Friday, May 31, 2013

Why 'One Size Fits All' Doesn't Work

I've just finished reading the novel Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie (very riveting, and if you haven't read it, grab a copy), and it got me thinking about subject matters I'd thought about, but never really, really paid attention to. One of them was what it means to be black and if at all, we as a race (I use that word lightly as it’s not a scientific term, but a social construct) see the world in a similar fashion, or even share the same experiences.

In the last 6 months of my stay in the UK, I lived with a black, British roommate originally from Zambia. She was as tall and dark-skinned like me, but that’s as far as our similarities went. Since we were both black, we engaged in several conversations concerning black people without any inhibitions, and it was during one of our many conversations that she mentioned, almost as a fact, that men, especially Caucasian men, don't find dark-skinned, black women attractive.

Now, on that point, I begged to differ since I've had totally different experiences, and I pointed out to her that most people’s choices are based on their preferences. For instance, I prefer guys with dark features, but that’s not to say that I would completely write off the good-natured, blond-haired-blue-eyed guy or the light-skinned, black guy because they didn't fit my 'complexion' criteria. However, if I had to make a choice between two guys with the same personality, but one was light complexioned and the other dark, I'd definitely choose the dark guy. No offence to the light-skinned guys, but like I said, it’s a preference; a quirky preference not discrimination.

My flatmate also had the impression that my being black had something to do with the difficulty I experienced trying to get a graduate job. Needless to say, I didn't share her views, and opined that since the economy was in the doldrums, the British government would be more apt to ensure its citizens were given priority over non- British/EU applicants, and in such a case, she was more likely to get the job than me if we both applied for the same position.

There’s a common belief held by some blacks and non-blacks that all black people are similar culturally and otherwise, and therefore would be offended by the same slight. Case in point, comments or jokes made about black people loving chicken and watermelon. 

Recently, a non-black pro golfer, Sergio Garcia, made a joke about inviting Tiger Woods over to dinner and serving him fried chicken, which then prompted Woods to chastise him for making a "racist" joke. Honestly, I've never really understood why some black people, especially African-Americans, get riled up about chicken and watermelon jokes. If someone made a joke to me about chicken or watermelon, it wouldn't offend me one bit because (a) I’m not particularly gung-ho about either, and (b) there's nothing wrong with associating certain foods with a particular group. Look at the French and their love of fromage, or the Vodka-swigging Russians. I don't hear them complaining.

Similarly, there’s that obscene, almost unholy, word that arguably no black person ever wants to hear spoken or whispered by a non-black person - the word being nigger. Personally, I've never been called a nigger, and I’m not sure how I'd react if I'm ever called that word. Who knows? I may react to it the way I would if someone were to show the sole of their shoes to me - which is to do absolutely nothing (by the way, showing the sole of your feet/shoes is a grave insult in the Middle East); or I may react the way I would if someone grabbed my derriere - which is to raise hell. 

Of course, it would be remiss of me to suggest people not get offended by that word, especially since black slaves were called niggers on a daily basis, and it was one of the last words a black person heard before they were lynched. However, as an African whose ancestors were not slaves, I'm ambivalent about how to react to the word nigger.

As a racial group (again I use the word 'race' lightly), I think it's fair to say we all have our unique experiences and view life through different prisms. Therefore, to assume that all black people should/would feel the same way about something, or conform to a certain way of thinking because they’re African or of African descent, diminishes us as a people. Besides, what offends Tom and Harry might not necessarily offend Dick (even though Dick might be annoyed on behalf of his friends) because as the saying goes, different strokes for different folks.