Tag Archives: Nigerian

On being born biracial in Spokane & the Dolezal discourse

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I was born in a Home for Unwed Mothers in Spokane, Washington. Among the 50 white and 10 black girls, my white (Nordic-American) mother, pregnant by my black (Nigerian) father, was the only one who straddled both worlds. (Ironically, at the time she was reading Black Like Me, journalist John Howard Griffin’s account of medically darkening his skin and masquerading as black.) As soon as she could walk, the Home encouraged her to take me and go. Her outspokenness, plus her decision to keep me, at a time when unwed white girls were being shamed into surrendering their babies for adoption, challenged Home policy.

Young Holly & Faith sepia I’ve been to Spokane only once since then, a decade ago, on book tour. Mum accompanied me, and trip highlights included finding the Home where I was born and being trailed through town by skinheads in a rust (or bullet) -ridden car. (So essentially I’ve been chased from my birthplace twice.) A few years before, a white family friend and his black college roommate had been hospitalized after being chased and beaten with baseball bats for Friday night sport.

Based on our minimal interaction, Spokane has always represented whiteness to me. As someone quipped on Twitter this week, Spokane is so white that even the president of the local NAACP is white. (Thank God for the Dolezal jokes on BlackTwitter, because despite having been a diversity trainer in a past life, I no longer have what it takes to try to discuss race with whitefolks who aren’t my mum.) I’m currently on a writing retreat, trying to finish a book about my Afro-Viking family, and none too happy that once again my birthplace is the center of racial chaos. No, as I told my Nigerian husband this morning, I don’t want to talk about it. But I appreciate what some of my friends are saying (and the heat they’re taking for saying it):

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 10.52.42 AM In Black Like Who? Rachel Dolezal’s Harmful MasqueradeTamara Winfrey Harris, the author of “The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America,” says everything so you don’t have to.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 10.55.38 AM In Transracial Lives Matter: Rachel Dolezal and the Privilege of Racial Manipulation, my friend and sister-biracial-born-in-a-home-then-raised-in-Washington-State, Lisa Marie Rollins (author/performer of the solo show, Ungrateful Daughter: One Black Girls Story of being Adopted into a White family… that aren’t Celebrities”) breaks down “transracial” and the “ownership model” of adoption.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 10.47.28 AM For an expert academic take on the history of racial fluidity, my former student Daniel J. Sharfstein, author of “The Invisible Line: A Secret History of Race in America” explains that Rachel Dolezal’s ‘Passing’ Isn’t So Unusual.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 11.04.18 AM My friend and sister-Pacific-Northwest-raised-Afro-Viking Heidi W. Durrow (author of “The Girl Who Fell From the Sky” and co-founder of Mixed/Remixed Fest) explains what it really means to look white and identify as black (authentically) in Identity, Race or Otherwise, Is Your Lived Experience.

My Nigerian Husband Has Advice for Dear Sugar

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O: Honorable Punkin! I’m very sleepy. I was up late reading WILD.

Me: Wow, didn’t expect that. Um, remember our agreement about not taking books off my nightstand? I’m freaking out, looking for a book I have to teach, and it’s in your car…or in the liquor cabinet…or wherever you wandered to.

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O: But I had to find out what happened to the lady’s mother.

Me: She dies. It’s on the back cover.

O: Not the details. Like the outline of the male nurse’s penis through his pants! Ha, her writing is very cinematic! She should consider making the stuff into a movie.

Me: Uh, someone kinda did. It’s kinda huge. It got nominated for an Oscar.

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O: WILD is a movie?! Wow, so they took my advice!

Me: Yes. That is exactly what happened.

THE POSSUM CHRONICLES

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INSTALLMENT #1 HONORABLE PUNKIN

Quite on his own, O has managed to combine my mum’s childhood pet name for me with the Nigerian fixation on titles into the best pet name ever: “Honorable Punkin”!

It’s now his go-to move. He, say, forgets to pay the Internet bill or locks the cats outside with a possum (“I don’t know who Those People like to hang out with!” was his excuse); I’m ready to explode; he “Honorable Punkin!”s me; we both fall down laughing.

It’s a win-win for everyone (except perhaps Those People, as he’s taken to calling the cats).

 

INSTALLMENT #2 THE EVENT

How it starts: That sinking feeling upon hearing the sound of crunching cat food. You glance from side to side: both cats sprawl on the sofa, oblivious, on either side of you. A tentative glance over the sofa confirms it: the damn possum you saw dancing around the back door last night has made its move! The call is coming from inside the house!

Act 2:

Me: Standing on a carved stool screeching.

O: Crashing around cursing in my study with a broom.

Cats: Still sleeping. Seriously?!

Interlude:

Me: Do you have a plan? Because this chasing it endlessly room to room can only work if one actually *could* die of fright.

I suggest (from my perch atop the stool) blocking off the countless escape routes and directing it somewhere, whereupon O places the open cat carrier on one end of the liquor cabinet, and I bushwhack with a broom on the other. After giving a faint wave of distress, the possum steps daintily into the cat carrier.

Act 3:

O: I think we’ll deal with it in the morning.

Me: We’re not leaving a kenneled possum in the living room overnight!

O (surprised): Well, okay.

Me: Are you sure it’s a good idea to leave the possum in the cat carrier on the patio overnight? What if it calls friends or family?

O: Then they’ll see it in prison and learn something.

Me: Prison?

O: Yeah, it’ll be a deterrent. It’s a good thing, actually. I doubt we’ll see any more animals once they visit him in prison. Besides, it’s only a rat; now if it were polar bear…

Me: Yeah, I don’t think we’d be having a conversation about the polar bear in the cat carrier on our NoCal patio.

O: I’m just saying

 

INSTALLMENT #3 THE MORNING AFTER

Report from the porch: Everything peaceful in possum prison. Amalinze & Anansi only vaguely interested in the repurposing of their carrier. Let the neighbor’s cat come over to play and they lose their ever-loving minds. Yet a possum moves into the house, eats their food, and they sleep through the whole thing.

 

INSTALLMENT #4 BONUS SCENE

O: Is a possum a rat or a raccoon?

Me: Neither. It’s its own thing.

O: How can you tell the difference?

Me: Well, though the tails looks the same, hopefully we never, ever see a rat as large as a possum. And a raccoon looks like a bandit.

O: What’s that?

Me: It’s like an armed robber.

O: It has a rusty old musket and a scarf tied around its face?

Me: Not a Nigerian armed robber. A cartoon American one. In striped pajamas and a mask. And opposable thumbs.

O: I have no idea what you’re saying.

Me: That’s kind of the motif of this marriage.

 

INSTALLMENT #5 THE GREAT RELEASE (with photos)

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Photo #1. “In college zoology, we studied opossums for 15 minutes; great class! Are those related to this possum-rat-thing?”

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Photo #2. “Really!? You have marsupials in America? Mar-su-pi-als. This is where I should like to release my marsupial.”

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Photo #3. “You’re snapping pix? Well, you’re a writer. I guess you have to document the Great Release.”

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Photo #4. “Hey, you, Opossum. Don’t be Playing Possum! (That’s how the professor started the class; I’ll never forget it.) Wake up and enjoy your new ecosystem!”

 

INSTALLMENT #6 BONUS SCENE 2

O: These traps are surprisingly useful! Maybe we should go into the animal capture business!

Me: They’re not traps; they’re pet carriers. And I’m pretty sure we shouldn’t.

O: Nonetheless, I think I’ll go to the flea market and look for some used ones.

Me: Seriously?

Talking to my husband, a guy

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O (gets off the phone): So that was this guy.

Me: “This guy” who?

O: This Nigerian guy.

Me: Should I guess which of the 160 million?

O: This guy, this guy! The one who watches my equipment in Nigeria. Very, extremely honest guy! For a Nigerian. So, you know this guy said my equipment’s been moving.

Me: The guy who watches it said that?

O: No! My neighbor! I talked to him the other day. He said, ‘O yeah, I’ve been noticing that the small machine is moving about!’ So I wanted to talk to this guy and just see if he mentioned it.

Me: So did this guy who works for you mention it?

O: O, yeah! He said this guy had been trying to rent the stuff for peanuts, but I know the guy has money. See, this guy built a big, extremely huge hotel; big! But he’ll come crying, ‘O, I don’t have money-o! Dash me-o!’

Me: Which guy?

O: Lis-ten, now! I’m telling you. This hotel guy. Very extremely rich guy. I know the guy. He said he took the machine for 2 days, and he only paid this guy for one. But my guy checked the logs, and the machine was out for 6 days! Shah, Nigerians!

Me: So, if you know the guy, can you pressurize him to pay?

O: Which guy?

Me: Seriously?

O: O. I guess my stories have a lot of “this guy”s.