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On being African, black and female in a white world

I am just coming off a high of a weekend with one of my friends, Nadou,  in Madrid! We had an amazing time, reconnecting over great, food, wine and long walks around the impeccable city of Madrid. This is us seeing watch other after 2 years, since I left America and it was very refreshing and more importantly very grounding!

My friendship with Nadou is one of my most high valued relationships. We are both 2 black woman who live in largely white worlds. While I have been moving countries, trying to stabilize my immigrant status and drive my career in corporate healthcare with an eye on top leadership, she has been conquering the annals of McKinsey in New York, well on the way I believe to being the youngest black female partner in the firm there. Our jobs are important to us but more so what we represent, as black women conquering spaces in which people who look like us barely exist. It brought me to some thoughts I have had in recent months about being African, black and female while existing in what are privileged white spaces.

I am a black woman who by virtue of education, grit and ambition has been afforded access to places that people like me do not have access to. In the midst of all the whiteness, I have moments where my identity is reaffirmed!

Like the day Beyonce’s  Netflix  special came out. On the way to work I was already sampling the live album and I experienced a rare amount of pride  from the centering of blackness in it. I truly believe one of Beyonce’s super powers is bestowing invincibleness to black women everywhere. I desperately wanted to watch this with black friends, and despite my best efforts to reach out to the few I have since moving to Europe, I ended up opening a bottle of wine that evening and proceeding to holler at the TV in my living room alone! Such is my life.

Nancy on a bike

Then comes the conversation I keep having over and over again about cycling. As you may know I moved to the Netherlands which is the cycling capital of the world. I am constantly explaining my lack of skills in this area of life to my Dutch friends and co- workers. When I thought long and hard about, it is actually a story of privilege and culture. Growing up in Zimbabwe, the kid with the mountain bike was from the well-off family on my street and was a boy. This is because  culturally being a girl meant that I was not encouraged to participate in any activity in which I opened my legs and  lastly, I just never needed to ride a bicycle ever in my life! Fun fact, I did buy a bicycle and taking lessons now. My butt hurts from how uncomfortable the seat is, but I am determined that by the time summer actually hits the Netherlands I will be riding away into the sunset, literally!

Then there is camping. Apparently why would someone not want to reconnect with nature, sleep on the ground, and unplug from the world and what not. Well because they have already seen the in touch with nature and unplugged life, which is more like poverty and lack of resources to connect to the world in my reality. On moving into my post MBA, apartment,  my greatest pride was walking into a store and buying my first comfortable bed! It is one of the many aspirational things I grew up with, in contrast to sleeping on the floor with many cousins and siblings. It is quite a privilege to get to choose to sleep outside because I come from a place where people do not have that choice, and those who do have a roof on their head, are fighting every day to keep it there. I therefore cannot culturally connect to camping! This is not to say I will never do it, perhaps someone will convince me in the future, but that is what being African brings to this conversation for me.

Which brings me to cold related activities. If anybody knows anything about me, you should know the cold and I do not hang like that. I however have lost the battle against it a long time back, when I got on that plane at age 18 to go and consummate my scholarship at the University of Chicago. When I complain about it 12 years later, especially in Europe, people always like to point out that I lived in Chicago, and I always retort, that does not mean I loved it! My first winter jacket was so big that I did not wear it, I stepped into it and my first winter I used to cry. Anyway, now I am faced with the conundrum of ski vacations, which are a very European thing. My African side is like nope, and my experimental side is like maybe?!

A man courting me asked me what my secret super power is. I thought long and hard and I said, surviving. It seems weird and morbid,  but I consider surviving to be my greatest super power. As a black woman who is from where I come from and lived where I have lived, I have been successfully avoiding death for a minute now. From being born into a generation scourged by HIV/AIDS, to being a black person in Chicago and in America in general, through to just being a single black woman living all over the world. I maintain this is why I am not an adrenaline junkie. I hate theme parks and I will not jump out of planes or bungee jump. I am irrationally afraid of dying in freak accidents from these activities. It would such a waste to fight this hard and get this far only to jump out of a plane, have your parachute fail and crash to your death! It killed the vibe in our flirtation, because I am sure my potential date expected an answer like, I can eat a hot dog in one mouthful!

My identity and experiences have made me an intense and layered person who interacts with everything around me intellectually.   Lately, I have been trying to give myself permission to relax , key operating word being trying. However, as a black woman living in a white world, I do not pass a day in which my identity is not reaffirmed in some way. My strategy is to lean into this identity and thrive while in it!

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