I thought to myself.

It was December 1996 and my second year at WB* Elementary. Two years prior, I was living the life in sunny Lagos, Nigeria... but that's an element I'll tell you more about later.

Sitting at my desk, playing with my stretchy eraser, I wondered if this so-called-holiday Kwanzaa was like Halloween. Would that mean I could dress up again as A Little Princess (aka my true identity; aka my most favorite movie of all time)?

Mrs. Jones, my second grade teacher, began telling us about Kwanzaa. I noticed that my school made an effort to teach us about all the holidays that took place at the end of December. So far—thanks to a classmate's mom—I picked up that Hanukkah involved a Menorah and giant smashed hash browns called latkes. Those potato pancakes were tasty. Finger, lickin' good.

Years later, a Rugrats episode involving the Meanie of Hanukkah, would help me understand everything.

Anyway, Mrs. Jones started teaching us the basics about Kwanzaa. The candles, the different days and etc. She read to us a book about a black family that celebrated the holiday. They wore traditional African wear that I used to see all the time back in Nigeria.

As she read, my stomach began to hurt. Poop? No. Nerves? Yes. Still relatively new to the school, I was afraid of what would happen when she finished reading. I was one of three black kids in the class and the only girl, who didn't want to be put on the spot.

Mrs. Jones closed the book and her eye shot straight to me.

Gulp.

"Please don't call on me. Please don't call on me." I thought.

This is the first time I would be in a classroom and feel like I had to answer for my black brethren, educating my fellow classmates on black culture.

But the truth is, I had no idea what the fuck Mrs. Jones was talking about. I knew I identified with the characters in the book because they were black, but as far as their experience, I had no idea what this so-called-holiday Kwanzaa was about. I also was not paying attention—a nervous classroom habit of mine.

She addressed the class, "Anyone have any questions?"

Silence.

"Well, Dara. Do you celebrate Kwanzaa?" Mrs. Jones asked. The question I was dreading. How do I respond? EVERYONE has their eyes on me. Get your eyes off me!

"Um. Um. No? I don't think so..." I spit out.

The truth is, I kind of wish I did. It would have been something for me to brag, per-say, to my classmates about. I kind of felt like I was not a true African-American by not celebrating Kwanzaa.

Being put on the spot for black-related subjects in the classroom is something I would later become accustom to... like the first time a class of mine discussed the N-word (tell you about that experience later).

Christmas Day came that year and my dad was back from his business trip.

"Dad, do we celebrate Kwanzaa?" I asked as I played with my new black barbie.

Perplexed, he responded, "Huh? What's Kwanzaa honey?"

"I'm not sure..."

Years later, I would do a little research to discover that Kwanzaa was a holiday created by a black man and brush off questions from people who often asked, "Do you celebrate Kwanzaa?"

(No.)

*name change

December 27, 2011

Who is The Token Black Chick?


That's me, in the middle at age 8.


The Token Black Chick is a memoir blog. A place where I, Dara Adeeyo, will revisit my past and present, and touch upon my life as The Token Black Chick. A title that has a somewhat negative connotation, but reigns true with many black girls (and boys) like me. We are the black kids that didn't grow up surrounded by mostly black people and were ridiculed by our black and non-black friends for not being "black enough."

You see, our story is a story that has never been told nor has never been heard of (to my knowledge). It is a story that I want to tell. We are not oreos nor white-washed, but a product of the environment of our upbringing.

For the majority of my life, I've been The Token Black Chick or token black friend. I never sought out to be The TBC in the group, it just happened. Being the only black girl amongst my group of friends, classmates or teammates is something that neither bothered me nor noticed until my teenage years.

As a kid, I never saw color and I can truly say that. I just saw nice girls/boys and mean girls/boys. Yes, I knew I was different but it never really seemed like such a big issue because the kids around me never once made me feel like I was an outcast. I grew up in a town where the population was diverse, but with a large chunk of the residents being white or Asian/Indian. Therefore, most of my close friends were either white or Asian/Indian for many particular reasons I will delve into on this blog.

While being The TBC sometimes made me feel awkward, I eventually learned to never let the color of my skin get in the way of me thinking I can't achieve anything. I observed a lot as the only black girl growing up and I am ready to spill my thoughts...