Agnus hid her face in the flaps of her faded blue collar when I reached to take a picture.
“No,” she protested. “I don't look pretty.” She continued thumbing through the pages of Glamour Magazine.
My 13-year-old neighbor, with sheepish eyes and an unassuming smile, paused at a cosmetics ad. She traced her index finger down the highlights of the blonde-haired model. I never so desperately wanted a copy of Ebony. Essence. Uptown. Anything to counter the penetrated message that beauty is only European.
Black is not beautiful here. Women open umbrellas when the sun comes out for fear their skin will become darker. They use skin whiteners with chemicals so strong I often see light patches on their face and hands.
I came to Africa with this idealistic expectation of Black pride, natural hair and cultural unity. The first time I received a sideways glance after telling a cab full of Cameroonians that I was a Black American, I brushed it off, too jet-lagged to catch the message. Then, one of the kids I teach asked the question that I have yet to shake:
How can you be both Black AND American?
I went to Howard University. That bears mentioning because at Howard, Pan-African themes are deeply woven in the fabric of the university. All students are required to study African-American history dating back to the transatlantic slave trade, and are quickly indoctrinated with Back to Africa theories drilled by professors in loud Kente fabrics.
After freshman year students (like myself) cut their relaxed tresses for natural Afros, took in the African drum circle on the yard and developed a love for the land where our family linages are chalked in the blood of slaves.
Reading books like Randall Robinson's “The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks,” I grew annoyed with minority status. I romanticized of what it would be like to live among people who looked like me and would embrace my sun-kissed skin and kinky coils.
In reality, African Americans are just as polarized in America as in Africa (Or at least in Cameroon). My appearance (dark skin, short hair) says I am African. My accent, walk, and mannerisms are all apple pie. Which leads to quizzical looks and asinine questions:
“Do you smoke marijuana?” Asked a man balancing a stalk of sugar cane on his tongue.
“You play in a band?”
“Then why you wear ya hair in dreadlocks, huh?”
They're not dreadlocks, I retorted, then slid inside a cab embarrassed, for the first time, of the natural hair I thought would help me assimilate.
For every ignorant remark, compliments are thrown at me like a bone to an ego-starved puppy. But my self-esteem is not at stake here. I teach a group of girls at a grammar school in Buea, Cameroon. They are vibrant. Smart. Brave. But, all carry the beauty complexes passed down by their mothers.
Black Americans, I implore you: Before booking that 12-week trip to Europe or cruise to the Caribbean, come to Africa. Bridge the disconnect.
Show my girls that they too, are beautiful.
Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.
blog comments powered by Disqus