Appreciate Don't Appropriate

Adjoa Agyeman and VictoriaAnn Wainaina, IUP

“Go back to Africa.” “Why don’t you come with me?”

Looking back now, I am so surprised at how shallow kids were for making fun of me. Kenyan born, I came to the United States when I was seven years old. I thought I’d easily make friends with the kids that looked just like me, but this was a mistake. It all started in middle school when the teacher would call names out for attendance. I would literary cringe knowing my last name was about to be butchered, giving the class something to laugh about.

Then the question comes, “Victoria, where are you from? Your name is so unique.” That opens the floor for all the jokes. “Do you guys wear clothes? Why do the kids on TV have such big stomachs and flies on their faces?”

 I would get questions about my complexion being light, since I was from Africa? I remember reading a book in class one day where the female character did not have clothing. The kids in my class made fun of me so much to the point I was in tears and my mom came in to correct my teacher for not defending me.

 “You’re an African Booty scratcher.”  “Okay, well, at least my grandparents weren’t slaves.”

And they called the City of Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. Where? My middle school days were the worst; and now parts of my culture embraced by the same people who taunted me. Growing up in the Public School District in Philadelphia with the name Nana Adjoa Agyeman was hard for me, but I would not be the strong, confident, and culturally rooted young woman I am today. From being called (add-joe-A) to ahj-a, and correcting everyone each time reminded me to love my name, my culture, and myself.

 I always got teased because my skin was too dark and because my hair was “nappy” by other little brown girls and boys who looked just like me and always wondered, “How are they different from me?” When in fact, I came from the motherland, West Africa, Ghana to be exact. Where the Asante Tribe flourished in Kumasi and the Gas aspired their dreams in Accra.

Then I considered the history of black Americans that I had learned, a history of slavery and oppression, but those are not the stories of MY ancestors. This was the story of THEIR ancestors, those who are only rooted back to a cotton plantation in Southern Georgia. My ancestors were not oppressed and forced into labor by white men. They were free, free to live life among others who looked just like them.

On many occasions my fellow classmates asked me if I walked down the roads accompanied by lions, or if clicking noises were a part of our language. Now, as a young, college educated, African female, I know that ignorance is not bliss. Once those become aware, not even knowledgeable, they try to cop your swag! But no, my rich, Ghanaian culture is not just any swag. It is me, my people, and our richly rooted way of life.

Growing up as an African child hasn’t always been the easiest thing. We’ve had to deal with name calling from kids who look just like us, with the only difference being our heritage. Over the years the black perception of Africans has drastically changed. We went from being called African booty scratchers to African Americans wanting to take the Ancestry DNA test to trace their lineage. There wasn’t a day in high school when I wore my dashiki and a black person would ask me “can you get me one?” But just a few years ago this would’ve been the same student insulting both my African culture and me.

This standpoint is parallel to African Americans thoughts on how white people appropriate their culture, yet I don’t believe they see that they’re also doing the same with African culture. Making a fashion statement out of our traditional attire isn’t something we take lightly. There’s a difference between appreciation and appropriation. You can say something looks nice but when you take it and claim it as your own, a problem arises. These individuals do not understand the meaning and richness of African culture. This can extend from the clothing we wear, the African waist beads that have been made a fashion statement, the food we eat and down to the languages spoken. This causes so much frustration in me because now that it is “cool” to be African, everyone is down for the cause. You don’t know what I’ve dealt with so don’t walk around claiming you’re something when you’re not.