Embrace your roots

What sets you apart can sometimes feel like a burden and it is not. And a lot of the time, it’s what makes you great.” — Emma Stone. 

I remember thinking, I have made it to the land of milk and honey… that was my honey-moon stage. Coming to the US was exciting, a dream come true, something only possible in my wildest dreams. Needless to say, I was not ready for what I was about to face. It was all peaches and ice-cream in my head.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks, I found myself plunged into a world of pounds and ounces, big portions, intersectionality, and diversity. I drowned. I had been uprooted from all I knew, friends and family and thus struggled to find a place in a world that was not my own.

People would (and still do) throw statements like, “ You have such a beautiful accent, where are you from?”. While that could have been a friendly gesture from their point of view, I felt that it only served to highlight that I did not belong. As a freshman in college, I remember being frustrated by the fact that everyone felt the need to point out that I was an outsider. I longed for a conversation that did not revolve around my country of origin. My motherland was (is) just one aspect of my multifaceted identity.

Friends would introduce me as,” This is Trish, my friend from Zimbabwe” as if that were everything I was. I thought to myself, I have never introduced my friends by saying … “This is Jake, my friend from LA”. It sounds weird,  doesn’t it? To counter this, I began to change the way I spoke, dressed, the movies, and even the music I listened to. I changed so much of who I was to fit into the mold of what a freshman at a liberal arts college in the US  should look like. In that, I lost the best parts of myself, stopped doing the things I loved.

Trust me, being someone else is exhausting, it is a full- time job. It was only after I returned home for the summer when I was re-inspired and found the real authentic me again. I read the books I loved, listened to the pulsating beats of Afro-music, ate my mother’s beef stew, and was engulfed by the warm African sun. Coming back to the US, I realized, I could tie my colorful headwrap and wear it to class and I could style my luscious nappy curls for formal events. I could be me in this foreign place and be successful and embraced because of it and despite it.

I used to think everything that made me different was a burden. I hated it and I hated myself for it. Now that I know it is okay to be me, I have become stronger and more confident. I realized that the best way to get overlooked by people is to brand yourself like an anonymous clone. 

Last winter break, my roommate asked me to take care of his hedgehog called Remi. When Remi got spooked, he would curl up into a ball. When he did that, you could not see his cute face or his little soft belly. All you see is a ball of outward-facing spines. Remi reminds me of what happens when one is too scared to open up and share themselves with the world. You rob yourself and the world of the best parts of yourself.

Africa has been branded as poor, backward, a place of savages. Black people are treated as second class. Africa is degraded in Western media. Every country has poverty, homeless people, hungry people- each and every place has its struggles however they are neither defined by it nor do they wear it on their sleeve. This has resulted in some sort of inferiority complex which makes people feel the need to blend in and become the norm- the norm being Western. It’s in the straight hair and skin lightening creams.

Melanin Art World

Whether you like it or not, you are a representative of where you are from when you are living in the diaspora. Embrace that and help change the narrative Listen, my point is maybe just maybe that which you are trying to prune, cut off, get rid of, what you are calling the rough edges is what makes you unique, different and special. You do not have to tone down the energy, the life, the zeal, the color, the melanin, the nappy curls in a bid to become what is acceptable by Western standards.

My African History teacher in high school used to tell us that a drum will never sound like a violin. He was right and I have figured that we should give up the expectation that it will or that one sound is more sophisticated than the other. It is just different and that is special. 

Multiculturalpedia(Philippines-Africa) | African music, Sub-saharan  african, Rhythm and blues

We are amazing kings and queens, our culture is rich and sacred, our skin made of honey and gold, our language emanating from centuries of tradition, our beliefs centered and above all- Ubuntu which binds us together. Let us embrace it!

Ubuntu is a social philosophy that embodies virtues that celebrate mutual social responsibility, mutual assistance, trust, sharing, unselfishness, self-reliance, caring, and respect for others among other ethical values. In simple terms, it means I am because you are.

I love my accent

How can you tell that I am not from America when I fail to roll up that R enough for you

Ticks you off?

That my linguistic strides hop from Ndebele to Shona to Manyika- with a pinch of Tonga, a sprinkle of Ndau, dip fried in Venda?

Oh, right?

You wouldn’t know since the ignorance you have welcomes aids your wade into oceans of my English imperfections.