THE BLOG

Traditionally: Who Do You Think You Are?

07/08/2017 15:26 | Updated 08 August 2017
David Malan via Getty Images

My parents were born in Nigeria, and they both moved to London in their early twenties. I have a Nigerian name as well as an English one. It was important for my parents that even though they were raising us up in the UK to give us a better chance at life, they never wanted us to forget our roots. When I was younger, I went to Nigerian parties, visited Nigeria, ate the food and spent weekends watching Nigerian films all to embrace and strengthen my ties with my culture. I had no idea that this would serve as a preparation for a verbal identity test I would have to face.

I would be asked where I was from which will be followed by a sound "London". The question would be followed by where my parents were from, and my answer would be "Nigeria". The person would carry a look of dismay as if the first answer I gave was the wrong one. My earliest memory of such exchange ended with the person, who was Nigerian, saying that I sounded "white" and my lifestyle choices were "too white". What did that mean? I had no idea.

During my teenage years, I found that this was a shared feeling among peers who were in similar position. They would have most probably grown up in a home where parents still had their native accents, wore native attire and carried out certain traditions. I remember going through a phase where I wanted to be more like my friends at school, and I felt, at the time, that by holding onto certain parts of culture was stopping me from blending in and being accepted. Up until this point, I don't speak or understand my mother tongue. Nigerians that I would come across would ask me if I knew how to speak Igbo or Yoruba, my answer would be "No", followed by a response of: "How can you not know how to speak your language?" In my defence our parents never taught us, I knew a few words here and there. Only recently I was corrected in public for not pronouncing my name correctly, and somehow my accent and voice was a disservice to saying the name itself. I felt like I was apologising constantly and I felt ashamed for not knowing certain things about my culture which fed even more to my disconnection to it.

Almost a month ago, Akbike Dabiri, the Nigerian Special Assistant for Diaspora sent a letter of congratulations to seven newly elected British members of Parliament of Nigerian descent. Chi Onwurah, who was one of the recipients just responded with "I'm not Nigerian. I'm British". Many in the Twittersphere were quick to judge her comment, saying that she was "denying her roots".

She has a right to determine her own national identity irrespective of her descent. She doesn't owe anyone an explanation. Too often, people project their interpretation of an individual's identity based on their criteria. For some, it is as straightforward as 'where you are born and raise is what you are.' Especially for people of colour who ethnic and cultural identity can sometimes clash with their national one.

Yes, I was born in the UK, but I am also Nigerian. Nigeria is where my cultural heritage lies, and it is an important part of who I am, but I have also been exposed to British culture. No explanation needed.

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