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Things I have experienced #WBAITUS (While Being African in the US) PART 1: “where are you from” and blending in

See the problem with the title of this article? Anyway, I’ll just go ahead and make this post hella general, treat Africa like a country and maybe even write in ‘’African’’ at times.

seriously

Let me just throw this out there. I hate the movie ”Coming to America” with a passion. I strongly believe it contributed to setting the basis for bullshit regarding the things assumed about Africans. Coming-to-America-em06-e1349705056180

Context: When I arrived in the US in May 2005, I was freezing. I was an 18 year old fresh from Senegal. My flight to San Francisco connected through New York; I remember this warm Ethiopian man at customs telling me to do my best, get good grades and turn my F1 student visa into a green card, like it was the ultimate gift I could give myself. He was older so I said respectfully “I will do my best, thank you Sir’’ with my slight French accent. He handed me  my passport back and I was wondering what a green card was. My brother picked me up from San Francisco Airport and asked me why I was not wearing more appropriate clothing. Well, I had never been to SF and I thought California was sunny. I thought California was Hollywood.

Note: Africans have different perceptions of heat.

Note: I was bitter because I wanted to study with the friends I grew up with, free of parental advisory but instead ended up living with my two big protective brothers and going to an all women’s college. We all made plans to apply to the same schools and live together like an episode of Friends.

I was also bitter because I was the first out of our class to leave Dakar. My classes started earlier so while I was hitting Econ 50, my friends were still home getting the best out of Dakar summer. Summer in Dakar was everything back then. I was younger and I did not care about sweating in clubs. I am still young but my idea of fun is more of a Netflix and chill (literally relax) type, that’s if we had Netflix in Senegal. Laugh out Loud.

1- “Where are you from?”

flag.pngI was from Senegal when I first arrived. “Where? ” “Sé – né- Gal, West Africa”. By 2006, sophomore year, I was from Africa because I got tired of giving the geographical coordinates of Senegal. Believe me you get tired of talking when you represent by default a whole continent. By 2008, I was occasionally from Oakland, I had dreads at the time and I wore vans a lot. I did not shake my dreads as often as I should have but I was doing good pretty good looking Oakland, well some days more than others anyway, which leads me to my next point.

2- Blending in

blending_in_backgrounds1.jpgI shamelessly tried to blend it, not because I was ashamed of where I came from, proud African alert here! I was just tired of explaining. Even my Africa is not a country it’s a continent sweater did not suffice. I really should have known because on orientation day, while I was in line to register, this white woman wearing the white woman uniform came to me and said:

– Hi 

– Hello

– I am curious, where are you from

– Oh I’m from Senegal

– I’m sorry where?

– Senegal, West Africa

– Omg, that’s amazing, I’m sorry though, it must be hard to communicate with your family

–  Euh *French accent I can call them on the phone, I don’t understand what you mean’’ (I responded very innocently, my definition of respect evolved a lot since then)

– Omg I am so sorry *brisk walks away from me

I was so confused and clueless. It took me days to figure that she probably thought I came to America swimming and that I left a note in a bottle to communicate with my family. I wish I was the person I am now. She would have gotten a very appropriate answer.

There is a long list of uncomfortable conversations I had with people from all races. Out of the interesting questions I was asked in college, my top 5 are:

  1. “Are there prisons in Africa?” No, what for, we been fighting the prison industrial complex forever and only God can judge.
  2. “Do you wear a chastity belt?” Of course, I am surprised it did not ring when I passed through security.77259204.HobUyakz.Chastitybelt.jpg
  3. “Is your mom royalty?” I mean she is the Queen of my heart…
  4. “Do your parents own diamonds? I don’t see how you can afford school otherwise.” Looka the flicka the wrist, Looka the flicka tha wrist 
  5. Black woman: “I am so glad we (African Americans) made it to the US, I mean think about it, we coulda had AIDS if we were still in Africa” BishWhet ?tumblr_inline_mrlfvgRTl91qz4rgp.gif

Did I mention the fool/wench derivative who started clicking her tongue at me? I was so confused because I had actually never heard that before. Later I understood she was mimicking ”African language”. Is national geographic responsible for this? Fuck you then National Geographic. I later found out it was from South Africa (Xhosa)

I eventually slowly adjusted my accent to the crowd I was hanging out with. I dropped the French accent that was not very strong to start with, thanks to my high school teachers. I actually really want my accent back, because it highlights my cursus but I altered it so much that I may have reached the point of no return…..

End of Part 1.

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11 Comments


  1. MLamineN

    December 9, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    Great experience!

    Reply

  2. Marième

    December 9, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    noooooooo Coming to America is the bestt moviee everrrrr…I felt so connected to you until that sentences… *weeps silently*

    Ok, people in Oakland are hella bold… what kinda questions are these??

    I always loved the lion references after telling people i’m from “Africa”… “Omg the Lion King is my favorite disney movie”… “do people have lions as pets?” “have you ever been chased by a lion” …

    Hopefully things have evolved since then..no way people could still be that ignorant with instagram and google image so available (side eye)

    Reply

  3. xalaat

    December 9, 2015 at 7:33 pm

    ‘The communication with bottles’ part is giving me life Nk … btw this Happened to me right after mauritania, au Maghreb . They actually think ‘Black Africa’ is a village and Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire are streets.

    Africans dal nio soneuu .
    I cant wait for the 2nd part.

    Reply

    • NK

      December 9, 2015 at 7:46 pm

      Maghreb bou dieguer bi dina deh rek

      Reply

  4. Bambi

    December 9, 2015 at 9:13 pm

    OMG that’s so true you forgot “Have you ever pet a lion ?”or “Do you ride elephants”

    Reply

    • NK

      December 9, 2015 at 9:14 pm

      Bizarrement I did not get those lol

      Reply

      • Rimka

        December 10, 2015 at 7:45 pm

        Great post. I remember my freshman year someone asked me how did u get to the us from Africa? I answered i took the bus lol. his reply was “shiiiit thats a long ass ride” unbelievable
        Btw u can netflix n chill in ndakarou Ndiaye if u like. This service called unlocator lets you bypass region restrictions on netflix so u can binge watch house of cards as u please. It only costs 20 bucks for 6 months.

        Reply

        • NK

          December 10, 2015 at 9:37 pm

          hahahahhaha I’m dying and thanks for the netflix tip but the connexion is so slow though….

          Reply

  5. Toofanofyourblog

    December 10, 2015 at 12:03 am

    I once got from a co worker early morning right before my caramel macchiato grande:”I haven’t slept all night yesterday, my boyfriend told me they are building a bridge from “Africa”to New York and now all I can think of is all these wild animals that are gonna cross the border I don’t wanna go to New York and face a lion in timesquare duh!” i was like talk about JUMANJI! Wore my Willow face and did a hair whip , “le sigh”. I don’t even wanna get started on my ELI teacher who was asking me if I ever saw a “pizza” among other goodies,I was like nope not from my side of a tree. They always make me laugh and I never educate them : “I am from Africa and I speak african”

    Reply

  6. lakhassane

    December 10, 2015 at 9:23 am

    The question that will always get me mad : “Which language do you speak in Africa” ! Like hell yeah we’re a “country” ! Those make you see in fact that we are much more aware of what happen in the world than them ! smh

    Reply

  7. […] is part 2 of the things I have experienced #WBAITUS. In part 1 (click here), I talked about my first day in college, orientation, ”where are you from?” and […]

    Reply

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