Connecting with a new city is easier with the right people. You have left your friends back home and it can easily become lonely without friends. I discovered pretty early that I find it easier meeting people on apps and social media platforms before physical interaction. So coming to Dubai I installed every app you can think about. Reading comments on Quora about people’s experiences told me I was on the right path.
I met Carys on Tinder. We matched and she replied to my messages after a few days. We got to know each other gradually but I couldn’t sense what her goals were. She had been in the city for a while and was married. Why did she match with me? A dark-skinned Nigerian? Friendship? Was she looking for a third wheel in her marriage or for some quick fun? These questions were always running through my mind but I never asked. We were different culturally, I had to measure my jokes and teasing a little bit. She would tell me about her husband, her children, and her work with charities back in the UK.
Clashing over identity…
A week into our conversation we had our first clash and it was one that left me with a lot of things to think about. We were having a conversation about the kind of men she liked and she recounted relationships with different people always coming back to her relationships with black men. I asked what her favorite song was and she said “My Girl” by The Temptations. The Temptations is a group of five black men who released a series of successful singles and albums with Motown Records during the 1960s and 1970s. At this point in the conversation, I sent her a WhatsApp message saying “Does Carys have a black men fetish” with a winking smiley. She replied, “Please don’t”.
I didn’t know how serious the conversation had become for her till she said
“I don’t find what you said at all funny” and then she asked if I felt fetishizing black people was funny or if it was a compliment. At this point, in my mind, I was like Ok, That went left pretty quickly. Let’s back up a bit. I tried to lighten and change the conversation but she wasn’t having it. I told her I had never seen things from that angle and that where I come from having a black man fetish has always been considered a good thing. In fact, I welcome being the subject of a person’s fantasy in that way. At this point, she blew her top saying “This perception is steeped in colonialism, white supremacy and the idea that black people are hypersexualized. The bullshit they use to justify the lynching of black men for functional crimes against white women and used for the justification for rape of black women and the bullshit they used to justify 300 years of slavery and 100 years of racism and segregation and you want to see white women using black men as a fetish as a positive and compare it to having a fetish for handcuffs . You shouldn’t be comfortable being fetishized in that manner”. Phewww! That wasn’t a lecture I had been expecting on a hot Dubai afternoon and it took a lot of my people management skills to extricate myself from that situation. Did this Welsh Woman just educate me about my identity as a black man?
Dubai is a melting pot of creeds and nationalities with residents here coming from nearly 200 countries
Chimamanda Adiche: I Identify very happily now as black but I didn’t always.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian writer recently named on the list of the 100 Most Influential Africans List by The African Report came under a lot of bashing on social media as a result of statements she made about identity and how to be black while speaking to The Economist’s public policy editor, Sacha Nauta, about feminism and the intersection of race, gender and politics.
She makes a distinction between colorism which is prevalent in Nigeria and racism which is barely known to Nigerians that grew up in Nigeria.
In her words, ‘Identity is something one always has to negotiate at the same time it is external. So it’s something inside and outside as well, right? I identify happily as black now but I didn’t always because I became black in America. When I went to the U.S to go to the University, I realized oh, I am suddenly something else not black. And it’s not to say that I didn’t know that my skin is the glorious color of chocolate which I wouldn’t change for anything by the way but it’s the idea that there is a meaning attached to skin color in certain parts of the world. And I had come from Nigeria where really skin color didn’t have meaning. Ethnicity has meaning and religion has meaning. And then to come to the U.S and be in class and to write an essay which the professor said – ‘Who wrote this essay, this is the best essay’. And I raised my hand and he looked surprised. And it was a very small fleeting moment and it was maybe my fourth week in the US. But that’s when I realized that to be black, is to have people make certain assumptions”.
Author @ChimamandaReal talks about the meaning of identity, and how "to be black is to have people make certain assumptions." Watch all of her interview at the #OpenFuture Festival here: https://t.co/6RfNIZzpIk pic.twitter.com/aH1fnk5Bug
— The Economist (@TheEconomist) October 5, 2019
She went on to make very interesting assertions about feminism, race, and identity.
I bring it back to my interaction with Carys and my personal experience. As a Nigerian in Nigeria, I never had to think of myself as Black even in my relations with people of other races through work and my social life. My race never occurred to me. Even coming to Dubai and hearing stories of black people not getting access to opportunities, being segregated in the dating pool and other things, I brushed it off as a projection of people’s personal experiences on an entire race and acted like it didn’t exist and that heavily helped me in building bridges across races.
I remember the one time I went to the pub with a Swedish friend of mine at a bar in Dubai Marina and we ordered two beers. The Filipino waiter suddenly asked for our Emirates ID to start a tab for us. My friend asked why and he said it was a new policy but my friend wasn’t having any of it. He believed it was because I was with him and asked for the pub management. He only relaxed when the management assured him it was actually a new pub policy.
Do Nigerians have a proper understanding of racism and what it means to be black?
Being a Nigerian born in the late 80s and early 90s, I have had almost no direct interaction with racism apart from books, the movies, visiting slave trade sites and monuments. I have been happy to compete with people of other races at work and school. The ‘average Nigerian’ didn’t grow up with the history and understands it even less because we do not have a great culture of passing down lessons. Caribbean and Black Americans carry the black identity a lot more than most Nigerians. It takes a direct interaction with the west by living, going to school or working outside West Africa to really embrace it. The South Africans probably understand it a lot better because they were colonized longer and still face some of the raw pain that came with being black under apartheid South Africa
This is a conversation that needs to be had in a balance so let’s bring it back to The ‘non-average Nigerian’. The non-average Nigerian is well-read, well-traveled and in touch with the deeper realities of what it means to be black in the world today. The non-average Nigerian will berate the average Nigerian for cosmetic visits to slave trade sites, a fascination with the shackles and pictures. The non-average Nigerian would be irate at the average Nigerian for not listening to the stories, not knowing about Emmet Till or how being an object of a sexual fetish by a caucasian would be remotely inviting. The non-Nigerian speaking to the average Nigerian will probably even say ‘You are a black man. Act like it. Don’t act a house nigger’.
Hearing Chimamanda share her experience today is probably the closest I have ever seen her to being an average Nigerian. You mean there was an actual time when she thought and breathed like the rest of us? Did she ever visit the slave trade sites before going to school in America? Did she ever read the books or watch the movies? Had she heard about Emmet Till?
Understanding racism in theory or by purposely educating yourself is totally different from experiencing it directly or through shared history and the reality is that a lot of Nigerians fall under the category of the average Nigerians. Like Chimamanda who realized she was black in America, I had to leave Nigeria and live in Dubai to realize what it truly means to be black.
Would having all the history have changed me growing up as a Nigerian? Would it have affected the superiority mentality that we have that pushes us to be the best at everything we do?
Ifeanyi Abraham is a creative storyteller, life hacker and Digital Influencer.
He is a Public relations & Digital Marketing executive that helps companies, government agencies & NGOs leverage the power of marketing & communications.
He is the Founder of NigeriansinDubai.com, a knowledge sharing and transfer platform focused on harnessing the lessons, spirit and power of Dubai to the benefit of Nigerians. We tell the stories of Nigerians living, working and visiting Dubai.
He is also the Co-founder of The Beverage Room, a digital community for Beverage Lovers.