A is for African
Graphic artist and writer R will be breaking down everyday racism one letter at a time in his series, the A - Z of Microaggressions. This week, the letter A:
What is it to be African in Europe?
I wish I could answer that for you. But every single African individual's experience is just as diverse and similar as their skin tones.
With well over 700 000 spread across the European peninsula, how could I, a single entity, answer that question for you?
While I can't answer that question myself, I can share with you, some of their stories...
We sat together in her salon, a small dingy place, close to the city’s popular prostitution area. Her imported hair and clothing products had been neatly stocked and piled around her shop that she had come to own recently.
“I tell you, these Africans are racist!” she said in her thick West African accent, peering at us over her reading glasses. “When I first came to this country nobody wanted to know me-o. Because I didn’t have my [residency] papers, nobody wanted to know me! Nobody wanted to help me! When I went to these small-small parties, I saw dere, with my own eyes, dem people dem! De ones with papers, sittin’ on one one side and we, who had no papers, sittin’ on de other. But I say dey are racist. Dey are racist because dey know power, dey look at us and treated us like dey were born here with White skin, blonde hair and blue eyes! They looked at us like we were nothin’. But my dear, when they came, what were they? They were like us, who had no papers, correct?”
It was incredible listening to her recall what she’d been through to get to where she was. Working long hours in the hot sweaty coast of Senegal, selling bags of rice, raising a child, travelling through 5 different countries, losing family along the way, embracing fear on her long journey to Europe, searching for help, gaining family along the way, dealing with racism and struggling with unfair pay working for others, to finally, finally owning her own business.
There she sat, at 60, looking like she was in her early 40s, dressed gracefully in a style that complimented West African & European fashion trends, with jewellery that complimented her gorgeous dark complexion.
You wouldn’t have imagined the struggles she’d been through by simply looking at her. Yet it was present in her voice and the weight of all those experiences with which she spoke, you couldn’t deny her journey.
“But you see how people change afterwards… When dey know you have your papers, when dey know you have money, you see dem come to you, dey start to talk to you, asking you how your day is, who you are and where you are from. But I see dem… I see dem.
Before nobody wanted my number, but now everybody is calling me. Why? Because I have papers & I have made my own business? Yes!
You see these Asian people-o? You see how dey help one another? You see these Arab people-o? You see how dey make business? Now, everybody is not perfect, but dey have that connection and dey help one another. But Africans… Where are dey?”
Looking to spare herself from falling further into a pit of frustration, she paused.
Then sat back looking outside her shop window in an attempt to console herself and what she’d been through.
At a house party:
“I'm Sofie, I'm Jeppe’s friend, we went to school together, and your name is?”
“I'm Patrick, I work with Jeppe.”
“Wow, I love your accent..! Where are you from?”
“Haha, erm, thanks… I guess… haha, I'm British.”
“Oh, but where are you from originally?”
“...er… England… (?)”
“No, I mean, where are your parents from…?”
“Erm, they're British too… (?)”
“Ok, but where are your grandparents from?”
“They're from Ghana… Why?”
“Ghana? Where is that?”
“It's in West Africa, clos-”
“Oh my god, I love Africa!”
“I've always wanted to go to Africa! One of my friends, she went there for charity work, she said it was so lovely! All those little babies!”
“I'm sorry, I…”
“...I think one day I will adopt one! They're so cute!!”
“So can you speak African?”
“You're from Africa, right? Can you speak African?”
“Look. I told you, I'm British, my roots are Ghanaian. In Ghana, my family speak Twi among other languages.
Also, please do all Africans a favour and don't come near our babies… Honestly, our children aren't things that you buy and go around showing off to make yourself feel like a White Saviour - because you're not!
Another thing, there is no such language as African, ok?! Africa is a continent with more than 52 countries and over 25,000 languages… So, can I speak 'African'? Sure, I can speak 'African' just about as much as you speak 'European'!”
“Oh my god… Why are you so aggressive? I was only trying to be nice…! Why are you people always so angry?”
- R is an male of African origins living in Europe and writes from the solitude of his hoodie whenever his twitter-fingers get itchy.