Thursday, April 01, 2010

UnNigerianization of my Son

My ten year old son (half Sri Lankan) has been finding it very difficult to process the stories he is hearing about Africa. Derogatory references to the continent of his birth, and his mother’s Race is stirring up unsettling vibes and a mild identity crises.

Recently he repeatedly told me about the pictures of starving children his class teacher had shown his class. The malnourished images etched into his mind the hardship and depravation suffered by a race he belongs to; a harsh reality all children of African origin have to face eventually.

On another incident, some other teacher was talking to the class about cannibalism, and she gave the example “in Africa, some people eat parts of the body of their enemies because they feel it would give them strength”. She told me of his dramatic reaction, as he yelled “I am not one of them!” animatedly gesturing for emphasis.

I worry that he will grow up with a very negative self image. Being African is not a choice, it never was for any of us, we are born in the continent and have to make the best of what ever opportunities we have, while facing bravely all the threats that come our way.

I still cringe, when I hear or read the “single story” references about Africa, on poverty, violence, corruption or disease. If as an Adult I am still so affected by the African Stereotype then, I can’t imagine what he would be experiencing as child. A young mind in its formative years, constantly hearing more and more of Africa bashing, will grow up detesting the continent, and what I fear more, the part of himself that is African.

All people have their challenges, but ours seem to be the only one, where our woes seem to seriously out weight our blessings. There is a high probability, that he will soon want no part of the continent in his identity, and try to form a self perception based on his preferred Nationality (most likely Sri Lankan).

I might be wrong, but I worry that, rejecting a part of our identity is a great loss. How can you face yourself in the mirror everyday, if you can’t stand the stark reality that you are ‘black’ and the all connotation there in? The only option is to love the blackness, with all its flaws, and then perhaps we can some how transcend the negativity.

When he was younger, he had once said to me, “I wish we were German”! This was back in Nigeria when we were living in an expatriate neighborhood, I am not sure why he said it, but I would speculate that he must have observed the differences in the living standards of his father’s German colleagues, as compared to the other LDC nationalities.

As it often happens, a lot of innocuous comments children make, have deep meaning. But my challenge as a mother is to put aside my own melancholy about the continent and seek to find some sunshine in the Dark Continent.

Don’t get me wrong, I would gladly paint myself and my children white, and migrate to a colder climate. Adopting a new accent and embracing a cultural identity without so much baggage. Or, I could also from the comfort of my economically stable nation, scream my Africanesss, wearing the colorful uniform of ancestral traditions in other to gain attention and adoration of my culture hungry fans.

Sadly, that option is not available, so for the sake of my son’s self esteem, I have to bury my African demons, retire my nagging Naija doubts. Because I don’t want him growing up and wishing he was anything but who he is, African- Asian, and everything else in between.


Cheluchi Onyemelukwe said...

Hi dear. How now? Its been a while. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I just read this really interesting post and it really resonated with me. I wish this wasn't public because I wanted to ask some questions. I hope you can help your son find a way to live very contentedly (not defensively) with his "blackness" (is anyone really black or is it a rich brown?) and his Asianess. I bet he is a very handsome boy.

Mena UkodoisReady said...

Thanks for the all africa link!! Saw this link on your profile and decided to visit. :)

Your son has a legitimate worry especially as you are raising him outside a black majority country. You have your work cut out for you to ensure that he is confident in himself and his history, but if you need resources just let me know.

That said, this is a great write up, keep it up!


Anonymous said...

i know this half sri lankan and half African American girl, she was beautiful

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