“Okra draw tay e mus cut”. I can’t count how many times in my life my Mother has said this to me. To be the child of a strong African woman carries with it more blessings and burdens that only unfolds the more I experience life. This unique predicament is experienced by all of Sierra Leone’s children, regardless of what part of the world we currently call home. We all wonder what kind of person do we want to be and how can we help those who we are connected to. How does being the child of an arrogant, voluptuous, hypocritical, sweet country help shape the person I need to become?
There is nowhere to run forever from what has created you. There is no way to effect change on a global level except from the inside out. To heal Sierra Leone we need all of her children to implement changes inside our homes, our businesses, our families, and our government and most importantly inside of ourselves. In connecting with each other to build a new country for ourselves and future generations to know just how great a nation flows through our blood, some of the work has to start first by looking in the mirror.
William E Cross developed a theory describing five stages of Black consciousness, which is defined as a process of becoming Black. The premise is that Black people go through these different stages at points in their lives which allow them to process their Black skin and not only how the world views them but how it shapes their view of the world. Although these specific stages lend themselves to the Black experience as in skin color, it also happens in developing a consciousness of being a Sierra Leonean no matter if you live on the African continent or elsewhere.
Cross’ first stage is Pre-encounter, which is characterized by a person being completely unaware of his own race. I recall growing up in Sierra Leone surrounded by people who were just like me. They spoke the same language, ate the same foods and were all related to me by blood or friendship. I always tell my friends that in being African, everybody is my aunt, uncle or cousin. I never felt different from those I was around because everyone I was around was there to teach, guide, love and comfort me. All my experiences were shrouded in the goal of helping me become a good, successful woman with pride in herself, her family and heritage.
The second stage, Encounter refers to an incident occurring that makes one aware of their race. Moving to the US at seven years old completely changed the path my life would have taken if my family would have never moved. From the doctor writing the wrong name on my birth certificate, to family nicknames, to being called both my grandmother’s names, I’ve never had one name. I’ve always answered to names, that although were different depending on who was talking to me, came from my family and religious heritage. Then, all of a sudden people were Americanizing and changing my name and I couldn’t understand who they were talking to. People would comment on how I “didn’t look or sound African” as though they were complimenting me. At that point it hit me, maybe there was something different about me that people outside of my world, were calling me something different and seeing me as someone different than the Salone chick I was.
The third stage, Immersion is when a person becomes deeply involved in being a member of their group and embraces all of the behaviors and characteristics associated with that group. My Father and I would spend hours talking about life in Salone. He would speak to me as an intellectual equal about the politics, the people, and the languages. He would share any news he heard and show me videos of how people were living their lives and the day-to-day issues, good or bad. There were some things that I should not have witnessed or known but the truth is the truth, no matter if you try and hide from it. My world opened up and it felt that everywhere I went I met a new sister or brother from Salone who I could relate to. I was attracting everything I always wanted into my life by learning who I already was.
Living away from my family leads to a lot of unsatisfied cravings for Salone food. I reached a point where I knew I had no reason not to be able to take care of myself the way I wanted. I spent an entire summer pen and papers in hand making my mother teach me how to cook every dish that she knows. I can still hear her sucking her teeth at me as I forced her to give me exact measurements telling me, “you jus def for sabe”. I drove my friends crazy for a period of time as I hosted weekly dinners and they had to eat all of my cooking while I was still learning. Now, I’m an excellent cook and take every chance I get to bring some real Salone dishes to my friends’ lives.
The fourth stage, emersion allows the person to be more open to influences outside of their group. After college, I knew my passport needed more stamps and I would have to get out into the world. I began travelling and meeting people from all over the world who had characteristics and values that I deeply admired. I realized that loving who you are and where you come from isn’t exclusive to any one group of people.
The final stage is double consciousness, which occurs with a realization that not only is it important to seek change for your particular race, but change on a global level is mandatory. I had to create a balance of what I wanted for myself and the person I wanted to be, what I wanted for my country, my future children and family and knowing that everybody wants better for themselves, their families and their country.
Self-awareness sounds like such a simple concept. Who would know you better than you? In going through these stages of consciousness, I found answers to questions I already knew. Merging past, present and future helped me create an even bigger picture of my life that surpassed everything I ever thought was my purpose. My picture grew from a nuclear set of people who I share blood and love with to the camaraderie of a whole country of people who I owe my entire being to.
by Amie H. Cande