Too Westernized?

Saturday, May 27, 2017


I was born and raised in London, UK. Without a shadow of a doubt, growing up in the western world has had a profound impact on myself and my life.

Growing up as a black person in white society has been extremely challenging, not to mention the childhood traumas I'd been through. But I can't deny that growing up in the west (as a woman) has given me certain privileges that I would not have had if I'd grown up in my parents' home country. I am very aware (too aware) of these privileges, I don't try to deny their existence and to be honest, I'm kind of proud to possess them.

By being born and raised in England, I've been able to acquire a list of privileges:
- I have a British passport, allowing me access to many countries in the world, and I possess British citizenship.
- I have been able to finish compulsory education, and enter further and higher education. I have a degree and I am looking to go back to university to complete a Masters. I have had to use loans from Student Finance England, which has left me with a lot of debt that I'll never been able to pay off, but it's better than not being able to go to university due to lack of affordability.
- There are many services I have been able to access (for free) in order to receive help and support regarding my childhood issues and mental health.
- I've been able to establish a career in my chosen industry (digital media) and I've been able to go self-employed. I feel as though I can be a career woman in my own right and make my own money without shame (though some men are still put off by this). I can have much more monetary power and I have total control over my hard earned money.
- I've felt more able to embrace (Black) feminism.
- I can speak, read and write English fluently (it's my first language).
- I can access healthcare services for free (thank you, NHS).
- Even though I now have to pay for dental checkups, dental hygiene services and eye tests, I am able to access these services to a high standard.
- I have always been computer-literate.
- I have instant access to clean running water, food, electricity, etc.
- I can go to my local GP/clinic/pharmacy to receive contraception (or advice on contraception) if I so wish, and I don't need to travel far for that (it's not necessary in my case).
- If I ever fall on hard times, I can claim benefits until I get back on my feet.
- If I want to learn how to drive and have my own car, I can.
- I don't need a male chaperone to 'assist' me if I go out on my own or go out to socialise.
- I live in a country where infrastructure is of the highest quality.
- If I decide to live alone in the future or own my own home by myself, I can do this without being questioned or frowned upon by British society.
- I have a better quality of life and I am more likely to live longer, even past the average life expectancy in the UK.

To be honest, the list of Western privileges is endless.

Anyway, I am glad I grew up in Britain and I'm glad that I've been able to take advantage of the opportunities available. Please be aware: I am not saying the the West is 'better' than the rest of the world, or that the West is more civilized. I think everyone in the world should possess the same privileges, not just those who live in the West.

I am simply acknowledging the benefits of living here. Whether I like it on not, living in the West has has massively influenced the direction of my life. I'm not sorry for taking advantage of this - I've never been the type of person to bite the hand that feeds me.

I've never been out of touch of my parent's culture because I've always been immersed in it. I know my roots. But there have been many times in my life so far where I've been made to feel bad for growing up in the West. I've had people penalize and resent me because of it. I remember when I was at university, I had a group of 'friends' from my foundation year course who seemed to assume I wasn't 'Black enough' and 'out of touch'. They seemed to hate the fact that as a Black woman of African descent, living in this country had influenced me so much, and they resented me for embracing the advantages awarded to me, such as feminist values (which is for all women, not just women in the west), the ability to go to university and the opportunity to become a successful career woman in my own right.

Also, I've always been made to feel (by some people of my race and ethnic background) as though when it comes to living life, there's one rule for white people and another rule for Black people (aka the 'us vs. them' mentality). I've always had people try to force limiting beliefs down my through, beliefs such as:
- You can't do that, you're Black.
- You're not Black enough.
- You're too white.
- You think you're white.
- Black people don't do things like that.
- Africans don't do things like that.
- We're not Europeans, you can't do that.
- As a Black African person you should be like [this, that and the other.]
- As a Black person, you need to believe in this and that.
- You can't possess those values as a Black African person, those values are wrong.

These beliefs were either said or implied. But regardless of how they were communicated, they were extremely damaging to me for a long time because I genuinely believed that I couldn't do anything as a Black person, and I believed that as a Black person there were limitations placed on myself, my personality, my abilities, my life choices and my goals.

As I've grown older and looked back at things with the benefit of hindsight, I've decided to call BS on the damaging messages I was raised with. I've gradually gained more control over myself and my life and quite frankly, I'm not going to let my race and ethnic background stop me from living the life I want to live. As a Black person of African descent, there are aspects of my identity that will always exist, but identities are not simply one or two-dimensional, they are complex.

I guess in the eyes of certain people, I am too Westernised because I refuse to conform to traditional stereotypes and gender norms. Maybe I'm letting down certain people by breaking cultural and societal boundaries. Maybe I'm doing 'the wrong things' by doing things that are not considered 'Black enough.'

I don't know but to be honest, I really don't care anymore. I am very much in tune with myself, I am who I am and I don't need to prove my Blackness to anyone. I'm not going to allow defeatist and limiting notions dominate my life simply because of the colour of my skin and my ethnic background. I really don't give a damn.

So if certain individuals want to look down on me and sneer at me for being 'too Westernised' then so be it, but I'd rather stick to being myself than giving in to toxic messages that would restrict me and hinder my life.

That is all.

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