{the audacity of a foreigner appropriating}

“He said my writing does not show him Africa. Keep in mind this American man has never visited any country in Africa. He said i was writing about Africans driving and listening to Sade in air-conditioned cars. He just couldn’t identify with such. He said it like i should apologize for ever portraying my people as some modern day normal Africans. It is as though if Africans are not killing each other or dying of a disease; then our stories are not valid. As a Nigerian, i have never witnessed war and i know what listening to Sade in an air-conditioned car while in crazy Lagos traffic feels like, yet an American who has never stepped foot in my continent tried explaining my country to me. He said, “i am sorry, this is just not believable….” and then as i tried to hold my anger, i understood the ‘burden’ of writing an African story.

The anger most African writers feel when others seem to know so damn much about our own motherland. The terrible idea that Africans are a certain way is disheartening. I remember how my friend in Lagos laughed as i told her about the American. She laughed loud at his foolishness and cursed him in Yoruba. You cannot tell me what an African city looks like, you cannot tell me what a Nigerian city looks like. You cannot tell me how to write about Africa only if it shows her people as helpless, only if it feeds into your stereotype. How can a foreigner tell us about our own land? They want to shake their head, read only about struggles and discuss it in their book clubs. The audacity of a foreigner to tell me how to write about my people.” – Ijeoma Umebinyuo

I ran across this quote courtesy of Ursula Vernon’s tumblr, and it resonated with me. One of the …twisty things about writing young adult fiction as an African American person is being told… that my story, the way I’m telling it, isn’t valid. I spend a lot of time in the quiet of my inner mind, trying to wrestle through the ambiguous feelings of “something is wrong here,” and to identify what is being implied or directly told to me, so that I can work through it. It doesn’t help that I am slow to react to things at times — slow to be able to pinpoint the root of a sad or negative feeling I might be having. I don’t always like words like “microaggression” because they’re kind of catchy and overused at the moment, but I understand the effect — a tiny wrongness that builds up and builds up and over time, you end up with a mirror that obscures a face instead of reflecting it, because the surface has been scratched with a thousand tiny cuts.

And, now that a person has identified this, found the root of their anger, what are they supposed to do about it?

That, I don’t know yet. What do we always do, when we’re misunderstood? Keep talking? Talk louder? Decide it doesn’t matter? Today, I couldn’t tell you.

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