Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Finding my safety in a cultural chasm


Invisible until I speak
One subject of personality development that probably needs study and research is one of cultural invisibility and this is a somewhat complex topic that is coming out in stories of third culture kids. I first broached this subject when a friend highlighted her cultural identity issues being mixed race Nigeria.
In a comment to her article then, I talked about looking like everyone else until I began to speak, my natural accent had become an amalgam of being born in the West Midlands, though without a strong Brummie accent and the influences of spending a later childhood in Nigeria, first in the north and then the south. This to the Nigerian ear was a British accent, yet, to the British ear, it was not clearly English, yet to a degree well-spoken in grammar and diction.
Cannot find a longing to belong
This set us apart, the moment we spoke, we were different, separate, excused, or exploited. There was no sense of belonging for that which set you apart and inadvertently it came with labels that identified you as the one born abroad. Caught between these conflicts of identity, when my father said I always thought like a Westerner, and then my brother said, “You’re not one of us.” I realised my quest for identity would be defined by what I am comfortable with rather than my progeny or ancestry.
In a conversation with my mother some time ago, she relayed a time when I returned home from foster parents and I was stealing food from the fridge. She could not understand why I had taken to thievery until she learnt that I was being starved. These were people entrusted with my care and paid for the service who abused that trust without scruples.
The scars of cultural schisms
From what I was told, my mother travelled the length and breadth of the country looking for suitable nanny parents and I still ended up in the hands of reprehensible and nasty people. I do not think they realised I carried the emotional scars long after the situation.
For when we moved to Jos in the early 1970s and I was attending Corona School, Shamrock House, the pupils left their lunch packs on the floor outside their classrooms, it was open season just before school started for some of us to raid the food packs. I did not need to, I was well fed at home, yet, it happened.
There are many more aspects of being caught in the middle of cultural divides and finding a way to exist in that complex. I think my agreement with my identity is set in the context of being an Englishman of Nigerian heritage, whilst also a European. The story of understanding and refining identity along with the stories is in progress.

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