Tag Archives: Cameroon

To the White People I Just Don’t Like (Racial Unhappiness from Early Cameroon)

(According to Clara, anyway)

For two weeks, I let you touch my hair because I wanted to be friends. And by touch, I mean pull, grab, braid (even if it meant forcing my head into uncomfortable positions while I was trying to converse with someone else), twist, and hold up to your own faces and heads. That isn’t touching. That’s an exhibit.

Think about that.

For two weeks, I told myself that it was okay. In trying to get closer to you, I allowed you to make me feel strange, and different. Other. Cameroun out here telling us that we’re all the same, and every day I’m a fucking attraction for you all to remind me that we aren’t. And even when you realize that maybe what you’re doing isn’t good, you keep doing it, because you “just can’t help” yourself. And so my comfort, and my personal space are compromised in the name of your interest, your satisfaction, your finding a reason to talk to me and around me.

If we were anywhere else, I wouldn’t have had anything to do with you after the first time that happened. Because I know myself, and my worth, and I’m worth goddamn more than existing for other people’s occasional pleasure.

But we’re in Cameroun, and there are only nine of us, and I don’t want to “bring the same problems over, when we’re all American.”

But we’re all fucking American, and you all brought your micro-aggressions over anyway. And I’m going out to lunch with you, and listening to problematic statement after problematic statement. I’m getting roped into doing things that require spending more money than I want to, and when I try to stick up for myself, I’m being a cheap problem. So let me be quiet for a little bit. Let me try to be your friend. You’re nice people, I realize. You just make me feel severely uncomfortable at least twice each time we hang out. Continual discomfort, with occasional flashes of anger.

After a guard questions our citizenship, because we don’t look like you. Whose right is it to start making jokes at our expense? Yours, clearly. And we’ll let them happen, because we want to be friends, even though each joke is an aggressive chant, a differing refrain. You’re not like us. You’re not like us.

Don’t tell me that African babies “are the cutest babies”.
Don’t comment on “the alien hairstyles” you see.
Don’t turn to me to see if what you said was racist. We both know you were racist. You just want me to say that you weren’t.

But let’s be friends. Let me sit here and listen to you, and validate what you say with my silences. Let me hate myself, and you, a little bit, inside. You’re good people. You have good intentions. Let me bide my time and wait for an opportunity where it’s safe to point out something Wrong.

Here we are! In a conversation about gay rights, you tell me that I should really understand, seeing as we colonized them and forced religion onto them.
Oh, so there’s a “we” now? Now that responsibility is on the line, I’m allowed to be part of a “we” with you? Never mind that I am absolutely NOT part of this “we”. Never mind that I’m “them”, and that my father was colonized by your fucking “we”, never mind that HE had religion forced into him until he forced it, and You, Out. Never Mind the fact that you are only using my, my father, my family, my tribe, my country’s continued pain as a way to make yourself sound worldly and knowledgeable in a simple conversation. You don’t give a shit about us. How do I know that? Watch.

“Um, I’m not a part of that ‘we’.” Simple. Smiling, conversational. What a funny point I just brought up!

Now watch You get offended. Watch You blow up at this. Watch Me cause You pain by telling you that while you were in fact pretending to take responsibility for some distant event, its effects are currently staring you in the face.
And now we need to have a conversation about how I don’t make you feel comfortable in conversations? How you know that I’m offended, and have every right to be, but I have to be nicer when I address you, and I can’t just be as aggressive as I want.

White girl, if I leapt out of this chair, took my extensions and used them to slap you in the face (mimicking the hair flips You use as a sign of superiority), it wouldn’t be aggressive Enough. Bathe me with your tears; I didn’t bring anything to collect them.

Fuck that, though, and fuck This. Clearly I can’t win by smiling around you, and the pebbles are building up on my back. I can’t hope to educate you, so let me stay away for a bit. I have a friend. I have a single friend here with whom I don’t feel afraid to be honest. If he gets out of line, I can put him in his place. There are no politics, there are no boundaries. With him, I can be me, and I won’t have to worry about any bullshit fucking sensitivity feelings.

Can we take a break to talk about how ironic it is that nine times out of ten, the people telling me not to be so sensitive are doing it so they don’t have to wallow in their own discomfort and sensitivity? It’s easier if I’m the problem. Right?

Next time you tell me that sometimes you wish you could change your race, so that you won’t stick out as a white person, I’ll leave.

You don’t realize how beautiful it is to be comfortable. I’m sure you Think you do. You don’t.

We can still be cool, we can still talk, we can call each other friends.

Don’t accuse us of self segregation. I’ll still be around you. You can still come to me with questions. Ask me to explain things, and I will. You won’t pay me, and this isn’t my job, but I can help you out. I won’t do it on my own. You’ll only understand racial politics, and comfort, and internalized racism, if you decide for yourself that you want to. And then I’ll explain things to you, and you’ll understand.

Or you’ll just pretend to understand, then go and tell everyone else that I don’t like white people.

So what now? I’m just a little old antisocial reverse racist, I guess. What should I do?

Do you want me to be with you, and be upset with things you do, feeling like less of a person, invalid, unimportant, hating myself for not being able to say anything? Or do you want me to call you out (except calling out is too aggressive, so let’s say I’ll gently point things out) when you do things that are problematic (except in saying that, you really mean that you never want me to say anything, so that you can continue to do the same things with the bonus of feeling like you’re a good, socially just person)? I was told that if I can’t say anything nice, I shouldn’t say anything at all. Telling people they’ve offended you isn’t nice, and telling people that they’re racist is mean. So can I just go away for a bit, coming around when I feel safe, and am okay not telling the truth?

Nahh because apparently, not constantly being around people isn’t nice, either. How do I win this game, and still feel like a person? How do I play while keeping my self respect? Who’s the ref? I’m guessing you’ll want it to be one of y’all.

So tell me what to do, white people who should be my friends, and as a woman of color, I should only be happy to do it.

Midnight October Love Letters

I miss you.

I miss having you in my bed, wrapped up in my arms and legs as much as I am wrapped in yours. I miss being able to feel your hands on my opposite shoulders, as they have made their way all around my back. Your arms are long. I remember you demonstrating this two falls ago. And now, even if I wanted to roll away from you, I wouldn’t be able to. I don’t, though.

I’m sorry that I didn’t kiss you. I was scared. I still am. Thank you for not pressing it.

Thank you for staying the next morning. Thank you for sitting by me, in the chair that makes me sneeze, and watching Bob’s Burgers. You’re the first one to do that. You’re the first one I would’ve wanted to do that, and I didn’t even need to ask.

I don’t know what will happen when I go back. I see all these different versions in my head of things I want to happen, some with you, some with you later. But I know that I want you back in my room of lights. I want to be nestled with you, I want to watch Sunny with you. I want to be able to cry in front of you, snot pouring from my nose, and not have to worry about being unattractive. I want to talk and be listened to, to be appreciated for my simple skin and words.

I love you.

I’m not sure how, but I know that I do. I’ve half thought it over the last year, and I know it now. I love you. And it sucks, because I’m not sure what can come of it, or what I want to come of it. But I love you. I’m not in love with you, but I love you. And I worry about you.

I miss being angry at you, being so frustrated that I don’t even understand how we could have ever interacted with each other. Sometimes, you’re insufferable. But I suffer through you, and you suffer through me, and we sit down together, and when we stand back up, we’re friends again. I don’t know how we do that. But we do.

Ton pied es mon pied, and your successes will be treasured and rejoiced by me. Let me into your life as much as you dare. I understand what I’ve done in the past, and I understand your fear. I understand why you wouldn’t trust me. I do not say that you should; I do not ask you to. It’s just something that I know you have to do, eventually. We’re XXXX and Khalilah. That’s what you said, once, and that’s what we still are. We’re XXXX and Khalilah, and I miss you, XXXX. I miss you.

And I love you.

Taxi Thoughts

The taxi is in traffic, and I’m going to be late. Yaya told me to come to him with my paper at 7:30, and it’s now 7:25. Not that I actually think he expects me to be on time, but as this will be our last meeting before I hand over my research paper, I’d sort of wanted to be punctual. As close to professional as possible. Plus, he’s really busy with his teaching, not eating, and choreographing dances for the first lady. I don’t want to hold him up.

We aren’t even halfway, though. We’ve passed the Star Building, gone through Tsinga and Mokolo, and are only just coming up to Chateau, where things are especially jammed. I wonder if it would make any sense to line the roads here. Maybe they are lined, but I just can’t tell, because no one cares about traffic laws. All the taxis are just pushing up on each other, yelling and bargaining to each other out their windows, swapping change and taking advantage of those who are distracted. The only minimal amount of space is around the cop in the road, whose shouts seem mainly to be ignored. Our row is maybe 5.5 cars across now, and my guy just yelled at a vendor to get out of the street, only to have another car move into the vacated space. This would’ve been easier if I was still living at Nkolbisson. From there, it’s a two-minute trip to Carrefour Meec at 100CFA, and then Chapelle Nsimeyoung without proposing. Instead, I’m back in the house of the spoiled screamers and the silent demon of a girl who follows me all day and kicks me in the face at night. It took 15 minutes yelling at taxis passing Carrefour Bastos, until this guy finally agreed to take me for 400CFA. Robbery.

Robbery? A guy on a motorcycle passes by the cop. His hand dips, the cop shouts, and then the moto is speeding away up the hill, with the cop trying to chase him on foot. Halfway up, the cop realizes there’s no way he’s going to outrun a moto. He halts a taxi that’s just gotten out of the mess of cars, and hops inside, presumably to continue the chase. The taxi doesn’t move.

It’s pretty easy to imagine what’s happening in the cab. There are passengers in the backseat, and everyone’s waving their hands around, jerking their heads. One passenger clearly is not having it. He didn’t sign up for a moto chase; he has places to go, see his briefcase? In a detached way, I think about how crazy this is, and how bold les Camerounais are. I would never imagine myself standing up to a cop. Not here, where I need them to respect my Visa and passport, and not in America, where I am realizing I will be increasingly terrified of them. If a cop got into my cab and started chasing somebody, in all likelihood I would be quiet and hope that the chase stopped somewhere close to my destination. I don’t question authority figures.

Not only authority figures, though. I seriously have problems standing up for my basic rights and conveniences. If you’ve paid to be on your way somewhere, and someone suddenly tries to change the direction, you should theoretically be able to righteously object. I know this. I would do it, too, on behalf of someone else. Not for myself, though. You would think that with a white mother and decent education, I would feel more entitlement, but I honestly spend so much time trying not to bother people. One time a cab stopped for me, and the woman in the back seat refused to squish over for me, motioning for me to squish into the front. The woman in the front motioned for me to squish into the back. This had been the first time I’d actually seen someone refuse to share seats, and it was two people! It made no sense to me. You always squish into cabs, no matter how big you are (and granted, these women were rather large). I was so confused, and took such a long time trying to figure out how to force my way into the cab without actually forcing anyone to do anything that the driver just left me in the street. It wasn’t a huge loss. Another guy was right behind him, with more room. But still.

This guy is still arguing. It’s amazing, mainly because I’m sure that this isn’t a big deal to him. I wonder if he even sees it as standing up for himself, which would make it into more of an Act. From what I can see, he seems to view the situation as an annoyance, or a minor bump in his daily path, and arguing is just a simple way of making it go away. What I’ve noticed is that Cameroonians make themselves important. It’s not just a Cameroonian thing, actually. My Congolese relatives do it, too. It used to make me uncomfortable, being around people putting on heavy airs. Berating waiters and sending back food; chastising people for dirty shoes; giving side-eyes to people walking and eating; and generally giving the impression that everyone else in the world who is not immediately with you is merely sharing your space, and lucky to do so. I’ve been with Yaya as he takes perfumes out of their plastic, sprays them on himself a Few times, and then tells the poor student selling them that he won’t buy them because they’re disgusting. Eventually, I came to see this behavior as socially acceptable assertiveness and annoyance with people who haven’t yet begun to properly assert themselves. It’s like the Look Good, Feel Good, Do Good mantra come to life, but with the idea of power. Not a question of confidence, but an assuredness. I should try it. I will try it.

The guy has finally decided that he’d rather get out of the cab than be involved in the chase. The driver wants to be paid, so all of traffic waits while the guy takes out his wallet, hands over the bills, and insists on making sure he’s been given the correct change. He leaves, and the taxi finally pulls away, but the moto is long gone. Sucks to be that cop.

My cab driver wants to know what happened.
“Il a volé,” I tell him. “Le moto. Tu n’as pas vu?” He hadn’t.
“Ah bon?” he says, and laughs. “Mon pays!”

Then he asks for my number. I correct my posture, deciding to begin practicing my own assertiveness, and Look at him.