On Being ‘Foreign’- (Huh To My Accent, Love My Kinky Hair)

Let me start by saying that this is not a HUGE deal. I mean on good days I actually laugh about my ‘foreignness’ and feel nice and exotic while I’m at it. But it’s the bad days that get you. Maybe you’re home-sick, or you suspect you have just been a victim of covert racism or you are just having a bad day, period – that’s when I dwell on stuff like this and actually send it out to a public forum to get it out there. (Not such a bad thing, actually).

What am I talking about? In a minute, I was just getting there. It’s the whole concept of not being ‘American’. Forget that I was born in Illinois and spent my formative years here. Forget that I am 5’6′, black, with no distinguishing marks on my face or body (as are at least 40% of the black female population in Baltimore). I am still ‘different’, at least when I open my mouth. I mean I have a accent, but then, doesn’t everybody? It’s definitely not ‘Baltimorean’, but it’s hardly the ‘click-click’ of the Congo pygmies. So here I am, a cultured, educated, not to mention well traveled attorney and once in a while I still get that “Huh-oh-since-your-accent-is-different-you-must-have-dropped-out-of-the-sky” look. I mean, it took me a while to get used to the whole Baltimorean accent with the ‘a’s pronounced as ‘u’- e.g. “scuuured” for “scared”, “muuurried” for ‘married”, and I was never silly about it.

And then there are the ones who are nice about it, but who come off at best as being patronizing. “You have got the cutest accent…”, or “.say that again. I love the inflection…” I mean come on – next thing your kids will be taking me to school for show-and-tell and you’ll be inviting me to your house, so all your friends can hear my ‘remarkable’ accent, and maybe a tale or two about ‘the jungle days in Africa’. NOT!

Then, what is it with wanting to touch my hair? I mean dang! Do I touch yours? Exactly. Even when you are being complimentary, its just a bit too much. Every time I change a hairstyle, I prepare myself for the grilling the next day at the office. “Why did you cut your hair?” (I’m wearing a short wig), “Wow, your hair grows so fast.” (it’s an extension), or just open mouthed amazement. I mean, asking questions to understand is great, but three times or more is a pain. Trust me.

But oh, the absolute worse is when you see my name first, say on my desk, a name tag, or are introduced to me and then assume that I probably ‘just got off the ship’ and you start to talk loudly to me, in deliberate, mile-spaced, “Janet and John” words, as in “I – am – going – now – okay?”. It is all I can do to keep from laughing. I am African, not hard of hearing, people! The fact that I am African does not mean that English was not my first language – which brings me to another thing I hate . “Ooh, your English is really good! How did you learn to speak so well?” Well, Duhhh. I have to bite my tongue to keep from saying stuff like “actually, I was a child prodigy…”, because I know they would buy that. Sounds way more believable than English was my first language. And then again, English is ridiculously easy, I promise you. Try learning Ibo if you dare.

I know I have vented, which is sad, because I’m actually the nicest person (no, really). But just do me a favor – don’t make any assumptions about me, and I will accord you the same respect.

20 thoughts on “On Being ‘Foreign’- (Huh To My Accent, Love My Kinky Hair)

  • Yes I totally understand you. The accent, I have been there, the hair, I have been there too and the English yes I have experienced that too. I personally answer yes to all the hair questions. Did you cut your hair, yes, wow you hair grew back already?, yes. As far as the English I have stopped explaining. I just smile and turn around or simply change the topic. Anyways well written article, funny as well.

    Reply
  • I feel you girl. I know all about those experiences and they irritate the hell out of me. Most days I can stand such things but sometimes you just want to scream LEAVE ME ALONE, I AM NOT A PIECE OF ART WORK.

    Reply
  • Let alone the article! I think you a very attractive female and I am seriously….. (muse) Considering upping stakes and coming to check you out: lest you have a bad day again.

    U.kingdom

    Reply
  • i feel you sister!. accent, kinky hair, way of dressing, culture, morals just because it ain’t “american” doesn’t mean doesn’t make it bad. the world would be a better place if people can just embrace other peoples differences and respect it. thankx for writing all the things i have experienced since i got here !

    Reply
  • Gyaaal, u cldn’t have hit the nail one d head much better!

    I for 1, I am sooo getting ready for all d dibby dabbies next week monday, I am brading my hair over this weekend and I am dreading the foolish questions I’m going to be asked/answered to… (Help)..LOL

    Reply
  • Thanks for a well written article. I am surprised that people are asking “who the article is directed to”. What use is that? Can’t we read between the lines anymore? Aren’t we already sounding “How come you write so well …”

    We all need to keep the flag flying and always find a few seconds to remind them you are Nigerian and (do very well) speak English!

    Reply
  • Relish your uniqueness! Many people are still/just discovering Nigerians. Tolerance is key…imagine what’ll happen to the caucasian who lands in some part of Nigeria where there aren’t too many.

    Reply
  • Thanks for sharing your experience which is one that a large number of African male and female; especially, female have experienced at one time or another here in the US. Although you did not state to whom your article is directed to; however, it is implied which is just another way of expressing oneself. Keep writing and sharing, my African Sister. As an African woman, I, too, have had some of those days you mentioned…

    Reply
  • Not only is your article without purpose, it lacked depth, a sense of direction, and punch line. Who exactly is it intended to ruffle or commend? For the not so “educated and well travelled” whoever you are refering to, why don’t you help ease their ignorance by not changing your wigs on a daily basis.

    I will summarize your article as a very poorly written, purposeless one. Especially since it came from a so called “well educated attorney”

    Reply
  • I would rather take your write up as the cry of the lost in the deliberate loss of your circumstances.Do you think you would have such issues if you were in Portharcourt,benin or ibadan speaking to your own kind? im a bit irritated at the fact that you mention the click-click of the congo pygmies. What right have you to say that about the way they speak? talk about reverse retribution, re-read your article and Voila! you sound like your complainants

    Reply
  • i don’t get it..is this the whole article??? who is your article directed towards? are you saying as an african you have an accent which people seem to notice and then assume that you are foreign?

    Reply
  • Hey I was just checking out a few pages when I came across your page and had to stop say hello . I checked o your page and I must say, I think that you really seem like a very interesting and down to earth person to get to know by what you had to say plus that angelic face of yours is really beautiful. Well I really do not wish to take up anymore of your time but I would like to get to know you better if at all possible. If you would like, you can hit me back whenever you get the chance.

    Reply
  • I feel ur pain even though I may not be tupac. But it happens that we tell the same kind of story. Well, forget that…I define a good article as one in which I don’t have to skip a line to the next. And you have one, i like the article and its contents. keep it tight!

    Reply
  • who exactly is this article directed at, yeah you have a pretty but i dont see the kinkiness in your hair, i’m sure it’s not the style in the pose for the article, anyway let me commend you for sharing your baltimore experience with us, we’ll try not to make any comment on your baltimorean accent. Keep on being real, fine girl

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*