By Aisha Alfa
A few years ago, a soccer teammate asked me, “What can I call you?” I was confused. My name is Aisha, she knew that. But what she meant was, “What colour can I call you? Are you Black? Mulatto? Is that offensive?” I answered, “Just call me Aisha and if someone asks which one, say Ismaila’s sister.”
I am not Black. That may come as a shock to anyone looking at me because my hair is kinky, my nose broad and my skin melanin-rich. But what I mean is, I do not identify as Black because my ethnic makeup is just as much white (half, to be exact). Mainly, I don’t call myself Black because I do not identify as a colour. I am half Nigerian, one quarter French and one quarter English. I am born to a mother who was born and raised in Canada, and a father who was born and raised in Nigeria. Both of them come with different experiences and perspectives.
This month though, everyone will be celebrating Black History and I will be included, YAY! I love a good celebration! Truthfully, for me, Black History Month has always seemed like a strange celebration for Canadians. Black is not a culture in Canada in the same way it is in the U.S., where ties to country or tribe for many citizens who are descendants of slaves have been lost. In Canada, saying Black History is not the same thing.
As a child, I remember dancing at the African-Caribbean pavilion at Winnipeg’s Folklorama (the longest running multi-cultural festival in the world). I remember dancing on stage in my brightly-coloured outfits, helping the limbo dancer light his stick on fire before doing moves Keanu from The Matrix would be jealous of. I remember thinking, “I don’t recall seeing this in Nigeria. What here belongs to me?!” And none of it did. There was no part of the show dedicated to Nigeria. In fact, attempting to encompass all of the Caribbean countries’ cultures as well as all of the African countries’ cultures could be a totally separate festival in itself!
Canada has many Black people from a variety of countries, cultures and histories, who shape our country. We cannot lump every Black person in Canada into one single history. Black is not a place. One cannot be from there. We all come from different places and bring our unique perspectives to the table. I am a Canadian citizen who comes from immigrants from different countries with different cultures, traditions, habits, religions and customs. I honour this.
I am not white. I am not Black. I am not a colour. I am a joyful, authentic, vulnerable, honest, funny, strong, wise, powerful woman with amazing parents and a wicked afro. I celebrate all the sides of who I am and where I come from. I love my skin colour, my hair, my nose, my freckles – all my features. I love watermelon, fried chicken and grape Kool-Aid, does that make me black? No because let’s face it…who doesn’t love those things? They’re delicious! In the end, in Canada, we are all from somewhere else except First Nations People. Honouring ourselves, each other and where we come from is something we should be doing all year long. We are all a part of Canada’s history and we all deserve to have our contributions honoured.