Tag Archives: White

My Naijalife part 3: Na this oyinbo pepper eh?

Disclaimer: This post is not meant to personally insult individuals who may recognize themselves in some of the examples. It’s just my reflections on what I think may be a very complex issue.

One thing I really admire in Nigerians is the winner attitude. “We can, we’re the best,” etc. And I find that in Nigeria, when something seem about to fail, it somehow get pulled together at the last minute in some very creative ways. I’m talking about day to day and work situations mainly.

So it’s therefore a bit puzzling to me that although there is this refreshing “we’re great” attitude, there is also a tendency to have a slightly unhealthy obsession with white people. I’ll mention a few examples.

I was talking to one of my young colleagues when he said “You white people are just a lot better than us. We just destroy things and we’re not organized like you.”

Another time, I was with the first female friend I had in Nigeria as she proudly proclaimed to her friends that “I’m busy. I’m actually with my white friend.”

The final example is quite recent. I overheard another friend’s friend asking her why she hadn’t told him I was white before we met.

In all these situations I felt a little bit awkward. Why is me being white so special? And why would anyone say they’re not as good as a white person?

I’m not new to self-criticism of my own race. I think white people as a race can be quite full of themselves and walk around as if they own the earth and anyone is supposed to serve them. But I don’t see white people as less able to be friendly than black people. And I’ve met individuals of both black, Latino and Asian people who walk around with a sense of false entitlement. So it’s not your colour that determines how nice you are. Although I can appreciate that a lot of racial discrimination is carried out by white people.

Generalizing an entire race is very dangerous. I said to my colleague who claimed all white people to be better than black people that if young people across Nigeria were thinking like that, the country would never develop to its full potential. Luckily, many young Nigerians are seeing potentials and are doing great things in the country. Some are even moving back from Europe to start businesses and that’s awesome!

Like with individuals, every people have its good and bad points. And it’s good that we’re not all the same as we can learn from each other’s differences.

When I came on to the Nigerian music scene, there were a lot of blog comments about white people coming to take over yet more things in Africa. And that Nigerians should stop worshipping white people.

I totally agree with the latter, though worship is a little bit of a strong word. But if we go back to examples two and three, where my colour seemed to be a big deal, I can appreciate that somebody would use that term. Example one is an even clearer indication of this. By the way, these people from the examples are intelligent and well educated, so I’m guessing this view on white people goes a lot deeper than just education. And I will not claim to fully understand this issue.

One thing I’ll tell everyone despite who they are is love yourself and only focus on being the best version of you. You don’t have to be your people, your country or your colour for that matter. As supportive commenters did point out, I came to Africa because Afrobeat is what I know how to do. I urge you to do the same. Do what you excel at.

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My biggest Challenge as a white artist in Nigeria is…

When I give interviews in Nigeria, I often get asked if I face any challenges being a white artist. I reply that I have been received with open arms and hearts and that people don’t seem to see my colour. And I stand by that. However, after a really silly disagreement with a makeup artist, I realize that I do face one minor, but nonetheless annoying challenge being a white artist in a black music industry.

It’s got to do with makeup. A very common phrase among my friends back in Norway and the UK is
“You did look amazing in that photo shoot/video. But can’t they give you a better foundation? You look paler than normal.”

Though a minor thing, I do find it frustrating when I learn that more often than not, I have been given a lighter skin tone than I give myself when I apply my own makeup.

I have come to understand that the makeup artists, who style me, don’t do this out of malice. More than anything, it has to do with unfamiliarity with skin colour. Unless you are a real pro with lots of experience making up different people, choosing foundation and powder for someone who has a different skin colour to yourself is a challenge. That goes both ways. I think it’s hard for a white person to find a perfectly matching foundation for a black person and vise versa.

We all have skin overtones and undertones. And the two don’t always match. The overtones in your skin is what people can see with the naked eye, while the undertones may not really reveal itself until we’re talking about cosmetics.

A black person can have dark overtones, but light undertones, while a white person can have fair overtones and dark undertones. Two people with the same looking skin may need completely different makeup because of the undertones.

I have a friend who, at a glance looks as if she has the same skin colour and makeup needs as me. So, we went out to buy makeup one day, and she gave me the same bronzer she used. Only I used up mine in six weeks whereas hers lasted a year. It wasn’t a cheap bronzer and I was frustrated at the crazy amount I had to dump on my face for it to even show. So we pondered over this for a while until she came to the conclusion that I needed to go two shades darker as well as a slightly different colour. Her undertones are blue. Mine are yellowy brown.

So I went and got a quite brown bronzer which is still going strong after almost daily use for a year and nine months. And it looks natural on me.

But it was this brown bronzer that got me discussing with a Nigerian makeup artist.

This was a very unprofessional girl to start with. She knew she was going to work with a white girl, but had seemingly made no preparations for it, so asked if I had bronzer. I am getting used to this situation, so luckily I had brought it with me. I also wanted to make sure I got the right colour skin this time. However, she thought it was way too dark and complained that I didn’t have anything lighter., to which I replied that if my daily bronzer was too dark for her, I found it strange and that I wouldn’t use anything lighter.

I think the reason for this misunderstanding was her unfamiliarity with me as much as her preconceived idea of what white skin is. I know I was the first white person she ever made up, so perhaps she had ideas of white powders and pink colours. She’s not the first and she won’t be the last.

Likewise, the average white person has preconceptions of what black skin is and thus what makeup black people should wear.

But it’s not all bad news. As I said previously, true professionals have no issues with colour. I have had two amazing black stylists. And one of them hadn’t even met me before making me up. And they got it right. The fact that one was Canadian African and one African American may have helped since they were used to seeing and working with a greater variety of skin colours.

It’s not as if the Nigerian ones got it all wrong though. Lipstick, eye shadows etc. is not that colour bound. And if I don’t get light strawberry pink on my face, I usually look okay. It’s just the foundation that tends to go wrong.

Funnily enough, once when they did get it right, someone in Nigeria commented on one of the music blogs and said they hoped I wasn’t trying for a coloured gimmick. A la Rachel Doleza.l Hilarious!

Solution: When in doubt, ask. I may not be the makeup stylist. But I know my skin enough to know what works as the base. And with that, I hope for no more foundation and bronzer mishaps again.

And as long as that’s my greatest challenge as a white artist in Nigeria, I really can’t complain. Because my fans, you are lovely and I love you!

Why I would never do what Rachel Dolezal did

A few days ago, I did the pencil test, just because I didn’t have anything else to do. And ok, I was a little curious to know what the result would be.

In case you don’t know what the pencil test is, it’s a method used in apartheid South Africa to determine your race and in turn, where you would live, who you would marry etc. The pencil test wrongfully divided families and saw them living in different parts of town.

The pencil test is easy. You just stick a pencil into your hair. If it stays there, you’re supposedly either black or coloured/mixed race. If the pencil drops, then lucky you. You get clean water, a good education and streetlights at night. I think. I don’t know exactly how it was in south Africa back then.

So here’s a question. I have fair skin, blond hair and blue eyes. However, the pencil stayed in my hair.
Where does that leave me on the race scale? And what is race? Is it biological? Or is it a social construct?

I realize I am posing enough questions here to write a fat academic book that not many would be likely to read. And I also realize that the nature of these questions are extremely tense for some.

But what inspired me to write this blog post, was the Rachel Dolazel scandal back in June. If you need a little reminder of the scandal read
here

I was embarrassed more than anything when the story came out and I read facebook statuses, instagram posts, blog posts, tweets and articles written by indignant black people who claimed that what Rachel did was racist.

And although I don’t condone what she did,
this interview with MSNBC

Where she speaks out for the first time, telling her own side of the story made me see the whole thing a little differently. Though I still think what she did was wrong.

Hearing Rachel speak, I realized that we have one thing in common. We both feel a little culturally misplaced. She talks about always being fascinated with black culture and feeling more at home among black people. And I feel the same way. I prefer the music, my hair care regime is closer to that of black girls and, perhaps from being a minority in a society though I’m blind and not black, I understand and have experienced discrimination first hand.

However, there is a crucial point where we are different. Whereas she wants to blend in and tries to play the part of someone she isn’t, I try to fit in by being who I am.

And this is what I find so sad about Rachel Dolezal. There’s nothing wrong in wearing your hair in braids and twists, be all engaged with equal rights for black and white people and in Rachel’s case even teach African American studies, although she may have taken it slightly to far with a couple of her lectures. Or in my case, be a singer in Africa.

But it is still possible to do these things and be white. In fact, not denying who we are and still living for the things we care about is going to earn us far more respect than pretending to be someone else. As many of the comments and posts regarding Rachel Dolazel stated, the celebration of the culture is very welcome. But it is passing off as a good example of someone you’re not and being glorified as someone you’re not that is so wrong.

Had a leader of the local blind organization for instance turned out no more visually impaired than needing reading glasses, yet received degrees, doctorates etc and then hailed as extraordinary among blind people, I would be pretty mad. So I get all the people who didn’t take well to what Rachel did.

I get it anyway without the blind comparison. And that, along with the fact that I don’t need to be ashamed of who I am, is the reason why I’d never do a dolezal.

So what is race exactly? Most people would define race as a biological thing based purely on yur physical looks. I tend to agree with that. Look at dogs for example. Even if a Labrador behaves like a Spaniel, it doesn’t make it a Spaniel. And just as a Labrador and a Spaniel are equal despite differences in appearance, so are humans.

It can be both easy and tempting for some to see race as a social construct. And it is to a certain degree. For example, oppression of other races by, mainly the white race, have caused different living standards and opportunities in some cases which have determined people’s lives. But that social construct is both forced and negative and something we all need to work towards getting rid of.

Things like food, music and other everyday culture are things that have flourished within certain communities and therefore indirectly within certain races is an argument for race as a social construct. But indi rock doesn’t belong to white people, reggae to black people and the Japanese don’t have monopoly on enjoying manga.

And in our global age where everybody moves around, we’re ultimately going to addopt practices from cultures that may be far away from the one we’re born into if we like them, or feel more comfortable with them. And isn’t that just a good thing?

Therefore, I think it’s sad to uphold something as being “a white thing” while something else is “a black thing” though we can always appreciate the origin of where things come from. Because the truth is, that in our society today, we’re going to do a little bit of everything.

Finally, let’s return to the pencil test and the question where on the whole race thing am I?

If we look at race as a social construct, I am mixed race. I can feel at ease in both the typical black and typical white setting, whatever clichés they’re based on. Though perhaps, I’m a little more on the black side. (I can’t name a single Indi rock band and I love rice and beans for Sunday dinner.) Yes, I am over simplifying a lot here. But I was just trying to avoid writing that book. So please forgive me.

If we treat race as a biological thing which the majority does, I’m a white girl with a pencil stuck in my hair. And that’s cool. In the end, I’m just me.

The world in skin colours

One day, my partially sighted friend from Sierra Leone had the following status on Facebook: “I fail to understand how blind people can be racist. They don’t see the skin colour.” I personally fail to understand how anyone can be racist. The colour of your skin has no effect on what kind of a person you are. The culture around you and your experiences however, do. I think racism is equally stupid to for example, discriminating people according to their eye or hair colour. But my friend’s status got me thinking and I wrote something along these lines in the comment field.

“It is very easy for a blind person to be racist. He or she may not be able to see your skin colour, but they can still have prejudices built into them from childhood. And they can figure out your skin colour from things like your name, nationality or accent.”

It turned into a very interesting discussion about how you really can tell a person’s skin colour as a blind person. Especially today when the world is so global. It took me a while to understand that my favourite comedian Russell Peters was Indian for example.

I dare say I’m fairly good at picking up what race people belong to. Black and white skin feels a little different and every racial group has slightly different voices from one another. My good friend and ex colleague at the BBC was quite shocked when I asked her if she by any chance had Indian parents. I can’t remember exactly why I asked this, but it could have been either because she asked me to guess what she looked like, or she talked about her boyfriend who had an Indian name. She herself had an International school kind of English accent and her name, both first and last, could pass off as European, so I can understand her shock. I told her that it was her voice “It sounds like a voice from India.”

But we don’t always get it right. One blind friend of mine, who happens to be a black girl from Uganda, asked me, after having known me for five minutes whether I was Chinese because I had a voice that sounded a little bit like I could possibly be a Hong Kong girl. And recently, when I was walking through campus, a young man started to talk to me, as students do. I was absolutely sure he must be Indian or Pakistani, because he had that kind of Urban city accent most countries and languages have. In Oslo, people who talk like that, tend to sound Pakistani. So I was very surprised when he shook hands with me and introduced himself as Stian, a very Norwegian name.