The Woyingi Blog

Nigeria and Me: Am I Nigerian?

Posted in Blacks and Mixed Race Identity, The Woyingi Blogger by the woyingi blogger on August 14, 2009

In this blog, I’m going to discuss a lot of my issues around my “Nigerian” heritage.

Am I Nigerian? And if I am, what does that mean?

I know many of my friends who were born here but whose parents came from another country also have a lot of issues around cultural identity.

In my case, it is much more complicated because I was not raised by my Nigerian father. He was deported when I was very young. I have no memory of him. I only found a picture of him when I was eight years old, stuffed behind the keys of my mother’s typewriter.

But I was always reminded of my father everytime I looked in the mirror. I was black…really black, and my mother was white.

I didn’t look like the other mixes in my neighborhood (remember, I grew up in the Ghetto so there was a lot of us). Their fathers had been from New York, Nova Scotia, Jamaica, Trinidad. I was the only one whose father was a straight-up African from the Dark Continent and it showed.

It showed in the courseness of my hair, the width of my nose, the prominance of my cheekbones, the protrusion of my jawline.

Because I could know nothing about my lost father, I tried to compensate by learning as much as I could about Nigeria.

In many ways Nigeria, the nation, the concept, became my father.
Chinua Achebe became my father.
Fela Kuti became my father.
King Sunny Ade became my father.
Wole Soyinka became my father.

But I didn’t know many Nigerians in my real everyday life.

It is only recently, in the last 6 years or so, that I have become acquainted with many Nigerians.

But, in many ways, I am probably much closer to the Somali, Eritrean or Ethiopian community than I am to the Nigerian community because I was raised among these people.
I certainly speak more Somali than Yoruba.

I remember when I was six I was asked to represent Nigeria for a school assembly about Multiculturalism. My teacher knew that my father was Nigerian because when I started school she was curious to know why I was black and my mother was white. She had initially assumed that I was adopted. I explained that my father was from Nigeria and that’s why I was black.

But being black isn’t the same as being Nigerian.

Things have become more confusing now that I have found my father and am trying to build a relationship with him as well as the local Nigerian community.

No longer am I simply the daughter of a Nigerian but I am now the daughther of an Ijaw Nationalist. The local Nigerian community, which is predominantly Yoruba, is convinced that my father is actually a Yoruba (this is because he is from Ondo State, which is dominated by Yorubas but has a large Ijaw minority. Also, my father’s last name is Yoruba because his grandmother was a Yoruba slave).

Nigerians never question my identity as a Nigerian. They adamantly affirm it. However, this comes at the cost of a lot of expectations. For example, when I tried to learn Yoruba, I was constantly made fun of because “I sounded like a white girl!” What did they expect?!!!!!!!!!

Now, there is the pressure to return “home” and reunite with my father, my family, my people, my nation.

But is Nigeria really my “home”? How could it be?

The weight given to my blood lines by Nigerians is something I can’t appreciate.

And isn’t my inability to appreciate this a sign of my total lack of “Nigerianess”?

Ya, I’ve read Things Fall Apart, but so have many readers with no connection to Nigeria.

It hasn’t made them Nigerians.

So, what am I?

I would love to hear readers’ thoughts on this post or your own issues around cultural identity.


2 Responses

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  1. missinpiece said, on August 19, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Hello there. I’m enjoying reading your blog as issues of race, culture and identity always interest me, especially in the black and African diaspora and in the Canadian context. My issues around cultural identity have to do with absence/loss of a different sort. As a black adoptee in a white family, I’ve always identified as a black person, but without any specific cultural or familial context. And that is what I crave, to know who my black father is, where he came from, who his people were, all the details. I am still floating around with a ‘concept’ as you say, of my black heritage, of my father. I agree with you, it is one thing to be black, another to be Nigerian. Or Ijaw. It is all those details that make up who we are. It seems to me you are many things…

  2. segunleefrench said, on March 1, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    I have a similar background with White mother and Nigerian father. I went to Nigeria as an adult at the age of 30. I only recognized how Nigerian (or rather Yoruba) I was when I visited Nigeria and discovered that my lifelong obsession with colour coordinated outfits and Italian crocodile skin shoes was actually a Yoruba trait.

    Jokes aside, visiting Nigeria, I discovered simultaneously that I was Nigerian and White, despite being Black for my whole life in the UK. Bit of a shock, and it totally disorientated my racial identity for a while, but I got used to it. Being White in Nigeria has many privileges.

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