*This piece was done for a session on cultivating wholeness and was shared in a group where other international students felt the narrative resonate with theirs. I’m telling because it needs to be told that our presence and bodies in spaces matter, regardless of other actors or narratives.*
I thought about what to write for my spiritual reflection and this was the only thing that stayed on my mind longer than the others. I hope that writing and reflecting on this helps me cultivate wholeness and a sense or awareness of self that will help me be better, both for me and in my vocation.
I think about the many emotions that I experience as I go through a day and I think my body is just amazing by still holding itself up. I think about navigating spaces as a black African* student with an accent and how different people respond to what I represent as an “alien” or foreigner. Some of the times, it is overwhelming, other times it makes me angry and desire to be petty while at other times, I’m just tired because I see no end to the nuances that come to play in interacting with others. I cannot count the number of times I have heard people (Lyft Drivers especially) tell me that I speak good English after they’ve just learned that I come from a country in Africa. I stop being civil after that but the fact that it gets to me after the many times it has occurred makes me feel a need to reflect on what to do about it.
I had an interesting and maybe even dully painful encounter with an acquaintance about a while back. I had spent about two to four minutes sharing something with them and they kept nodding the whole time. Another acquaintance walked in and this person asked the first person what I was talking about and they said they had no idea with a smile. It was a patronizing smile but I shook it off. I still remember like it happened yesterday. I would rather be asked to repeat what I’ve previously said for clarification but I find myself wondering what to do when I’m not asked. Do I ask them if I need to repeat myself? When is it appropriate to or not to ask? I do not want my thoughts repackaged when I make contributions in class but what do I do when that happens? What do I do when everyone is given an opportunity to make contributions on a prompt for discussion but I’m “skipped” or told to hold my thoughts until a future time?
As a person who loves languages and sees the beauty in being able to speak them with the necessary inflections and intonations, am I raising the bar too high and expecting the same grace I would give to others for myself? In an interaction with a friend at the Friendship House where I live, I honestly told the friend that I would always have an accent so long as I spoke the languages I did but it was with pride and not regrets or longing for something different. So far, all I have been able to do is to constantly remind myself to breathe, even when I want to walk out or walk away (this is to prevent me from cursing them out). I go back home most days not remembering why I became so strung up but I think it’s probably because I need to ward off so many interactions that directly or indirectly question my body or presence in the spaces where I find myself.
I feel like nothing is going to change and maybe I should learn to live with it but I’m also grateful for those who ask me what I mean because what I think and say matter. I’m grateful for those who know that English is the language of instruction in most schools (hello colonization) in Africa and that I did not just learn the language because I wanted to travel overseas. In a way, I’m grateful I experience this because it helps me to understand and empathize with an Other in the same space with me and honoring them as being as valid to be there, just as I am. I still really need people to stop telling me that I speak good English for having come from Africa though.
*Black African because some white populations identify as African – hello colo…, never mind.