Facts of Life

The 20s are all about coming to terms with the facts of your life. Some things are kind of set in stone while others are changeable. The thing about people is that everyone has their own life facts. It's like a Pokémon card with your stats that can just be ready off. Each and every one us has different attributes. People run into problems when they assume and/or demean someone's else life facts (newsflash - nobody has the right to do that ... except people do it all the damn time). Ready or not it's time to learn the facts of my life. *Here's the flawless buzzfeed article that prompted this post (African Immigrant Probz)
The United States x Africa

*Let me just leave this here - Cultural Racism - n. - those aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and Whiteness, devalue, stereotype and label people of color as "other" different, less than or render them invisible.

I'm coming out as Ghanaian-American, screw black or African-American labels. It's patronizing that European immigrants are Irish-American or Italian-American and I'm supposed to use African-American (as if Africa is a country - see image above for context). It's crazy how little people know about Africa in general, and even more astonishingly how our society doesn't shame those who do not have any interest outside of the United States (double standard because it's expected for everyone to worship the red/white/blue and you're viewed as stupid if you don't). People assume that I'm just Black/African-American, while that's true, that second part - the whole African thing actually makes up the majority of my identity. In college, I totally stopped telling people about my heritage because truly no one seemed to care or comprehend the idea of having foreign ties unless it was talk of the glistening white utopia known as Europe. The general population has little (if any) knowledge about the lifestyles, languages, or histories of African countries (probably because we learn barely anything about them in the schooling system - except for the imperialism that dehumanized an entire continent and lead to the resonating racism/devaluing of darker skin that we still thrive in today). Say the word Africa (it means motherland) and people think up images of skin and bones crying children, primitive naked tribesmen chucking spears, and clucking people bathing in rivers. I will be the first to say that while there is poverty across the continent (that can be said about literally every continent), Africa is more than just some charity case that youth missionaries ride on their white savior horses to help out with (don't even get me started). It's a continent full of people, diverse in every way possible, and bursting with culture and knowledge to offer. Ready for the facts of my life?
(All problems here)
Like I said before, I'm Ghanaian-American.  Let me just answer your questions before I move on. Yes, I'm multilingual. No, I do not speak African (that's not a thing) nor does the language I speak, Twi, involve clucking. Yes, I was born in America and yes I'm an American citizen (love that second clarification - apparently people think the two are mutually exclusive). No, I've never been to Ghana before. Yes, I belong to a tribe (Ashanti - the R&B singer appropriated it) - wiki it (Ashanti Nation/Ethnic Group). Yup, I have a long name (it's Joseph Kwabena-Okoto Owusu-Oteng II). Any other questions - good, then let's continue. My entire life, I've lived a double life (I'm not having my Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana moment). In public I'm nothing more than you're typical American college student (read assimilated into white dominated cultural norms) but when I finally get to be myself is when I'm at home switching literally in the middle of sentences between languages (official language of Ghana is English #yeahimperialism), eating the flavorful foods of the gold coast (rices, stews, soups, etc.), dancing with the black star Azonto Dance (look at the flag of Ghana and it's nicknames for clarifications), wearing the handsewn patterns of the homeland, and most of all living hilariously conservative (not politically - socially). That second part of me, the part that stays hidden is more me than the American, easily digestible, not too foreign, but just foreign enough to not be white but too eerily proper to be black, version of me. Someone one said that whiteness was the absence of culture but I wholeheartedly disagree, I would say it's the invisibility of culture. Because we're so engrossed in it, and it's so normalized that no one realizes it's there until it's contrasted with other cultures (as in my entire existence). It's kind of crazy because how I express myself absolutely depends on who I'm around and who I am is constantly fluctuating, trying to adapt to my surroundings to fit in. The facts of my life are all over the place.
 Ghana landscape - Bojo beachA boat ferries pleasure seekers to and from the island beach that is only 20-30mins drive from Accra towards Cape Coast.
In my culture (yeah I claim American culture, but for now let's talk about being Ghanaian), everything is very proper. When you enter a room, you greet people from left to right using only your right hand (your left hand is what you wipe your butt with and is highly disrespectful to do anything with it). If my parents call me from anywhere in my house (mind you my house is massive) I yell back, "yes mommy" or "yes daddy" - any other response including just a "yes" is unacceptable. There is no such thing as talking back to your parents, you do what they say and that's the end of the story. You speak when you are spoken to and talking over another person is unheard of.  African time is a real thing, hence why we're always late places. The African (making a generalization here) sense of time is different from that of western society in that it's not as strict. People do things when they can (to a certain extent). Usually add half an hour to an hour for any event to actually start (it's just like college parties - 10PM means 11:30PM). Going anywhere is a big deal, you make an entrance and work the room. If you are sitting down and an elder (anyone who is older than you) is standing you must give up your seat to show respect. Education is crucial (doctor, lawyer, or engineer #FTW).  Christianity also makes up a large part of our lives (another generalization), church is our community base. This also means that yup I'm abstinent, from sex until marriage, and refrain from drugs/alcohol. Punishment for disobeying or disrespecting an elder, particularly your parents especially as kid is corporal punishment. Honestly, it was an effective form of discipline, because obviously I learned to never commit the same crime again. It's not "barbaric" or "uncivilized" - it's part of the culture albeit a diluted version of it. When you get older you get severe talking to's with powerful ultimatums that straighten you up like there's no tomorrow (mess up again and there will be no tomorrow). My favorite threats are threats of disinheritance, to be sent to village where your parents were born, or to be cut off from your family. We are not a touchy-feely society at all. Hugs and kisses are usually reserve for couples or for kids. The first time I think my dad ever said he loved me, for as a long as I can remember, was when he hugged me and dropped me off at the airport to go to college. It may seem uptight but the culture is actually really light-hearted. Ghanaians are storytellers by nature and most of them are really funny. The stories you hear (even the ones I could tell you) are gut-busters. Food is a central aspect to the lifestyle (mothers and daughters - and sons; I'm an anomaly) and cooking is almost always going on. Food is served at weddings, funerals (which are life-celebrations/dance parties), church events and every time people are social. Dance and clothing is how we express ourselves. Colorful clothing and strong rhythms (the west African drum is our instrument) describe us. You know your family loves you, while they may not say it or show it explicitly, it's in the subtext of the sacrifices that people make for you. Hence my dad works 86 hours a week at three jobs to pay for everything (there's 5 of us kids), but don't hold your breath - these are the facts of my life.

Here's where the facts of my life get a lot more tricky. I'm not the conventional American because of my ethnicity, but I'm not the average Ghanaian because of all my other identities.Based on all the stereotypes people associate with immigration and Africans, you would assume so many things, bet you'd be wrong. My dad is a doctor (a general practitioner with a specialization in emergency medicine; his life story of coming to America, struggling, working his way up and attending medical school at the age of 40 is a story for another time- that's the real American dream #sorrynotsorry) and with that comes a whole lot of privileges. I'm the most Americanized out of all the people I know from Ghana. Particularly in our church, as a family we have paved the way for others to break the mold and embrace America a little bit closer. I'll tell you money didn't change our lives, only made it easier. Ghanaians understand this concept of what my family has, I have. There's no such thing as privacy but that also comes with assets. Yes, I'm saying that whatever my parents have I have. If I need something I ask for it. When we succeed, we all do and when we fail, we all do. Being given money doesn't make you spoiled, on the contrary, I'm nothing but grateful because not only am I aware of how it was before we moved up the socioeconomic ladder, but because I know my parents only are even here to make sure we're okay. When we've finished school and are out on our own, that's their reward that they've prepared the next generation to not struggle the same way they had to. That's a true sacrifice, one that is almost too hard to comprehend. The facts of my life is that the love that flows in my family is unconditional. Nothing can break our bonds. Nothing can separate us. Nothing compares. Family is all we have, at the end of the day, nothing else matters. Being Ghanaian is about family and that includes extended family and community. We live together, give generously to one another, and take care of each other above and beyond what we have to. "It takes a village to raise a child" is the cliché African proverb but that's how we live and we live well.
Asi Ocansey - “The Batik Lady”Fabric samples from the best batik maker. Ghana (Osu, Accra)
The 20s are all about uniting the parts of your life. I love my life. It's crazy hectic and I'm being pulled every which way, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm me for a reason and I get to be everything and more. I'm a translator (apparently my parents have accents ...), ambassador (merging cultures like it's NBD), politician (drama is my life), techno wiz (classic parents - coming to America is one thing, using the technology is another). I'm a son, brother, friend, and so much more. These are the facts of my life, and they're perfectly mine - take them or leave them.
Ghana flag and limited edition HTW Empwowerment Beads
Photo courtesy: mr233gq, Ramzi Yamusah
My blog post question for the day is ... what identity do you hold that you don't get to express as much as you would like to? Other than this one probably my Christianity (but that's different since it's a dominant identity, as are all my other identities).


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