BLACK HISTORY MONTH
Gabi Bello received The Diana Award for her work with the Yes She Can Campaign which aims to empower and inspire young women and girls to use their stories to make a difference and motivate them to go after their dreams.
Growing up as an African-American in the U.S., on this Black History Month Gabi shares how to take pride in and accept who you are.
17 October 2019
When people first hear the phrase “Black History Month”, pictures of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement instantly fill their minds. African history and its heritage are commonly, yet mistakenly, introduced with slavery as its initial point of reference. Though Western perspectives have widely communicated this history as primitive, Africa was in fact a rich and civilized continent before its citizens were kidnapped from its shores.
When I think about Black History Month, I think about how my racial identity was something I struggled with for quite some time. I believe it’s because for most of my life, my peers were often misinformed on the definitions of race, ethnicity, and nationality. While separate, I believe they all play a big part in the conversation about race, especially for me.
I have always identified myself as Black or African American. Black as my race, and African American as my ethnicity. This has been a struggle because, I have had other people tell me I am not Black nor am I African American as I come from a British-Nigerian immigrant background.
“Most people fail to realize that terms like “Black”, “White”, “Asian”, etc. are races – a social construct based arbitrarily on ancestry and phenotype, ethnicity based on heritage and culture, and nationality based on citizenship. Because of this, I found myself in 2nd grade curious as to which racial group I belonged to.”
At home, I would continuously engage in my Afro-Anglo culture. I ate jollof rice, spoke in Yoruba, and wore my traditional clothing of a Gele (head wrap), Buba (loose fitting blouse), and an Iro (wrap around skirt). However, at school, I would be Americanized. Often stressed about the tensions between my three cultures; I wanted to represent my heritage whilst having my own identity.
When I would engage in my African culture at school, everyone would laugh. The Black American kids were too far removed from their African culture to understand, and everyone else thought it was weird and ugly. I was stuck in an uncomfortable cultural identity crisis at 8 years old, but I no longer struggle. I didn’t want to be continuously labeled as a “non-black immigrant”, but that’s all Americans could see me as. I would constantly have to defend my place as a ‘Black-American’ when people I called my friends, would constantly want me to let go of my roots so that I could be assimilated. It frustrated me when people would tell me that I was not Black, nor could I experience racism because I am African.
This is simply not true because when people look at me, they see my race: Black. They don’t see that I am Afro-Anglo, they simply see the color of my skin. So day-to-day, I experience life as a Black woman and fight for the rights of my fellow Black people. Just because my ancestors weren’t slaves nor does my history run deep from the south mean that I am any less Black.
“Being caught in the middle of my cultures was something I wrestled with, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve tackled it with great fortitude.”
Today, I take pride in and accept who I am. I’ve learned what I truly stand for, and where I stand in my mix of three cultures. I can be, and I’m more than one thing. Black History Month celebrates the many intersections within blackness, and no route is more credible than the other.
Therefore, as we celebrate the wonderful history that is Black History, I encourage you to challenge the unjust notions that you have been taught about blackness. Use this month to educate yourself on its rich culture and the many important people who have not seen the justice or praise they deserve for all their remarkable contributions to society.