The subject of African identity is a subject that needs more attention and plays a big role in influencing our self-image. Before I left Africa for studies in Russia, I was used to my environment of black people and there was nothing that would get me to look at myself from an African perspective.
My aspirations were limited to my sphere of exposure, I wasn’t really in touch with my African ness and my vision for myself was not influenced at all by my identity as African. The first time I landed at Domodedovo airport in Moscow Russia. That was the first time in my life that I ever got in touch with my blackness.
Everywhere I turned people were staring, the culture shock and the realty check was so real. I grew up knowing that all white people are used to black people and majority of them were good and very compassionate.
This is because, most of the white people who came to my country Kenya at the time were Christian missionaries who planted churches and funded community projects.
The reception I got in Russia was almost the opposite, people would laugh at the sight of a black person and even throw vulgar words towards you.
I was not only slapped with the burden of being black but also an African, whenever I was asked where I came from and mentioned Kenya, everything they knew about Africa came to their mind and questions on war, animals walking on the streets, and how you made it in Russia starts coming.
I expected a sense of acceptance because I was used to the perceived compassionate attitude of the white people back home. My identity as an African was now being defined to me, living as an African and not a Kenyan was now my reality. You would rarely hear anything positive being said about Africa, the Russians were clueless of the state of Africa and its evolvement.
Anything I did was scrutinized and summarized as an African behavior, anything that any other African did was put on the shoulders of all Africans. I was constantly being defined by the thinking of my surrounding.
I craved acceptance, I wanted to do something that fits their thinking so that I can be accepted, whatever they found cool in black people I embodied that. It was difficult to completely embrace your identity as an African because of the rejection that comes with it.
I avoided some African attires because they didn’t look cool in their eyes. They were more attracted to the hip-hop style of dressing and music. I had to act what their loved in order to be accepted and celebrated. Anything cool associated with black people, I wanted to be.
A rapper, alcohol drinker, weed smoker, player etc. You notice that when Africans are coming from Africa , they come dressed in a style they are comfortable in until when they discover the accepted dress code and change to dress like American rappers.
My believe is that until we are prepared to face rejection and start accepting our difference as Africans, the only thing that will rise is our inferiority complex. Another encounter was in China, a little bit different perception but same effects. I was introduced to a good paying opportunity of teaching English in China.
Arriving in Beijing we were welcomed with isolation to a specialized area due to an Ebola outbreak that broke out in 5 countries in Africa mainly West Africa. A clear introduction to my African-ess, it didn’t matter what country in Africa we came from as long as you were from Africa, you were perceived as contagious.
Well, I soon started looking for opportunities to teach, little did I know that the only way I could get a job easily was when I assumed a nationality of native English speakers. I had to act as either a Canadian, American, British, New Zealand or an Australian in order to get a job.
It was a terrible situation to find yourself in, the guys that were hosting us were from Uganda called themselves British at their work place. When called recruiting agencies, the first thing they wanted to know was my nationality, it didn’t matter whether you were black as long as you are not from Africa.
Sticking to my identity came with a lot of rejection but when I look back now I’m proud of myself because I changed the perception of my Chinese friends about Africa.
In many situations, the African teachers performed way better than the natives but the parents didn’t want their kids to be associated with Africans. This identity crisis did not stop at work, it spread all over to their normal life activities.
It wasn’t cool to be associated with Africa due to the mindset that the Chinese people have concerning Africa. The Africans were literary living the Chinese mindsets, few had the courage to take pride of being Africans.
I personally had to bear the responsibility of being an African because I wasn’t going to be comfortable with living a lie. Whenever I would go with my Ugandan friend who was now a ‘Canadian’ to play basketball with the Chinese, as soon as I mentioned my country and he mentioned his country, they would instantly draw to him and I was left there to find my way.
But interestingly enough, we became good friends and their mindset towards Africans was challenged. That was a good example of trading present rejection with future acceptance. This kind of self-hatred amongst the Africans has suffocated our confidence in embracing our true identity.
That’s why we only appreciate anything that comes from outside Africa; we take no pride of our own creativity, ideas, inventions or cultures.
We are more comfortable with copying the western culture in everything we do because it promises acceptance and envy. But choosing to look inward and trusting our uniqueness almost always is an option that few can take because of the rejection that comes with it.
In order for us as Africans to move to the next level and start competing with other developed countries, we must first start with loving our identity as Africans. Instead of denying the problems that we are faced with in Africa, we should own them as part of us and find solutions to them.
We were born Africans for a reason, God trusted us with the solutions for Africa. Every African person in the world is a problem solver, God created you African for the purpose of building Africa not destroying it or running away from it.
This should inspire to believe in ourselves and our capabilities to change our continent. God always uses what you have to bless you, God will only use the abilities and talents that we have to liberate Africa. It’s vital and crucial that we start looking at ourselves as solution providers for the African continent. No one will come and build Africa for us, we are the only ones who care enough to do so.
Let’s be bold with our ideas and refuse to allow any negative perceptions about Africa to suffocate those big ideas that God has put into our hearts. There is too much negativity around Africa already, let’s stop entertaining them in our thinking and conversations.
Just as the ship sails around water, the only time that it can sink is when the water around it enters the ship. Let’s choose to trade present rejection with future acceptance by becoming proud of our identity and allowing our uniqueness to ooze without limitations.
Sammy Watima is a Pan- Africanist and a trained economist from Don State Technical University, Russia. His passion for Africa was born in Russia where he was greeted with harsh realities of the African narrative. He loves helping young people and shoots documentaries on social issues.