I celebrate France’s World Cup win this morning with deep joy for perhaps the shallowest of reasons.
Many of us Africans have taken the French national team as our own. You can’t but not! The team is a beautiful representation of the benefits of immigration, integration, diversity, and inclusion.
Before you attack me, I am aware of the deep issues of racism in France and how many non-football-playing, muslim, and poor residents feel unwelcome. I am also aware that France is still practically a colonial master, in many ways.
But this is the World Cup and I want to celebrate what I “see” even though it may not be representative on the whole.
That video of French players, black, brown, and white, listening to African music and grooving to the beat did my head in! Are we not one in so many ways? Are we not different and varied but collectively beautiful? There is a common thread through us all! Don’t let the political rhetoric divide us!!
This team got me thinking about identity and belonging. I was recently asked whether I identify more as a Nigerian or an American. I told the person that that was an impossible question that I couldn’t possibly answer. Nigeria, with all its highs and lows, flows through my veins. My ancestry is probably 💯 percent pure!
But America loved me from birth. She gave me my first few years of guidance, care, and education all from the projects of Cambridge, Massachusetts. She later allowed me to study at multiple Ivy League institutions funded solely by her financial engine. American scholarships, American loans, American financial aid, all did that. America gave me excellent jobs at some of the finest global financial institutions. She has been so good to me and I have always loved her.
Nigeria is the land of my essence and America is the land of my being. The two, for me, are linked so tightly in my DNA that I simply can’t/won’t choose.
Nigeria and I fight all the time but the love is never up for debate. I’m truly Nigerian, WaZoBia, as we call it. My mother is half-Edo, half-Yoruba, and my father was Nupe. My husband is Igbo. Lagos has always been my home. When I was in QC, girls would try to force me to claim a tribe and I refused. My mother raised me alone in those projects! Why should I succumb to this state of origin notion and claim Bida, a place I’ve only ever visited 3x in my life?
Issues of identity are deep and complex in Nigeria as they are in America and the world over. When I was planning my traditional wedding a decade ago, I was so conflicted. What should I do? Where should I go? I wanted to “do the right thing” so we all went to Bida for the wedding. It was a formality for me. I enjoyed it but there was no real attachment to the culture. Shortly after, my husband’s grandmother passed and my real people, my mother’s people, did what they do best by bringing a whole crew of dancers! They rolled deep too!! This for me was a true representation of me. My Edo family loved and raised me from day 1. These were my kin even though they were my mother’s mother’s folk. I don’t care what patriarchy dictates on this one. I was so proud! Imagine my sadness when an in-law remarked to me “why did all those people come from Benin when it’s not as if we married you from there?”
Our understanding of identity in Nigeria, America, and indeed the world needs to change. We need empathy to understand that we all have varied backgrounds, races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, religions, etc but ultimately WE ARE THE WORLD!!
Congratulations to France!!!! 🇫🇷