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The ‘Coconut’ Debate Rages On

“I am not oppressed,” words rarely spoken by people of color (POC) but slowly gaining traction in the 21st century.

I came across a Tiktok video that stopped me dead in my scrolling tracks. I thought it was a timely and intelligent conversation to have. You can check out the video HERE.

I have no idea who this lady is and I made absolutely no attempts to find out, for a reason. However, I can safely say that she sounds intelligent, well-spoken, and according to her, very ‘privileged’! She immediately reminded me of the vile creature Candace Owens – an intelligent woman living in a soft bubble. I’m sure you can tell I’m not a fan of Candace, but I’m a bit on the fence with this particular lady in question because, unlike Candace, she recognizes the ‘oppression’ that POC face across the globe…and I just love how she qualified her assertions, verbatim;

As someone that was born in Zimbabwe, came here to the UK when I was 9 years old…culturally, my life experiences just vary (different) from let’s say, someone who has been born and raised in the US or someone born in the UK. So I see race in a very different way. I didn’t grow up thinking or being told that because of the color of my skin, by default, I’m someone oppressed, and I need to look at anyone who is white as my oppressor…as my victimizer, and I am the victim. It’s just not the way I was raised, culturally, it just isn’t.” [ME: I don’t think this is what black people mean when they bring attention to their experiences. If we looked at every white person as an oppressor, honestly, I don’t think we would have any living white people, especially in Africa.]

She continues, “I feel as though in the present day, I’m being forced to step into a racial conversation that doesn’t align with my actual so-called ‘lived experiences’ …and I have a lot of questions about it. And I think that’s the most inconvenient part because you’re not allowed to say, ‘hey, but I was born and raised in Zimbabwe and my experience of my race is very different and I actually don’t see myself as oppressed’. Some people will get angry that I don’t see myself as oppressed. They’ll see it as if I’m denying…that’s the angle that people go to…. I can accept the reality of what’s happened in history AND also acknowledge that I’m not oppressed because I think it’s a slap in the f****n face to so many people in my country who are actually truly oppressed by the government and the system that we live under.

And to be able to sit in the western world and, I’m probably more privileged than most people to say that I am oppressed. It just doesn’t…I am not doing that.”

Before I get into it, I should probably mention that the video was only two minutes long, meaning, I don’t have the full context that forms the basis of the things she said…like, what prompted her to respond like this? What was the actual question she was asked? What had she said before that led to this part of the conversation? What was the overall premise or goal of the interview/conversation? And most importantly, in what context was the word ‘oppressed’ being used? What I’m willing to do is admit that I am using inference as a basis for my response to her glowing ‘speech’.

Her point of view was quite… refreshing? Not anything I thought about or considered before, which is somewhat funny given that I used to give ear to Candice Owen’s rhetoric up until last year when I resolved to block her off of my socials because I just couldn’t stand her anymore! So, what’s different between these two women? Why didn’t I take offense to this woman’s views?

She said the magic words: I have a lot of questions. For me, this means she’s still listening and learning, I hope! As a POC, I can safely say that as long as she continues having these conversations, one day she’ll walk into a store and she will suddenly find herself wondering if the store clerk is giving her particular attention or not. When that thought crosses her mind, she would have come to a point of reckoning.

Matters of racial oppression, segregation, discrimination, etc. for black people, in particular, are not easy conversations to have, especially with white people or privileged black people or POC. Let me paint you a picture for a moment:

Imagine you are a girl/woman born and raised in Ethiopia. At the tender age of 10, your mother and aunties lock you up in a room and proceed to perform an FGM (Female Genital Mutiltion) procedure on you. You’re in excruciating pain but they reassure you that you need this experience to become a fuller woman. That it is the only way to secure a husband in the future because men prefer ‘refurbished’ women. That the “female genitalia are ugly and dirty and must be removed to enhance beauty and cleanliness,” – Women’s Health Newsletter, 1998.

If you’re a scientist or person with some level of education and exposure, you automatically know that the reasons given for FGM are mostly false. Unlike the penis, the vagina is a self-cleaning organ. Other matters such as sexual pleasure (orgasm) and aesthetic issues are very subjective as they’re influenced by socio-cultural factors. This brings us back to the topic at hand.

What role does ignorance play in how we perceive things? Does it mean that just because we are not aware of certain things, or have not experienced certain things, then those things do not exist?  Then again, how many of our reactions or responses are influenced by the things we know/have experienced/heard about? Does it mean that just because someone responds differently to the same stimulus, they’re at fault/wrong/ignorant? I asked myself these questions as I pondered over the things I heard in the video.

The Ethiopian Girl [above] carried herself with such pride and confidence in her village because she knew she had become a ‘full’ woman, desirable in the eyes of men. A worthy woman to have as a wife. Maybe she even looked down on other girls who had not had the procedure. She vowed to bring up her own daughters in future with the same dignity by subjecting them to the same operation.

Fast forward, 10 years later. She’s found herself at a university in Zambia (another African country). She proudly tells her roommates that she is infibulated and they all gasp in horror. The Science major tells her that the vagina cleans itself. The feminist tells her that FGM is a patriarchal ploy to keep women subjugated to men. The wildcat candidly informs her that she will never ever enjoy sex. So what becomes of our dear Ethiopian Girl? Who is right and who is wrong in this group? And most importantly, does it even matter?

The world no longer looks the same for the one who has suddenly come upon enlightenment.

In the video, the lady says;

I can accept the reality of what’s happened in history AND also acknowledge that I’m NOT oppressed.” [She is assuming what happened in the past stayed in the past, or that it has no bearing on the present and future. Very cute.]

But, is she right? Maybe, because she is speaking about her own experiences, we can’t tell her she is wrong to feel like that, can we? I think the issue only comes when she extends these feelings and forces them to become a reflection of reality for everyone, inadvertently, invalidating the experiences of those who have been racially profiled, segregated, oppressed, or discriminated against. In the same vein, the opposite of this is also true. She said it herself, she was never raised to consider herself a victim of oppression. Meaning, if she walked into a store and someone was paying her more than the usual attention, she either wouldn’t notice it or would find a reason other than race to explain the behavior away.

The reaction would be different from a POC going through the same experience. Because they’re aware of a certain kind of reality, they automatically feel ‘some type of way’ at the unnecessary attention. When they’re rejected by prestigious schools or denied certain jobs or positions despite their qualifications, they automatically assume it’s a race thing. The facts here are that they’re both justified in their feelings. There’s precedence. It is also a fact that at the point of contact, they each weren’t privy to the actual motivating factor behind the extra attention they were getting in the store. The only way to find out is to investigate without prejudice. The difference here is that only one of them is likely to escalate things because it means so much to them that they’re heard and accorded the same respect as others.

More than anything, I think what the lady in the video needs is understanding from POC that she is entitled to have an opinion about her own feelings and experiences in spite of the experiences of the larger group. She wants those who bear the same skin tone as her to understand that just because they feel oppressed, they shouldn’t demand the same of her when she has never ever felt oppressed. I understand her. However, as someone who has experienced certain things that come with being a POC, I wish for her to come to a point where she becomes aware that black solidarity is more than just shared experiences about the things directly happening to us. There’s a reason why black people ‘demand’ solidarity from their ‘community’. And it has a lot to do with a history that many of us probably never faced but our lives are shaped and influenced by it – willy-nilly.

I’ll agree with her that much of the race discourse is shaped by the US narrative. It might be surprising to some people to learn that black people born and raised in the USA DO NOT necessarily experience ‘race’ as black Africans born and raised in Africa. This is a whole other conversation to be had on a different day. Sometimes I feel like telling my African-American brothers and sisters to tone down their ‘Africanism’ because they know nothing about being African, but you see, this is exactly why we need to have more of these conversations. If amongst themselves, black people cannot agree on certain things, imagine how much more convincing it would take to bring a White Supremacist to a point of enlightenment.

I’m assuming white people rarely bear the burden of being the face of their whole race in the conversations they have or communities they live in because they’re rarely a ‘minority’ in most settings. Even in places where they are a minority, most white people tend to carry themselves with an air of superiority. Also explains why we rarely have situations where a black person or group decides to wake up one day and blow up a ‘white’ church or school. And yet this keeps happening to us black folks. Each one of us, whether we like it or not, including the lady in this video, by virtual of her skin color, is the face of Black people across the world. So if she says she is not oppressed, the people who can’t tell us apart or feel some type of way about us just because we look different from them automatically assume their behavior is acceptable – because WE, and not this lady or Owens have given them the stamp of approval.

It is important to note that the black race is the ONLY race that is looked down on by ALL the other races across the globe. Black people simply cannot afford to ‘fight’ people within their camp and at the same time fight the oppressors or racists.   We ‘demand’ solidarity from our community because for so long, it was us versus them, and the world as it is now lies on the foundation of the blood and sweat of our people. it is unfair to ask us to move on when the dynamics haven’t shifted much. Just because you cannot see this or you cannot understand does not mean it doesn’t exist.

The question we need to be asking ourselves before we gear up to argue or counter-argue issues around race is; why exactly are we even having a discussion about race in the first place? It’s because something happened or is happening and it is important enough to demand a slot in our conversations because ignoring it or pretending it doesn’t exist will not make it go away.

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