By EKENE ONU
I was born in America and I have some memories of my early life here. Peanut Butter. Montessori school. Snow.
My parents have different memories of their life here. Some wonderful. Some curious. Some sad.
But everything they saw was through the lens of being Nigerian and so when they finished their studies, they took us to this place that we had never seen but that they called home.
I remember it being hard for a bit. I was teased mercilessly about my accent. In those days, an American accent was not something desirable; it just meant you were different. I worked hard to change my intonation, especially after one evening of hard crying, when I’d asked my father when we could back home and he roared in frustration (because it was a daily question), “THIS is your HOME!”
I didn’t feel like it at the time.
But soon my heart recognized the rhythms of my fatherland and I saw myself through a lens similar to the one my parents had. As a Nigerian. Proud. Rooted. Forever.
But I became Black when I came back to America for college. After I began to study African American history, the rhythms of my heart experienced syncopation.
The first time I watched Eyes on the Prize, the award-winning television documentary series about the Civil Rights Movement, my soul deepened. Like I felt deeply about the plights of a people when I read the Diary of Anne Frank and learned about apartheid. But this depth, it was different—a level I had never felt. It was uncomfortable. Slightly painful. I wasn’t just Nigerian. I was African American. And the historic plight of Black Americans held more meaning for me.
Still, I struggled. Nigerian American wasn’t a common designation then. Sometimes I felt not quite one and not quite the other. My sense of belonging was every bit as complicated as a jazz melody, a genre that I love. By the time I went to my first Wynton Marsalis concert, I had found a harmonious blend of identity. I was starting to really understand and embrace the blend.
Still, I never truly saw myself. And I didn’t realize I was starving, but I was. On Thursday nights, NBC would air The Cosby Show and A Different World, and we, the three Black girls in our dorm, would colonize the common room and commandeer the TV. Sometimes some of our fellow white students watched with us, but we hardly noticed. We were so busy watching ourselves on the screen, eating up the Black images for which we hungered, but never fully satisfied.
And now comes Black Panther’s Wakanda.
It’s a mythical place in a popular Disney movie that represents what Nigeria could be if we didn’t have the kryptonite of bad leadership and other more complex factors. In it, dark-skinned women wield spears with power, skill and elegance as part of the Dora Milaje, an army of warrior women led by Okoye, who bears an Igbo name. All of it was a sight to behold. I know I’m not alone in being enamored by the images. But they hold an entirely different meaning for me. How can I describe the feeling?
The saxophonist just played a solo that touched my soul.When you feel like a son of the soil, you feel like a superhero who's discovered a secret power. Click To Tweet
Because when you know who you are, when you feel like a son of the soil, especially after you have felt displaced for so long, you feel a lot like a superhero that has discovered a secret power. When you know you stand on shoulders across the diaspora, to borrow a phrase from poet Maya Angelou, you “come as one but… stand as 10,000.”
In Wakanda, we all see ourselves as we have always known we are: MAGIC.
Magic to survive the colonizers.
Magic to break the chains of oppressors.
Magic to redefine ourselves as many times as necessary. Colored. Black. African American. Wakandan.
The theatre was full. And for about two hours, we dined on a sumptuous feast. I was hungry no more.
It was as if Fela, Ellington, Masakela and Coltrane had a jam session—it was something to behold.
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Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.