My most salient marked identities are that I’m African, Black, Catholic, and a woman. Depending on the context and situation, one might be more present than the other. And I’ve learned as I grow into adulthood, this tends to complicate people’s perception of me; it makes relating to all parts of me, difficult, for them. Not because I’m a difficult person to relate with – at least I hope I’m not – but because many people don’t seem to know what to do when complexity of self is embraced rather than denied. And people become uncomfortable; but I am not here to make you comfortable.
There is a supposition that because I’m Black African and not Black American, I should not be concerned with racial identity – often forgetting that it is a primary academic interest of mine. And at times I feel rejected by Africans living in the United States for willing to concern myself with the construct of Blackness here; but also rejected by Black Americans because my experience will always be different given that our histories are related but not symmetrical. I can go in and out of White spaces fairly conveniently because of economic and social and intellectual privilege. But then I choose to challenge these White spaces with my Black interests and my Black presence. And in so doing, I have been making people uncomfortable.
The African in me is constructed by the Nigerian in me, and the Nigerian in me is catered to by growing up in its diaspora, yet cultured by the Urhobo ethnicity I was born into. The African in me is loud and fiercely proud – proud of my heritage and proud of my people; determined to expose what has been taken away, determined to rebuild anew. The African in me is filled with a consciousness that is incommunicable to those without it, but it is a voice that beats alongside my heart. And it is the voice I use to challenge Western notions of morality, of justice, of perception, of history, and humanity. And in so doing, I have been making people uncomfortable.
The Catholic in me is unyielding and traditional, continually seeking truth anywhere I can find it. My faith shapes me, it forms me, it informs how I perceive my purpose on earth and what I choose and don’t choose. Though the Church will always be a religious institution, it is to me also a spiritual home. It is a place with a perfect but mysterious God at its head, yet made up of imperfect people struggling to stay together; struggling to be human. The Catholic in me is firm but flexible, challenging both secular culture and religious circles on issues of life, and love, and liberty, and what all of these mean to a God who gives us free will. And in so doing, I have been making people uncomfortable.
The woman in me was shaped by a mother who brought me up to be gentle and ferocious; taught by a father to disturb the status quo when what I find isn’t good enough. Polite and direct, tomboyish and girlish, sporty and smart; unwilling to place myself in a boring box of expectations, and unaffected by those who placed the box in the first place. With no use for labels to define this body, or how I exist in this mind, I complicate womanhood just for fun. And in so doing, I have been making people feel uncomfortable.
To all the people I have been making uncomfortable, I do not regret to inform you that I am not sorry; I am not sorry at all. And maybe you need to get out of your comfort zones and leave your front doorstep, and experience the colorful world outside; the one beyond the perceptions of your imagination. I have learned through writing about my interests and myself, that anyone who chooses to ignore any part of you, or hates any part of you, can never really know you. And because of that, they can never really love you. You see, you have to love a person in all their parts and anything less than that is a sham, a shame, and a worthless substitute that the person is better off without. Does that make you uncomfortable?
Getting to the point where I can authentically be all the things I am, at all times, without wondering who is watching, who is listening, and who is loving me back, has brought me to write this piece. So let it be known that I will not modify my Blackness, alter my African-ness, control my Catholic-ness and become a different woman in your presence, in order to make you feel good or better or best. No, I will challenge you with all my identities and cause you to shift in your seat, and look nervously around, hoping for the version of me that you prefer – only to realize that version does not exist; she never existed. I’ve learned to live in, and love, all the things that make me, me. And this full-time, life-sized, complicated, and colorful version is the only one that I can give. And if that makes you uncomfortable, well now you know: I am not here to make you comfortable.