Experiencing Cultural Dualism
“Somewhere between… and…” ATTEMPTS to ILLUSTRATE the experiences of being a ‘child of the gap’, LIVING in the west yet connected to one’s culture of origin.
Describing my cultural duality through two distinct experiences or things should have been easy enough. However, it took me twenty minutes of deliberation before I found myself scribbling ‘Somewhere between Kente and Nike trainers’, then specifying ‘kente from Cote D’ivoire’ as suggested by a friend. This was because I had found myself rambling about many individuals having expressed a curiosity and raised eyebrows about my habit of wearing Kente as though I was appropriating a culture that was not mine and that I knew nothing about.
I recall having to occasionally explain my Ivorian-Ghanaian heritage and somewhat prove the authenticity of my culture in school. Many of my Ghanaian peers including others, thought that Cote D’Ivoire was some exotic island and would be surprised that I as an Ivorian could possibly share certain aspects of their culture.
Being a Francophone emigrating to an Anglophone country created a triality, adding another layer of complexity to my identity and cultural experience in London. Language being one of the complexities that I had to overcome, led me to losing my mother tongue almost completely, in my determination to fully connect with those with whom I shared the experience of being a black (African) girl in a foreign country. Had I been born and raised in London, I suspect that my experience would have been different, not completely, but somewhat different.
Integrating for me sprouted a lot of confusion about what should be, what is and what I wanted. In trying to keep up, I was consistently torn between conforming and doing my own thing. I didn’t like the uncomfortable, unauthentic and self-imprisoning sentiment trying to fit in, conjured. It took me a while to understand this and give it all up – the conforming that is. Naturally, being part of a ‘squad’ has profound effects on our perception of self; confidence and the way others perceive us. Not belonging can arouse feelings of insecurities and make you a target for others whose confidence level seem to rise at the speed of light when they’re moving in multiples. Oh, how I wish I had the voice I currently have, back when I was in school (!) Albeit, such experiences have contributed to shaping my person today.
As I reflect on these experiences and many others, I conclude that being a child of the gap, is a character building experience. Navigating an inside and outside world means that somewhere along the way, we find ways to adapt and that in itself is a strength. To quote Darwin, “it is not the strongest of the species that survive nor the most intelligent but the one most responsive to change.” We the black race, wherever ships may have taken us or where we choose to take ourselves today, underscores our survival spirit. We children of the gap are resilient, able, capable and have been birthing new cultures and creating micro-societies that collectively impacts and shapes the wider society.
Most importantly, we rise every single damn time. That is something to revel in and use as inspiration to continue to move forward, innovate and create as we’ve been and are doing.
Written on April 19th, 2016.