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#COAA1 'The cultural shock is suffocating'; Self Actualisation in the diaspora.

Updated: Jun 18

By Coco R'

Hi guys, welcome to the first instalment of Confessions Of An Afrodite.

I’ve been going back and forth with myself on what the first topic should be. Should I introduce myself or just go right in? I mean who really cares about introductions nowadays. I decided to go right in but also giving a brief peek at my life and experiences.

This topic choice was inspired by a novel I’ve just finished reading for the second time (its that good)- Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In this novel she discusses, amongst other things, the difficulty in adjusting when one makes the big move from their respective origins into western society. You deal with a lot of new things such as racial distinctions, racism, classism, social clashes etc- all at the same time. How does this affect a person? Well, it affects people in mainly two ways- either you decide to make the necessary changes within yourself to fit into this new place or you stay the same and silently pray this new world adapts to you in a positive way. In my case it was the latter.

A lot like myself, Ifemelu -the main character in the book- struggled with fitting into her new world, her accent, her 4c hair she liked to wear in an afro, her honesty, which came off as unnecessary bluntness (my black readers felt this differently), was no match for Princeton, New Jersey. She tried what she could to make the gradient less steep and to make herself more relatable by changing her accent and perming her hair until she realised these things were taking from whom she was. Well, in my case it didn’t go quite like that. Even though I came overseas at quite an impressionable age, I had this strong desire to remain as true to whom my family knew me as, if that makes sense. By family, I mean my family back home. I never wanted them to make comments like ‘you’ve changed’ or ‘you sound so {insert western nationality} now’. That was a big fear of mine, while I was dealing with that, I was also struggling with being relatable to the new people around me, whether it be kids at school or family. I think the accent in itself carries a lot of stigma around it- if you have an accent (and I can only speak for the “African” one) some people automatically think that there’s some type of language barrier there. Like just because I have an accent, they must now slow down their speech and emphasise their vowels a little more. That was annoying. But how do you explain to someone you’re fully competent when all they hear when you speak is ‘higgy hagga’. (smh).

Some people just give up and ensue to take the necessary steps to make their accent more western and I don’t blame them. In my case, I just began to talk less and less so people wouldn’t hear me as much, but I was ok with writing so that became my communication tactic of choice. I would make sure I did great in my English classes so that even though they didn’t hear from me verbally, they knew I understood. (P.S it wasn’t as extreme as it sounds on paper lol. I’d still speak outside of classes, just not as much). The cultural shock was mad. First of all, no one talks to anyone over here; where I’m from you knew the whole neighbourhood and as a kid, I was able to play in the street with all the neighbourhood kids. So, there’s that element of collectivism.

Over here, it’s like every man for himself literally, like you mean to tell me if I ran out of sugar, I can’t knock next door and ask for a spoonful? Oh no baby what is you doinnn lol, that was crazy to me. The truth is, the more you stay in a particular environment the more you begin to absorb their ways. So naturally with time -the more I watched the shows and listened to the music-, I got accustomed to their way of living, their slang, their humour and maybe a bit of their dress sense. To be honest, it was mostly the friends I developed from school that knocked the ‘bush’ out of me, so to speak. Even with all that, my accent remained strong as ever which I find hilarious. I mean as much I desired for it to stay, I had kind of come to the logical acceptance that it would probably change, cause all I spoke was English, even at home. Well so l thought.

Leave it to your family to humble you. What I thought was my biggest fear came to life. When I went back home to visit, the first thing they said was ‘you sound so {insert western nationality} now’. (LOL). Go figure, over in the west they think I sound like an African warrior and then I get here, and I sound like the queen of England to you? It didn’t really hurt my feelings, but it sparked the question of belonging- where do you actually belong now? Then I realised, something as simple as an accent should not define or change your sense of belonging in a particular place or situation. So, that revelation was short-lived. But that’s what makes me feel like you never fully acclimate to a new culture because for one: I’ll never sound like them -the people back home or the people here. There are so many problems that come with that- interviews, job opportunities even friendships become a struggle. It makes me wonder how our 1st generation relatives who came here before us dealt with this, because its rarely discussed.

Anyway, this is going to have to be a 2-part conversation because there’s so much to unpack.

What do you think of it? Even if you didn’t experience this yourself, how do you think it affected relatives/friends of yours who have?

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