The only black in the village

#franceby Lian OkolieMar 30th, 2020

The only black in the village

I moved to France from London late 2015. So I’ve been here for the past 5 years. It has not been the easiest journey. Coming over whilst not speaking the language, having to learn the language, meet new people (which wasn’t really possible because I hadn’t mastered the language so I was not able to work). Then came the kids, after which all thoughts of work flew out the window.

The people I did meet through e.g. recreational activities like basketball seemed intent on looking for reasons to dislike me, ‘the only black in the village’. In France like many places they are bound by a sense of propriety, they live with a facade of what is or what they feel is proper. So for example, they could dislike you or even despise you but when they see you they still give that double cheek kiss, which I find rather distasteful. I’m from the school of I don’t like you there’s no need to pretend. Let’s go our separate ways.

First of all that whole kissing thing is not my cup of tea. Going up to people you just met and kissing cheeks or touching faces (which is what the double cheek kiss morphed into for me). When you don’t do it they call you out. I remember once walking into the gym getting ready for a basketball game. You can imagine there were numerous people on the court. Those I knew and those I didn’t. I walked in and waved hi. Only for someone who I hardly knew to start telling me I’m meant to kiss and say hi. I’m like listen (I’d been here 2 years by this point) I’m not French and this isn’t my culture. You don’t need to school me, I know how you guys do it but it’s not my thing. Now I didn't say that, I just smiled politely and went over for the dreaded double kiss.

Don’t get me wrong I don’t have a problem with it when it’s family or close friends (when there aren’t that many) it’s the randoms that get to me. And there’s always some nincompoop who feels it’s their duty to school you. You can be as proud as you want to be of your culture but it’s not mine. I can adopt it or parts of it if I choose to, but I’m not going to just because you think I should or want me to.

The whole time I was in France it seemed as if everybody I met was trying to teach me something (most of the white people I met). Whether it’s correcting my French, which is fair enough, but some took the piss like they were talking to a child. It was also here that my eyes were opened to colonialism and how certain white people categorise us. This happened twice. The first time my brother came to visit we went to a friend's birthday party. Whilst there, there was a loudmouthed drunk individual had the nerve to ask, So who colonised you? I was speechless. The gaul! The nerve of the guy! The balls on this dude!...

The second time we were at a home expo looking for ideas to design our then, new home. We came across a company that sold and fitted kitchens. I was interested in some of their designs so we started a conversation. Seeing I spoke English the guy asked “where are you from?” I said “The Uk”. He then asked, “ok, where were you born?” again I said “The Uk”. Then the guy said “You’re from Nigeria right?” I was shocked to say the least. Yes my parents are Nigerian, my heritage is Nigerian, “how did you know” he simply says “because you spoke English” I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but it stuck in the back of my mind. By the time I got home I was annoyed/fuming. I guess I didn’t have a Ghanaian accent so he took a guess from the countries he knew that were colonised by the British, maybe it was only Nigeria he knew.

I’m not going to get into all the stories, suffice it to say that my stay in France has been challenging or lets call it interesting. Especially since I am not surrounded by like minded people, when I say that I mean black people. My network here in France has been my then boyfriend, now husbands family and friends, who have been great but in all honesty we don’t have much in common (If you haven't realised by now, my husband is white) we get along, we have some common ground but we are not coming from the same place. They don’t see things through my eyes, they can’t. I say that because during certain experiences my husband doesn't see or understand the racism involved e.g. the examples above. The first one he sees and understands as blatant racism from a drunken fool but the second is harder for him to understand. The subtleties behind it. The racist comment disguised as conversation, that, he doesn't understand. He doesn’t get that kind of racism. Like many white people unless racism is blunt, direct and spitting in your face, it goes straight over their heads. Nevertheless he is always there to listen, understand and let me vent and the next time he is more aware.

Interracial relationships will always be hard, if it’s not situations like this, where your white partner doesn’t understand or see the racism directed at you, then it’s people displaying their disgust at your relationship (white and black). You need to be tough skinned to be in one that’s for sure. But first and foremost you need to be sure your partner is worth it and they treat you like the King/Queen that you are. If so you can make it through anything and the naysayers can , well… go @£!$^&(&^%$(((*&^%$£@!

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