By guest blogger, Sabine Bond
I have lived mostly in two big seaport cities, with inhabitants from various walks of life. The port cities – Hamburg and Lagos – welcome many from all over the world which gives them that cosmopolitan atmosphere. You would think that with the influx of humans with so much diversity, all looking for that elusive golden fleece, you wouldn’t really hear silly comments bordering on race, skin colour and so on. I must have been wrong.
I remember a nursery rhyme in German that I had to sing at age 4 or 5. It was about black people. I can’t remember the entire song but the refrain went like this – Schwarze Negger igit igit igit. Translated it means “black niggers are dirty”. The word “igit” is a word that can roughly be translated as dirty and it shows a sense of disgust by the person pronouncing it. As I was the only ‘black’ person in the midst of the white children, I stopped singing the song. Soon after we were asked what our favourite colours were and every child named one colour or the other. Mind you, mine had always been blue. That day I said it was black, the children and our racist teacher gave me a surprised look while I simply stared back at them. A seed of rebellion against this kind of blatant discrimination was planted inside me. I didn’t really have the words for it at that tender age but at least I had enough sense and boldness to stop singing that silly song and to stand up for being ‘black’ and proud, even though I was quite young.
Since then, I have heard it all – negger, white, yellow, mulatto, half-caste (even half cad), mixed blood, mixed breed, China, Korea, India, Fulani, mbakara, oyibo, bekee, etc. I will not even bother to list some more degrading names that I’ve been called on account of my complexion. Oh by the way, I heard a 32-year-old man call himself an outcaste while trying to describe his looks because his mother comes from Chad! The radio host repeated the word just to be sure. She should have corrected him; unfortunately, she didn’t.
I’ve heard some rude people discuss my colour to my hearing without a care. Some people would even insist that I should be happy that they called me ‘white or oyibo’. When some ask, I may politely answer where I come from. For others I just give them a disgusted look because I don’t go about asking why they look a certain way. I don’t have to know where everyones’ parents come from, so why must I explain my ancestry to each person who asks? I sometimes wonder if they see me and see my essence. I am a person not a colour.
Hence my outburst – for goodness sake I am not a colour!!! Michael Jackson once sang, “It don’t matter if you’re black or white”. I agree. I’m not white and I’m also not black. It’s not because I don’t think black is great or that white is supreme, it’s just that I don’t see the need to fit into either category. I’m just a different shade of brown, actually we all are. No one is actually white (they just have less melanin to produce that brown colouring) and no one is actually black (it’s more like dark brown). These days it’s politer to compare skin tones to the various shades of coffee or chocolate, sounds delicious too as I love both. So maybe I would be considered a café latte.
I hope that this doesn’t sound like I don’t identify with being ‘black’, because I am very proud of my African heritage. The point I’m trying to get across here is that we should go beyond colour/skin tones and get to really know people instead.
I am not a mixed breed, mixed blood, half cad or half-caste; in short I’m neither mixed up nor half anything. Each time I hear these terms, I feel like they are discussing dog breeds. I’m not a mongrel or something monstrous, something alien or some exotic imported animal. Please let me simply BE.
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Image|Source: Javcon117*, Flickr