I was waiting to take the subway home when someone came rushing towards me, shouting my name and through herself around my neck to give me a massive bear hug. It took a few seconds to recognize her. My own little sister. You might be wondering how I would struggle to recognize the person I know best in the world. But it’s easy. I didn’t expect to see her there and then. I recognized her fast enough, but since I didn’t think I’d see her, my ears weren’t tuned in properly.
This happens to all of us. Sighted or blind. We don’t see or hear at once what we expect to see or hear in places we don’t expect it… And in different contexts, what we actually see and hear isn’t exactly what we see and hear. So we can be easily fooled or tricked.
I had an experience like that in New York which was actually quite fun and amusing.
During my time there, I hung out exclusively with West Africans. Quite natural really, since I was there for the Nigerian Entertainment awards. We went clubbing quite a bit in relation to this award. And one question my friends got asked a lot was “Is this girl white, or a light skinned Nigerian?” Nobody asked me that directly, but I did get a few questions about where in Nigeria I was from. I told them I was proudly Lagosian LOL. My friends also told whoever asked them, that I was a light skinned Naija girl.
I loved being taken for a Nigerian. But it did baffle me somewhat. I was quite tanned at the time and I have curly hair with a texture some mixed race girls have got, which were in cornrows at the time. I also speak Pidgin English a lot when I hang out with West Africans. But how can anybody mistake me for anything other than white with my blue eyes, hair colour and Oyinbo nose?
So when I met a Ghanaian American artist to feature on his single on my final full day in New York, I asked him why I was taken for an African. His reply was interesting. “Your swag is African girl.”
What he meant by that, is that though you look at me and clearly see a white girl, the way I speak, my mannerisms and the setting makes me appear African. There were white people at the events, though they were a minority. But there were a lot of Jamaicans. A nationality I could get away with more easily as white Jamaicans exist.
I’m not sure I totally get the whole thing about the African swag, though I can only relate it back to not expecting to see something, in this case a white girl, in a majority Nigerian setting who behaves like a Nigerian, whatever that means A bit like me not thinking immediately the girl so excited to see me was my sister. But I don’t care. The koko for this post is that I be proudly African, Nigerian sef. Even if it’s honorary.