Sunday, September 13, 2009

Today I met with a classmate of mine to discuss a reading for the class we have tomorrow. While the class is a seminar class and the whole point is discussion of the reading, we have opted to meet every Sunday to decide what points we need to bring up in class so as to be sure sure our thoughts are heard on the subjects. We are the black students in the class. I, a fresh master's student, she, a new PhD student. My prof loved the idea of the black kids setting the agenda. He is a white man legitimately holding a black card for all intents and purposes. Let me say, another black classmate of mine who had him as a professor at another school thought he was an albino the first two years she knew him. Yes. He is a white black man. I'd go so far as to say African. He is an African man. In a white guys body.

Anyway, I got to meet with my new friend and we discussed the reading, briefly. But we also got to share our stories of struggles in school and how we overcame those struggles. She is amazing. Let's call her Fancy. Fancy is from Kenya but she is Ethiopian. She has a husband and a two year old and she is smart. I am thrilled. I admire so much what she has gone through to ensure good grades and quality education. But what is more amazing to me is how they live here. As an international student, they have little money. All the money she receives from the school goes towards bills. We do not receive large stipends at all. In fact, of the schools she was accepted to, she choose this one because it offered the largest stipend. She says her son grows too fast and she purchases all of his clothes at second hand stores. Unless she gets some extra money. Then she buys him new things.

The first day of our T.A. training, she came up to me and said how she is so happy to see there are three Africans in our program. She told me that despite being African American, we are sisters and we have to stick together in our department because we are all we got. And she is SO right! I was thrilled as well to see her and the other girl but the way she embraced me was surprising. In undergrad, I was very involved with our African Student Council. But I have been told more times than once that I was not truly African because I was born here and so were my parents. The African students would laugh at us or some times be irate that we were attempting some faux brand of Africanity. Initially, I would fall silent and get hurt feelings, but eventually I realized they were as blind as some of the Africans on this continent. We are all the same people. My new response became, if your sibling was kidnapped away from your family and taken to another place and then they grew and married and had children and you found one another again, would your children be cousins? Are they still your sibling? In the same way, we are all the same people. Especially because the students I was dealing with then were all from West African countries.

But Fancy is from East Africa. And without any hesitation she claimed me as her friend. I feel very close to her already. I know there is so much I can learn from her. At the same time, she wants her minor focus to be on African American Studies. So she has much to learn from me. We had a lovely time. I made dinner and then I showed her the decades old photographs salvaged from the sociology department's incinerator pile and residing in my office while I decide on how to archive them. She was thrilled. Historian's are like that. We get off on historical documents.

I was able to give her all of Sun's winter and fall clothes from last year. It's too small but just the right size for her son. She walked out with four bags of clothes and shoes! I felt good but in the same way, I felt like I should be living way simpler. I am a student. That is my life. Yet I know I have spent over a grand in the past month on clothes and accessories. I am not exaggerating. I have so many clothes and shoes and everyday I find a reason to buy more. I love to buy food from restaurants. I hate fast food so any lunch I buy, even to go is costing at least $10. I dress nice to campus every day. Not undergrad nice, but office nice. I get compliments all day, every day and I love it but now I wonder if I am dressing for the compliments rather than to be appropriately attired. I feel foolish. What is really important to me?

Fancy was able to attend a Midwestern university after getting in bachelor's in Nairobi. Her school gave the top female student full tuition scholarship plus an assistantship at the Midwestern school every year. When she graduated she was that student. When I graduated, I had to finagle my way into grad school on a hope and a prayer. Nonetheless, she says we will push each other to be the very best because as Black women we can do anything. I believe her.


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wrote on a piece on this topic, what it means to be black, as a West African, in the latest issue of Clutch Magazine online. can be found here:

despite our differences, we should all embrace our unity as those of African descent in America

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