Condemnation (noun) : the expression of very strong disapproval; censure
For years I have been the outcast, but not the outcast who just dressed differently or who listened to peculiar music, although I was guilty of that too. I was the little girl who was not “black enough.” My siblings and I were taught to be proud of who we were and where we came from and that my blackness was not something to be ashamed of. I was taught at a young age the “proper” way to carry, compose, and articulate myself; however, that wasn’t enough.
I was the bull with the target on its back.
My first memory of feeling differently was at 11 years old. It was a gloomy day and the air smelled of yesterday night’s rain. I was wearing my favorite navy blue jumper with white ruffle socks. It was lunch time, I grabbed my milk carton, tray of PB&J and carrots and took a seat with the rest of my class.
“Hey guys, how’s it going?”
Within moments, I heard “You talk so white, let’s move, guys, I told y'all she's a weirdo.”
Alone I sat.
I never understood why being myself bothered people who looked just like me so much. I never understood why my style, soft personality, proper dialect, ironed blouses, interests, and music taste bothered my own people to the point of making me question who I was. Even as a child, I still found myself wondering what happened to make my peers feel this way towards me and others like me. Pieces of me were pulled every which way.
Who am I?
What am I doing here?
What’s the point of this?
Why do I feel this way?
I felt stuck.
“But there was a difference between being stuck and choosing to stay. Between being found and finding yourself.” - Martina Boone
On the one hand I understood that if a child was not educated, they did not know any better, but on the other I wondered why there was such animosity. After all we were just children. I just wanted them to play freeze tag with me. I thought maybe I could put my fellow peers on manga, anime, origami, Nigerian food, new TV, new books, documentaries about our history, artists, the list goes on. But that fantasy of mine abruptly ended once I realized my peers would never understand me how I did them.
The first time I realized I was Nigerian was at 14 years old.
“You’re Nigerian right?”
“Yes I am.”
“Everybody’s saying you eat elephants, take showers outside, and don’t have any lights in your house. Eww, you’re dirty!”
I never felt so hurt.
So like most children who were on the outskirts of acceptance, I hid. For years I deprived myself of myself. I tried to wear the cool clothes I so deeply hated. I tried to watch the TV shows that could never catch my interest. I tried to listen to the music I knew sounded terrible. I had to bring something to the lunch table.
Have you ever been the introvert of your friend group, but tried to play the role of the extrovert? Well, that was me, Chi. These alterations may not seem like such a big deal, but I wasn’t going to be a little girl forever. How exactly do you fully transition from a child to a woman or a man, when there’s still unresolved traumas from your childhood left for you to dispose of?
As an adult I always hear the saying “people judge what they don’t understand.” In childhood I created the saying “people judge what they find weird.” I never gave myself the chance to blossom, to bloom, to be free. I avoided self-growth for condemnation. I accepted chastisement for fake love. I embodied guilt and shame for a seat at the cool kids table. Leaving me to fall far behind. Only to have realized years later, I was perfect the way I was.
I was angry. I was bitter. I was resentful. But that never got me anywhere, and I would ultimately become the people I wanted to please. It’s ironic how you grow old and have to unlearn the toxicity the world taught you in exchange for self-growth. Deciding to choose myself first over others was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life.
I found great strength in my weakness. I now smile from ear to ear knowing my pain was the end of my chapter and not the end of my story. My task is to instill power into the next generation. This next chapter is dedicated to the child who struggles with narrating their story.