Claiming your cultures
If you noticed some of your classmates decked out in traditional garb or heard some African drumming on Low Steps recently, it’s because this past week was African Takeover Week. The week ended with the African Students Association-sponsored Afropolitan showcase and party.
I attended an African Students Association meeting last week in which the discussion centered on the epiphany that comes from realizing and accepting your African culture. A number of people said that they did not choose to embrace their African-ness until they came to Columbia and discovered the African community. Now, this says a lot about the African community on campus.
I’ve only been to a few of the meetings, but I’ve found that the African Students Association is a great place to connect with other students that share a foundation or even just an interest in African culture. It’s accepting and has a strong presence, yet it’s not overbearing.
But it’s interesting that people had to make an active choice to identify with a certain part of themselves. Both of my parents were born and raised in Nigeria, but I was born in the United States. Throughout my life I’ve lived in or been a part of predominantly black/African-American communities.
I have relatives and ancestors that are a product of both African colonization and American slavery, so my parents immersed me in a deep understanding of both systems. Because of this, I’ve always identified with both groups equally. Personally, I’ve never had to make a choice as to which part of my culture I would identify with more closely, but I’ve always felt pressure from other people to do so.
I think it’s a great experience to be able to claim yourself as the person that you want to be, but I do see danger in feeling that it’s necessary to choose to identify with a certain part of yourself. This type of cultural claim has the potential to become exclusive. In my case, I never felt the need to pick a certain part of my identity to be dominant, but others felt as though I needed to choose one or the other. This is problematic.
Culture and community are perhaps two of the most important aspects of the human experience. They are all-encompassing and ultimately provide a sense of place and belonging. When culture and community become exclusive, however, they lose the principle of their original intent.
I do see that there are different prejudices and privileges that come with both cultures and I do think that it’s important to respect. But I think with a proper understanding of the history and customs, it’s possible to accept another culture without appropriating it. So, while I agree with the importance of claiming your culture, I do not see the importance in claiming only one.
I don’t think that I am any less authentic than the next Nigerian because I also identify with my African American culture. I would lose part of my identity if I was made to choose between the two.
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