“Go back to your country nigga,” a driver yelled at me while I was walking down Hamilton’s Main Street. That was the first and only time I was called nigga by a white person. I was 16 and had just moved to Canada. The nigga part didn’t shake me as much as the “go back to your country” part.
In the 16 years prior, I lived in a blissful ignorance of the weight of my blackness. Sure, I had heard myself being called dudu (black) and my brother and sister being referred to as oyinbo (white) or yellow pawpaw, but in Nigeria that was just in reference to our skin tones. I had traveled to white countries, but my age and social privilege shielded me from the reality of being black.
After the encounter with that driver, I went back to my dorm, which was filled with students from different parts of the world and I felt safe again.
In the ten years since that moment, I have become more aware of my blackness, but I can’t honestly tell you the moment I realized I was black. I am black.
I don’t know if it was during a York University Black Students Association meeting, where students sat down to tackle the issue of police brutality. No, it couldn’t have been then because I remember saying something along the lines of “if you do everything the police asks of you then I’m sure you’d be safe.”
I don’t know if it was when I was asked by some students how my parents can afford to pay my international fees. Or when I was asked if I lived with monkeys. To which I said, “I had a pet monkey when I was little, but it was killed by my neighbours.”
Was it during one of my many trips to the mall? That one time a worker at Mendocino told me that she didn’t think that they had anything for me. Or the time my friend and I were followed around Aldo for about 10 minutes before she finally told us, “I’m watching you.”
Was it the time my brothers and I waited at the airport for almost two hours after the arrival of our dad and sister? That was a very funny story. Turns out the Canadian Border Authorities found it hard to believe that my dudu father and my oyinbo sister was really from the same family. They separated my underage sister from her father, so they could conduct intense investigations.
Was it every time I was told, “You speak so well”? “You’re the most white person I know,” “Can you teach me how to twerk?” “You look like Oprah,” “I’m sure you can sing because you’re black,” or “How can you not know how to dance? You’re black!”Was it the times I was told by both black and non-black suitors a variation of “I love your chocolate skin.”
I can’t honestly say there was a eureka moment for my blackness. Just many moments that have become a heavy bundle; the big spoon to my little spoon when I go to bed at night, the baby that I have to carry on my back.
Cynthia Boyede is a Nigerian journalism student living in Canada. She chose to pursue journalism because of her passion for storytelling; all stories. More than telling her own stories, she wants to create a platform for other people to share their own stories. She loves talking to people and learning the facts. She believes that stories have a huge impact on the society. She blogs @ Cynthiaboyede.wordpress.com
Achieving consciousness is rarely a singular event. It’s often a collection of moments, an album of memories that leads to the big picture. One of the highlights of 2016 for me was seeing WESTWORLD— A sci-fi TV series by HBO. West World is about a western theme amusement park filled with robots where visitors go to pursue their wildest dreams. Along the line, these robots began gaining consciousness and started nursing their own thought. Reading Cynthia’s piece felt familiar because of WestWorld. These collection of random moments are usually what makes us self-conscious.
The series continues on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. So do remember to visit on those days as there are more eye-opening contributions and I do not want to enjoy them alone.
Share these articles online, discuss them with real life friends and virtual friends on social media, and above all, I will encourage us all to be civil.
The goal is not to foster hate as stated earlier, but to help us understand the unique interactions of different races in different countries.
How we became racial conscious/aware.
What led to racial stereotypes and prejudice?
Dealing with people of other races and how we can improve on our humanity.
Thank you and join me on this journey as we learn more On Race.
Dudu : A Yoruba word meaning black. Usually used to refer to a dark-skinned person.
Oyibo : A light-skinned person
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Cover photo : Reflection by Ben Parsons