Reflections on Being African But Not African "Enough"

by Maryann Adedapo

My first name is Maryann, a name that is almost exclusively given to White girls. It was the most popular female Anglo name in the 1900s. My mom wanted to give me a Yoruba name, but my dad was already thinking about the benefits an Anglo name would provide me in the workplace.

My name, paired with my supposed ability to speak “properly” has kind of put me in an awkward position with other African-Americans who have always told me that I “sounded white.” And with my fellow Nigerians and Africans, who consider me to be “too American,” my upbringing has somehow deemed me unworthy of the clique per se. (“Africans” meaning those who directly immigrated from or are the children of African immigrants; and “African-Americans meaning those whose ancestors have lived in America for many generations.)

From as early as middle school, it’s been difficult for me to fit in with other Africans in the places I’ve lived because I’m considered “not really African.” I was born and raised in Texas by two Nigerian immigrants. My parents were born in Lagos and are of the Yoruba tribe. Though I understand bits and pieces of my native language, I am unable to speak it.

This has always singled me out amongst Africans who are more “in tune” with their culture. Many love to goof off and joke around with each other in their language. Or discuss their adventures back home, listen to African music, and hilariously bond over how their parents are disciplinarians. But for me, I only speak English. I haven’t been to Nigeria. I listen mostly to Toro y Moi and Little Dragon. And my parents are super “Americanized” after having obtained American degrees. To me, these differences shouldn’t stop me from having viable relationships with other Africans, but somehow, it has affected their perception of me in many instances.

In school I would join African student organizations on campus, thinking I could meet more Nigerians, but I would stop going after being questioned about my first name or asked what my African name is, or being told I didn’t look or sound African. It got tiresome, being asked, “Have you even been to Nigeria?” before finally being dismissed with the usual, “Eh, this American girl.”

At almost 21, these things don’t hurt my feelings anymore. But when I was younger, being excluded made me resent my parents for not ensuring that I learned my language or ever taking me to visit Nigeria.

My boyfriend is Nigerian and lovingly tries to teach me. But I can’t help but feel like a piece of me is missing when it comes to familial language barriers. His family members and close friends accept me for who I am, but initially, they had doubts because they too thought I was just some “American girl” with no culture. Even though I was born directly from Nigerian immigrants, I was viewed with pity and reluctance. I still remember when one of his friends asked me if I knew what fu-fu was, to which I remarked, “Just because I was raised here doesn’t mean I only eat hot dogs and fries.”

I’ve witnessed a great deal of “us vs. them” from my African family and friends who felt that African-Americans were wayward and cultureless. Africans feel they are more religious, prayerful, traditional, and respectful than African-Americans. It can feel like Africans and African-Americans are two different species and I do not belong to either. Although I have clear African heritage, somehow I am not “African enough.”

I’ve been too white for Blacks, too Black for whites, and too American for Africans. Thus, all of my closest friends over the years have been from a variety of backgrounds: White, Black, Asian, Latino, and so forth. I love my diverse friendships. I’ve also made solid relationships with other Africans who are considered “too American” as well, as this is one of our commonalities.

I accept that no group of people is the same. I cannot and will not put the “us vs. them” mentality on all Africans. But I’m happy with who I am and I will only improve with age. I like egusi, but some days, I also prefer a gourmet sandwich. People just to have to accept it.

In the meantime, I seek out folks that won’t judge me and know that I am enough as I am.

Photo: Shutterstock

Maryann Adedapo is a Political Science student at the University of Houston with plans to become a labor and employment attorney. She is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Wine Fine Dark Chicks. When she’s not writing, she’s binge-watching strange documentaries, eating way more than she should, and thanking the Good Lord for her glorious melanin. Find her on Instagram @maryannadefacto.

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