by Celia Afande
Growing up mixed race in predominantly white spaces, I felt like I was failing in my
blackness. As though it was a class I had signed up for without fulfilling the requirements. In Tanzania surrounded by a more diverse community, with people that looked like me in all their glorious shades of brown, my blackness was not something I consciously thought about.
The Netherlands was different. I was different. I was Black. The older I got, the more I moved away from my Togolese heritage, my Blackness. I thought, if I don’t try, I can’t fail. Being mixed, I did not feel close enough to that side of me, like I didn’t have the right to claim my Blackness. But I also wanted more than anything to fit in with my peers, most of which were white. So, I straightened my hair, talked like them and liked the same things as them. But I knew I would never really look like them, just as I would never really look like my Black peers. That was the tightrope I walked throughout high school – feeling as though neither side would catch me if I fall.
Then came university. I had embarked on my natural hair journey at the end of high school. My first step in reclaiming my blackness. My curls. My culture. They became my calling card, they were my long-lost friends and I loved them. In classes, I claimed my space and spoke up, raised different perspectives and centered my essays around race, whenever and wherever I could. But I was playing a role. Or at least that’s what it felt like. The Blackness I saw around me and in media did not fully reflect who I was. The black woman was strong. The Black woman was sexual. The Black woman was angry. She listened to specific music and dressed a certain way. None of that was real to me – I wasn’t always strong, sexual or angry. I didn’t always like the music or the style. What I hadn’t truly realized is that those representations weren’t always real either; they were stereotypes.
So, I continued on my search for a connection, for a definition of Blackness that I could
relate to. I reached out to and turned my attention to the black women in my life. The more I spoke to my Black girlfriends, the more I began to realize that there are many ways of being a Black woman. We exist on a spectrum, each shining their own light. I began to see that Togolese culture had been instilled within me – I wasn’t lost – and I certainly didn’t need to prove my Blackness. I am a Black woman who cries; who is scared; who listens to all sorts of music, dresses according to her mood and is strong in her own way.
I am limitless.
That is Blackness.