i've been holding back on whether i would like to discuss this topic seeing that i made a vow to myself that I would try not to divulge too much personal information on the web....but i felt that it is a topic that has to be dealt with...and dealt with, it shall...well, in the best way I can.
I recently made a vow to myself to stop frequenting the many African Hair Braiding salons that line almost every other corner of the town that I live in. Besides the fact that they charge me extra for having thick hair (well, before I cut it), are getting ridiculously expensive, can't do regular twists (I'm not a big fan of the kinky twists...), and never entertain my feeble attempts at bargaining...I'm finding that more and more my skin crawls at the salon gossip. Of course, gossip is a guaranteed feature of any hair salon and I have been known to indulge in this shameful habit (tsk, tsk). However, the more I frequent such places, the more I realize that the denigration of our trans-Atlantic brethren...i.e. African Americans....is a staple at some of these places (at least, the ones in my community....I'm sure it is not universal).
It is not only amongst our French-speaking African hair braiders does such exist. I have found myself shrinking back at many conversations I have had amongst Nigerians/Ghanaians that center around African Americans (aka, akata in Naija or cotton pickos in Ghana - both of which I find derogatory, since I have never heard those words used in a positive light before.....correct me if I am wrong).
Many find it interesting that I take such offense to such things, seeing that I have some ties to the recently immigrated African community. However, I feel that by being born in the US, I have recently come to the realization that I am, indeed, African American, though not in the traditional sense of the word. More, specifically, Nigerian American - though they never have that option on tax documents and college applications...but if anyone cared to ask...now you know.
Why the "recently?" Well, growing up, like many other first generation Americans of Nigerian extraction, I struggled trying to reconcile the two incongruent parts of my identity....that of being Nigerian and that of being American (I have the two passports to prove it....). And unfortunately, my ties to either community were tenuous, at best - being not fully accepted in the African American community because of my name, rice and stew luches (instead of ham and cheese sandwiches), and my threaded hairdos that my mom insisted I wear (errghhhh - they stuck out everywhere). On the flipside, in the Nigerian community I also stuck out because of my "ascent" (accent), my incessant questions, and my virtually non-existent pidgin English (I have improved since then, thanks to my significant other).
So I stood in between two communities - not realizing that I, my brothers, cousins and fellow first generationers belonged to a community of our own. And we possessed not a mixure of identities, but rather a valid identity all to its own - Nigerian American - to be defined by the individual at his/her own time.....but anyway I digress.
But back to my point. I believe that while living in United States, the category of "Nigerian-American" rightly falls under the umbrella of African American. Being African-American in the United States embraces a diversity of experiences - first-generation African Americans, descendants of slaves, recently immigrated Africans, and mixed race individuals like presumptive Democratic nominee, Barack Obama (!!!). So I personally feel insulted when others under this umbrella of "African-American" denigrate (would I say, traditional?) African-Americans either because of their names (e.g. Tyquesha), food (e.g. chitlins), Ebonics or hairdos that stick out all over the place in a wide variety of Kool-Aid-like colours. The fact that after centuries of degradation from the dominant group, they have been able to maintain their own culture and traditions, distinct from mainstream America - is a testament to their strength of character. I personally think that amongst Africans in the US, the uniqueness of all African-American experiences, especially those different from our own, should be appreciated and not targeted for ridicule.
okay, I have finished my sermon for today...