Location: United Kingdom

A Naija Guy living (and loving) in the UK.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Identity Part1: Nationality

For most of us Africans living in the UK the question "So, where are you from?" gives us reason to pause. Are we being asked what part of the UK we live in or is this someone with secret National Front affiliations trying to find out which African country this immigrant needs to sent back to?. I once watched a play at the Theatre Royal Stratford which had the thought provoking title of 'Urban Afro Saxons'. It explored the nature of personal identity within a community of recent immigrants and second generation immigrants and was interesting food for thought.

As Nigerian immigrants, first, second and in some cases third generation how do we choose to identify ourselves when asked the question "Where are you from?". Would you say Brixton, Manchester, Streatham or will you say Nigeria? And should you decide to have children here and bring them up in the UK, what answer would you expect them to give?

Sociologists would describe our identity as relating to an individual's comprehension of him or herself as a discrete and separate entity and which habits or customs that individual would choose to form a part of their instinctive behavior, and furthermore what customs he/she would adopt. Our Cultural identity relates to our belief systems, art appreciation, morals, the laws we abide to, our religion and what societal norms we hold dear. As long as we live our ideologies will continue to evolve, does this mean our cultural identity could change or perhaps just shift slightly?

Norman Tebbit a former Conservative minister once suggested that there should be a 'Cricket Test' for ethnic minorites who wanted to become British Citizens. The test requires that you can't truly be 'British' until you can support the English Cricket team as opposed to that of your ancestral home country. Now since Nigeria are unlikely to be successful in Cricket in my lifetime perhaps we can use the 'Football' test. In the 2002 world cup Nigeria Vs England who were you cheering on?

In 1966, as part of a protest against the Vietnam War and to illustrate the effect of racism in his home nation, Mohammed Ali famously declared "No VietCong Ever Called Me Nigger" and allied himself with his new religion of Islam rather than the USA. There are a number of cases of high profile sports people who have chosen to publically declare their affilliation with a particular country or cause, notably Cathy Freeman waving the aboriginal flag after winning the 1994 Commonwealth Games and Linford Christie draping himself in the Union Jack (the union jack had become a symbol of the racist right organisation National Front and this thus displeased quite a few Black Britons).

One of my Uncles has been here since the 1960s and his children were all born and bred in Birmingham down to having the Brummie accents. Short of spending short holidays in Lagos, the UK is their home. They have never even been to Abeokuta, their Dad's ancestral home. Those children are likely to live and die in the UK. Strangely they all have Yoruba names that they can't pronounce properly and hang out with West Indians. Are they Nigerians or Black Britons? And should we really be forcing these children to choose?


Blogger Nkem said...

The kids shouldn't have to choose. To quote Redman, "it ain't where you from, it's about where you at". I know instinctively what these people mean when they ask these questions. So I tell them my parents are Nigerian. This doesn't make me any less Nigerian, but it reduces their ability to question my Britishness. I'm a first generation immigrant, so it's hardly a problem. But I can only imagine people whose families have been here over generations being riled by such a question. Black Briton, or British Nigerian are very valid identities to have, it shows origin. The reason we have such issues is because our skin colour immediately marks me us out as different. Many Brits are of Polish origin, or Russian Jewish ancestry etc. But it isn't obvious until they say their names.

Unlike many of my friends, I have no problems with my little cousins speaking with British accents or dare I day, West Indian urban accents. This is where they've grown up. Nothing wrong with it at all. All I ask is that they pronounce words properly and can be understood.

As for Ali, I can feel his pain. They were being asked to fight for someone else's freedom, when they (black people) weren't free themselves. Cheeky sods.

11:25 am, June 01, 2006  
Blogger Sola Baale said...

You are what you are. I have forgotten what the purpose of that line was; perhaps for wanting to sound intelligent on this
Anyway, the Jews, over the years and centuries have lived in several places (Russia, Germany, Britain, everywhere in short), yet they tag themselves as Jews and perhaps prefixing with the place they live in e.g(Russian jew) to reflect influences and sense of belonging.
Therefore, I suggest Nigerians remain Nigerian and should be proud of it.

Yours truly,
Proudly Naija

2:42 pm, June 01, 2006  
Anonymous ai'hammed delot said...

I'm of the opinion you're from where you grow up (formative years - whatever those are). A lot of second generation Nigerian you run into will still say they're Nigerian but probably cant spend more than a couple of weeks in the country without pulling their hair out. "somebody pass me a big mac PLEASSEEEE!!!"
the problem arises when you get Zenophobic/racist attitudes from the "indigens" of a country with some uttering rubbish like "go back to where you're from." the offended parties in turn want to have a seperate sense of identity i.e. "if i'm not from the white mans land from which i've been told to vacate then i must be from my fathers land." its only natural to think that way but then again its all a psychological defence to a folly of a question. If your ancestry is Jamaican but you're born in Britain and raised in Britain, then you're British - sod what any decendant of Polish migrants might think. Big up Linford Christie for not waving the Jamaican flag when he was on the big stage! what does he really know about Jamaica?

6:52 pm, June 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My kids will identify themselves as Nigerians period.

2:38 am, June 02, 2006  
Blogger Morountodun said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:24 am, June 02, 2006  
Blogger Morountodun said...

Lots of varied views, with Belle's being the most radical so far (it sounds like your children will be Nigerians whether they like it or not?). I started the journey with the theory that identity was about personal choice. Being a second generation immigrant, surely I should have the right to choose whether I wanted to be refered to as British or Nigerian, but must admit to being torn. Is your identity more an internal choice about how you choose to portray yourself or that of how the people around you see you?

9:26 am, June 02, 2006  
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nkem@ the problem is that very often in my experience people who ask the "where are you from" have already "some place" in their mind. A minicab driver recently asked me that question. When I said from Nigeria, his response was "have you ever been there" Now that was a loaded response based on one or two "signifiers" 1) my accent and 2) my colour. If I looked and sounded like my father he would not have assumed that I had never been there. Now that may not bother some people but after years of constantly having to explain / justify my nationality and receiving such negative responses, I now mostly just say from here and there - people just want you to be what THEY want you to be. It is incredibly boring and ignorant. 2 of my kids were born outside of Nigeria and only lived there for a very short period of time. One simply says "I'm Black and from London", the other identifies as Nigerian. I am afraid I completely fail the "cricket test". I always support the Windies!

4:59 am, July 09, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was just browsing through the internet looking for information on accents, and i found this page. i really like it! I've been thinking about all of this for some time now, and i've come to peace with it. I was born in nigeria, came here as a kid and grew up in every part of the US. Sometimes i sound like i'm southern, sometimes i sound like a californian who spent the day at the beach and sometimes the british accent comes out from my father's days in british schools and how he grew up speaking. I do believe identity has to do with choice, but i think it also has to do with experience. In london, you can be a black briton, but in america nigerians are not considered african american. my family experienced resentment from american blacks when we tried to relate to them, and we often found ourselves discriminated against by whites also. the history of slavery in this country complicates the whole thing. also, it took me 18 years to get citizenship in this country. the government didn't care that i grew up here and went to most of my school here. they didn't care how i spoke or if i liked a bic mac more than egusi soup. as a kid, i remember missing days of school to go to the immigration office, and the way they treated all of those people from other countries. To them, i was the same as the person who came here as an adult---another immigrant whose paperwork they had lost or wanted to deny. It is those memories that make me feel more nigerian than anything else. It's funny the notion of accents---my sister's kids were born and raised here and their accents are stronger and thicker than mine--go figure. I also have a friend from switzerland who doesn't speak with the slightest accent and she came here when she was 32, and she's now 39. I think it's possible to be born somewhere, and that doesn't necessarily dictate how you speak. I think your family does. My father was always big on making sure we spoke "proper" and i think he would have done that back home too. either way, somehow i feel that how many years i spent here didn't prevent this country from turning it's nose to my "foreign born" reality. just my thoughts---sorry for the long rant.

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