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Friday, September 17, 2010

by Dammy Onfowokan

Yup! That’s me, the gangly immigrant kid who came to the United States when he was 13 and got a lot less gangly after a steady diet of cheeseburgers and fries. The kid whose name was so long, I panicked when I couldn’t fit it all in the spaces they provide for your name on the S.A.T. I was the kid who once asked a girl out and was stunned when she replied by saying “You’re a really nice guy, but you’re just not Black enough!”, “but I’m from Africa” I thought to myself. I’m the kid who got asked by some college classmates if my family lived in a hut.  They were stunned when I told them not only did my hut have satellite television, but it also had indoor plumbing as well. 

Growing up the son of a diplomat, I’ve always had a diverse group of friends.  Black friends, White friends, Asian friends, Hispanic friends, my social circle has always been diverse.  This has always happened naturally for me. I’ve never had a problem making friends.  My mother was a school teacher in her younger days, so she stressed eloquent speech and proper use of language. She would be mortified to see the extent of the degradation of my writing skills, but she did instill in me the values of proper communication. For most of my life I thought this was the social norm. People should try to speak well. It wasn’t until I came to the United States and a lot of my new friends, both black and white, would remark to me how I “spoke like a white person”.  I would get the taunts from my shall we say…less friendly brethren, that I was an Oreo, black on the outside, white on the inside.

To me though, this was just who I was, who I had always been. So when I would go to the doctor during my college days and he remarked on “how articulate I was”, chose to take it a compliment. Though I did wonder what his expectations of me as a black male were that would cause him to make that statement. Come to think of it, I bet he says that to all his patients. When my friends tell me I am “the whitest black guy they have ever met”, I know they mean it as a compliment, but I wonder to myself, what does it mean to be Black, or White, or Asian or Hispanic?  How does society view me? How do I view myself, did that lady just lock her car doors because she is pulling out or her spot or because I happened to pull in next to her? Did that older gentleman just give my wife (who is white) and me an odd look because he thinks my choice of clothing is atrocious, or because deep down inside, he is not a fan of interracial relationships?  When I reached for the milk in the dairy aisle, did that girl just clutch her purse tighter because she has a nervous twitch, or because she thought I would swipe the purse, in the middle of a crowded store, in broad daylight, with cameras everywhere, and a security guard within shouting distance? Moreover, is all this stuff in my head, or am I perceived as more of a threat just because of how I look? Maybe if I smiled more?

I’m not one to see racism around every corner. I prefer to see the best in people, not the worst. I believe most people make honest mistakes especially in this era of social awkwardness and political correctness we live in. Each and every day that goes by, I try to learn how to feel more comfortable in my own skin.  I look only to please my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to be a good husband, father and son. To treat others as I would like to be treated. To use my speech to lift others up not tear them down, and to learn as much as I can about the beautiful, strange, wonderfully diverse world that God has placed me in. I don’t want to confine myself into fitting with a stereotype or someone else’s ill conceived views of who I should be and what is expected of me. I think the wonderful colorful tapestry of our existence makes life wonderful. I’m a black male from Africa who can’t stand soccer, loves American football, listens to Enya and Hip-Hop, has no rhythm, but is pretty good at ping-pong and loves Dr. Who. I guess you could say I’m a little bit like rainbow sherbet. I wonder if rainbow sherbet goes good with Oreos?

Dammy Onafowokan come to us from Lagos,
Nigeria and is a 2004 graduate of Liberty and is husband
to his wife Michelle and father to their new daughter
Addision. He enjoys graphic design and cars, both big
and small. Visit him onFacebook.

Posted at 4:48 PM | Comments (3)