There is an obsession to categorise people so that they neatly fit into existing perceived boxes of what it means to be associated with a country instead of embracing heterogeneity. Growing up in the UK as the child of an immigrant I have struggled with embracing my ‘otherness’. I am labelled as the oyinbo (white person) of my family and I have been reminded of my ‘British’ mindset and how I could never cope with living in Nigeria. This triggered a sense of feeling out of place within my family which in turn has contributed to insecurities of feeling like the odd one out. Similar feelings also surfaced within friendship groups. As often the only black person, I felt I needed to shield my ‘Nigerianess’ in order to fit in. By creating an internalized tug of war between my heritage and the country I was born, this made it almost impossible to feel comfortable within my own skin.
I have struggled to embrace the different aspects of my life that have contributed to the person I am today with regards to my upbringing in the UK and my Nigerian heritage. Listening to rock music and going through a grunge/goth period in my teens was met with lots of confusion and remarks of being ‘so British’ from within my family. Amongst friends in school my multiple Nigerian names and traditional Nigerian clothing were met with confusion and even laughter. Thus, whilst growing up, in certain social settings, I felt obliged to conceal or not draw attention to my ‘otherness’ as a British-born Nigerian as I believed this would help me fit in better.
From my attempts to not sound so British to avoiding speaking about my Nigerian heritage, I grew up being very selective when embracing only certain aspects of my life during my encounters with friends and family.
Following the assumption that I needed to pick and choose how I acted around others, it exacerbated the feeling that I would not be ‘accepted’ if I did not fit into my perceptions of Britishness and Nigerianess. Instead of embracing my multifaceted character, I naively exotified my perceptions of what it means to be Nigerian or British to avoid feeling like the odd one out. My last trip to Nigeria left me craving for the lifestyle of the people that I encountered. I felt a desire to immerse myself into all things bellanaija, afrobeats etc., which, in turn made me also feel like I needed to shield my ‘British mindset’. In addition, the insecurities of sounding too British resurfaced when some of the people I came across struggled to understand my accent and pointed out my difference.
My desire for a sense of belonging contributed to the ignorant belief that all I needed to do was be more like the people I encountered instead of embracing my multifaceted character. It draws attention to the importance of accepting yourself instead of focusing so much on comparing your character to others.
The feeling that you are too foreign for the country you were born in and too foreign for the country you originate from contributes to the feeling that you are not enough in either setting. Embracing and accepting your uniqueness instead of trying to mirror the character of friends and family members serves as an important step to feeling more at peace within yourself. Focusing on your lane and being patient with yourself is a radical act when considering the variety of expectations we are met with from others as well as the expectations we create for ourselves. It is important to give ourselves the space to understand who we are instead of comparing our predicament with others.