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Being the Paradox

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Africa. The world's second largest continent. Home to 1.2 billion people who all live in 55 different countries with all different customs. My family comes from The Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, also known as Ivory Coast. We, as a nation, have been chained and oppressed. All we honestly search for is acceptance. We want to be recognized as a suitable business partner and turn into a 1st world country. We want acceptance for having our corrupt government and want to be freed from your sorrowful perspective. To be honest, everyone searches for acceptance. I search for acceptance. I want to be accepted for being African, accepted for being weird, accepted for having goals. This is my story.

My name is Mama, not Jessica or Sarah. Mama. I am pretty different from most people I have met. This difference has created great opportunities in some cases. For an example, I have had the wonderful opportunity to witness the diversity of two different cultures that clash with each other. I have also had some dreadful situations where people don’t seem to understand me. They make judgments based on my ethnicity or appearance and basically label me off/ mock me.

I remember my years in elementary and middle school. Some days they were a living hell and other days were just phenomenal. Like the one time, people I considered friends thought it was funny that children in West Africa were once forced to be drafted into war. They also mocked that they were molested and drugged. How can people be so...ignorant? My so called ‘‘friends’’ would then whisper child soldier whenever I passed and were ecstatic to witness my frustration. Does anybody remember Kony 2012? Well my friends thought it was funny to ask if I was ever abducted and made a street walker. I don’t even know why I still call them friends. When they passed this phase of their cowardly behavior, I would be there, waiting with open and forgiving arms.

You see, most of you would have probably put a stop to all your affiliations with these mean-spirited people, but Hemant Smarty once said ‘Forgiveness Doesn't Excuse Their Behavior. Forgiveness Prevents Their Behavior From Destroying Your Heart.’ I chose not to blame my peers but blame their ignorance.

The preponderance always seems to paint a picture of a continent that is so desperate and needy and never focuses on our celebrations. You can see examples of this during the Liberian Civil War that started in 1989. The media interviewed war lords and basically concluded that since they were illiterate and wore bride gowns, everyone in Africa was stupid too. Even in child films, they portray Africa as this place where the inhabitants are struggling for life and live with animals. Since most people run on a tight schedule, they can’t really do research and figure out the truth. They don’t know that Liberia was founded by a group of freed slaves. Some people didn't even know who Nelson Mandela was. With this lack of knowledge, there go the stereotypes. The stereotypes don’t necessarily have to apply to race, but applies to all people. Like the stereotype that all rich people enjoy caviar. These stereotypes have given anyone the opportunity to be ignorant on such a high level, to not accept people.

I will never forget this one particular day. It was March 17, 2011 and I was in gym class. My friend pulled me aside and said ‘ Mama, I have something I feel like I needed to tell someone’’. She took a breath and said ‘ I have been thinking about this and my feelings have really been fighting each other and I have come to realize, I like girls. I am officially a lesbian’. In my religion, I’m a Muslim by the way, we really do not accept homosexuals. It is a sin punishable by death in some cases. But I looked at her face and saw that nothing about her changed. She was still the same witty, twilight loving friend. If I believe that every person should be accepted, I should start with her. So my response was ‘ We still love you because you will always be you’. This was honestly when I realized I would want to advocate the cause of acceptance one day.

Like I have previously stated, I struggle to accept myself. With a name like Mama, life hasn't been the icing on the cake, but then again what life do I have at the age 14? (hope for laughing) Every time I have to introduce myself to people, my stomach plunges. I cannot bear to remember the taunting days of my 4th and 5th grade year. The mental and physical abuse I endured.

It all started when I changed school buses. I was previously on bus O where I knew everybody and we would spend the bus rides laughing. I now boarded bus 4. Everyone was foreign to me and I was looking forward to expanding my group of friends. The first bus ride, I sat down in the 8th seat from the back with a big smile on my face. An older girl sat down next to me. I turned and said ‘Hi my name is Mama, how are you?’ She looked at me for a minute and then started laughing hysterically. ‘Mama, you got kids or some sh*t like that’ ? She then announced to all the kids in the back that I was pregnant. How could a prepubescent child even reproduce? I then explained how my grandmother was named Mama so my mom named me after her, to honor her basically. They all scoffed and said that my family was stupid. I really didn't want to cause trouble because I thought that this was the way all older kids acted. This was a big mistake in my opinion now.
The taunting didn't stop. They didn't just ridicule my name now, everything about me became a problem. My hair was a problem, my shoes. They literally found all my flaws and augmented them. I felt like I was living in a purgatory. I was only a 4th grader and i was already questioning my presence on earth. They cornered me in hallways and would just tell me I'm worthless. ‘Ugh, do you use soap, no wait you're African’ they laughed. I was so terrified of a learning environment I once cherished. Instead of killing myself, like they frequently suggested, I turned to education and music.

School and music became an outlet. I thought to myself, if they think that an African can't be successful, I will prove them wrong. I stayed after school with my band teacher Monday through wednesdays and my homeroom teacher thursday through fridays. I would feverishly study the textbooks and my music sheets. In no time, my teachers noticed an improvement . They then would push me to exceed expectations. I was placed in the math law firm and given extra homework. My band teacher gave me advanced music. I performed poetry and was now labeled the genius. My ‘clique’ expanded and included all the intelligent kids, people I knew that I wanted to hang out with. They accepted me for me. They enjoyed our conversations on world domination and destroying the penny. I felt at ease and knew that I didn't need to change for anyone.

No one should be obliged to change their personality, sexuality, or interests for the sake of being accepted by society. Become an outlier and just defy the rules of society. Honestly, who are they to tell you how to live? Let yourself be in charge. You should learn to please yourself before anyone else. Whether its your crooked teeth or the hair on your back, be happy to be you! Our generation is crumbling due to our violent, rude and selfish ways. We choose to be ignorant and only want to accept what we define as normal. No one else feelings come into consideration. We have actually been labeled a lost cause. You know, our lives kind of start in high school, like its time to be mature. Laughing at someones life choices is heart wrenching and its become a habit for most people. Once we learn to love weird as the new normal, our world would instantly become a better place. People have been killing themselves over the cruel laughter of their peers. The ones that are supposed to encourage you to chase your dreams, that let you have no worries. To basically be young, wild and free (teenage dream). If we don’t accept the fact that everyone is going to be different in many ways,we can’t be able to accept change. Change is the new tomorrow. We went from flip phones, to touch screen, ballroom dancing to twerking, sketches to selfies. We change all the time! But now we have to change for a better cause, for acceptance of all things, no matter how abnormal they might seem. We have to start here, now! Today is the time and place to take the oath for accepting people. ‘The ultimate ignorance is the rejection of something you know nothing about’ ( a quote by Dr. Wayne Dyer). So please, next time someone tells you that their name is Balaboo Johanson, they come from Canada and they are bisexual, don’t snicker, accept them for being them. Accept them, for being a paradox.



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