Blactually: African In North America


There is a tangible tension in the world, and it can be boiled down to the rise of identity politics. The everyday struggle for a place in the world is something we all participate in, to greater and lesser extents, knowingly or not. I was recently made to reconsider where I stand because for a long part of my life, I was a Ugandan first an African second, and then Black. Having lived in southern Africa, on the international school circuit, I was hyper aware of the global mechanisms of racism and had learned to fight it as a collective, as a national struggle. Now as an undergrad in Canada the fight is on a more personal level, the lens we view race relations through here is more focused. In Canada I am seen as Black first, African second and then Ugandan. A complete reverse!

This revelation has lead me down a path of self discovery and learning. In my mind North Americans of African descent were an other, a group separate from myself with their own culture (and they are), and as I spent more time in here I found myself resenting the label “black". I've struggled with using this term to describe anyone because it is so loaded. In today's outlook the term black is a double edged sword. For some it means empowerment, ownership over history, a connection to a rich culture or even a rallying point, while others see it is an excuse for their present condition. The term black was weaponized to lower and minimize the world's and our own perception of ourselves, and maybe it has worked on me.

If that is the case then no more.

I remember being so far from the problems of North American politics as a 12 y.o kid in Zimbabwe. I could laugh at the news and relish in the belief that I would never be in any such situation because of my very successful  “African parents”, and the whole “it takes a village” upbringing would insulate me for poor decisions. I blamed the victims. I was blind. I can't say that we have figured out racism where i grew up but we have a government that resembles us so we blame our problems on different things, like foreigners in western owned NGO’s or lofty organisations like the UN and IMF. From the time a child is born here, they are confronted with the privilege or lack thereof that comes with their post, black or white. I was born to a mother and father who loved me, in a world where the forces working against them were surmountable, and sadly not everyone has had that. What has hit me as an adult is that all of that counts for shit if nobody takes the time to know me, and that is the whole point of what I’m writing. 

Calling me black isn’t the same as calling me a “n****r” but they have similar effects, they give you an excuse not to look deeper because all I am to you is black. The meaning of the word black here is so loaded; there is a new culture that I am still learning but also this specter of old stereotypes that I cannot be party to. When someone calls you black, they assume to know certain facts about you, as if there are inalienable truths out there about any given race. The TV show "The Boondocks" comes to mind because according to a fictional black grandpa “white people love cheese”. If that sounds ridiculous, then maybe we’re on the same page. Racism is alive and well and for that reason and more I say, "I am Black." I am also a Ugandan and a proud African. I love chapati and beans, and I love red sand between my toes. I love 30 degree weather and long walks. I like to pick my fruit, not unpack it. I only drink Chi with mandazi, and have never called my mom by her first name. I fear the tokoloshe not the boogeyman. And when I say "I’m from a village", I mean it. 

Willingly identifying as black has power because I am taking ownership of my piece of our collective identity, I define what black is. Race is something nobody can choose, and for a long time it did not define the boundaries of my world. Now I try imagine being born here (Canada), and being bombarded everyday by a world telling who you are, verses asking who are you. 

In my perfect world, when someone asks me “you’re black, you like (insert racist trope) right?” and they hear my confused “yea sure” “no”, there would be a resounding silence as they realize that yes I am black if that's all you wanna see, but no that other bullshit has nothing to do with me. 

Alvin Oct.25.2017