My black body was told,
It was too thick to be held,
My black skin was told,
It was too dark to be pictured, too toned to be painted
My black history was told,
It was too irrelevant to be celebrated
They said my blackness superseded my humanity
My voice, my story, my poetry,
Rich with history of my black foremothers
Was deemed to be too cultural
They said, the audience would never relate to a black queen ruling with more grace than Queen Victoria,
They said, Cleopatra would only be idolized if they added a tinge of whiteness to her strong, delicate features
The masses would only relate to a white Jesus, the Jesus I learnt of growing up looked like Mel Gibson,
They told me my name was unrelatable, unpronounceable, too ethnic,
That it would sell better if shortened it to Lynn, or if it was preceded by a more normal name,
Like Mary, or Jane, or Mary-Jane.
My thick accent was humorous for them,
They measured my intelligence by my ability to converse in English, in French, in Portuguese,
In whatever tongue that had invaded my motherland and suffocated my foremothers,
I was told to tone down my dress code
My African regalia was too loud
The bold colour on my headwrap were only fit for ceremonies,
My kinky, thick, black hair was told,
It was unprofessional, unmanageable, untidy
My dreadlocks were told they looked criminal,
That a hot comb, or chemicals would make it easier to maintain
That if my hair was not straight then my affairs were not either
Body too thick,
Skin too dark,
Hair too kinky
Name too ethnic
Clothes, too bold,
My story, not relatable,
Me, too African.
Add a dash of white into it and you’ll be great!
So I became, Mary-Jane,
Bleached my skin just a tad bit,
Painstakingly straightened my hair every weekend,
Bought grey skirt suits for the office and blue denim for the weekends
Only wore my kitenge at weddings,
Spoke only the Queen’s English
I danced to Taylor swift,
I forgot that my foremothers communicated through music, through dance, through poetry, through stories.
Conformity had me in its grip, and I mistook it for a loving embrace.
Perhaps eventually I will feel the claws digging into my skin.
Then I will break free. Perhaps we all will.
Faith Wafula is a fierce advocate for gender equality and human rights, passionate about Pan-Africanism and social justice. She is currently the Vice Chair for Policy and Advocacy at the Commonwealth Youth Council.