By Stella Demasus
I never had any issues with my being African, until I started living in the United States of America. That was when I realized that my kind of “African” is different. I’m not talking about racism between just white and black, but also from black to black. I realized that it transcends beyond skin color. It’s about the accent, size, culture, education, socio-economic class, etc. In every area of life there is racism. Even though I do not let such things get to me, because anyone who knows me knows that my skin is as thick as they come, but what about the other African men and women who are not as daring and non conforming as I am?
As an Actor, who happens to be an African immigrant, it has been weird for me especially in the casting rooms. I remember a particular audition I went for in New York City. I was so excited and so ready, as I had prepared for days. When it was my turn, I was asked to introduce myself. The moment I did, one of the casting directors looked at me and asked where I was from. I responded: “I am Nigerian”. She was seemingly doubtful of my response. Then, she asked where I was raised and educated. I told her it was all in Nigeria. Another guy in the room asked me to perform my monologue and half way through it, the same woman stopped me and said she was upset because I was either faking a foreign and sophisticated accent or I had been raised in the U.K.
I was totally confused. What did she mean by that? She started mimicking her idea of a Nigerian accent which sounded more like a Ugandan accent. Of course that’s all she knew because her only knowledge of Africa was THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND.
Wow! Does she realize that we have different countries in Africa and we almost have totally different accents? Does she realize that we have schools and a lot of us speak proper English? How could she think that African women are not sophisticated?
Her preconceived notions of Africa and the African woman could show in the way she reacted and treated me.
I am sure you are wondering if I really asked those questions in the room. Trust and believe that I did. Of course I didn’t get the part: it was not a ‘we will call you later to inform you of our decision’, but more of a direct ‘no you are not getting the part’. This was expected on my part!
After that experience, I joined several sites that send audition notices and that was when I started to see a particular trend. Each time they would ask for people of African decent and I’d send in my headshot, I would get the following responses “Sorry you are not dark enough”, “You don’t sound African enough”, and the best one yet “You are not African enough”.
Please can someone explain to me how African I should be?
They have made movies about the slave trade and told stories about various African heroes, but as long as it is produced by mainstream Hollywood, they would rather get American household name actors, who are even lighter than I am, and make them ‘speak like Africans’. I watch these movies/series and I am so repulsed at the way they make us sound.
One thing they have to realize is that African women come in different skin tones, shapes, sizes and attitudes. You cannot put us in a box and you cannot easily define us with your own words.
According to THEM, I don’t look African, I don’t sound African, I don’t act African, but I am truly more African than they can ever see.
So, EXCUSE MY AFRICAN because I love and adore MY AFRICAN.
Omg!!! I get the same reaction especially the uk part so i now educate them on how we were colonized by the British and so maybe thats why they think i was raised there.
The joy i have though is that all the comments have made my daughter in high school embrace her “Africanness” more and she has turned a mini lecturer and is ready at the drop of a hat to give a lecture on how Africa is not a country but a continent and then name some African countries for them.
I believe those that act this way are not exposed and well travelled so more than anything i pity their ignorance.
Dont worry im sure we will soon see you in a blockbuster movie where your worth is recognized
I agree with you, it’s unemagenable how we are quickly left on the back bunner as soon as we start a speech. I had to fake it sometimes depending on the group I am dealing with nevertheless, I am not ashamed of being an African because I owe no one an explanation.
This type of racism is something that many African people abroad would have experienced at some point or another. Can I also add that in my experience, it doesn’t only come from fellow black people. Kudos on the blog!
This is a nice article. Am just so surprised that the so called White are not so enlightened .
Quite an eye opener. Good one Stella.
I’ve told that too. I think it’s just ignorance gone rampage. The least most of these folks know about Africa is what they’ve heard or watched on tv. Most don’t even know the African map. Shamefully they think Africa is a small tiny city with humans living with animals. I don’t take it offensive anymore.
“What part of Africa do you come from? You speak well!” I was told that by my supervisor at my first ever job in the United States. Then i realised, Africans are held to a very low standard here and i will have to make a conscious effort to proof them wrong! My advice to any African out of Africa who feels discriminated against because of preconceived ideas of what they expect you to sound like or behave, -keep your head up high, be your best self and be proud of “your African”. You just excuse their ignorance because being African is not tantamount to being primitive and stupid!
This is so true Stella, haven’t live here in America for the last 12 years. I experience this all the time. Great article!
The sad part of this whole racism issues is when a person of your own color treat you like an outcast. For the whites; I kind of understand where they are coming from, but the attitude of some Blacks I just can not figure out. Sometimes a white person will accept you better than an African American will once they find out you a real African. I am proud of my heritage, my rich culture and that’s what drives me to want to do better and improve my situation. We just have to keep educating the ignorant ones.
This was such a good read!!! It is something that i’ve also experienced as an african in the West for not being/sounding “african enough”!!!
I had to pause at the audition part and tried to imagine the scene! Kudos for what you did
And yes it is sad, how they make “africans” sound and look in big budget Hollywood movies
Nevertheless, keep representing and good luck in your career ✊
SMH. To be African… You would think that in 2017 AD, Africans would not have such issues to worry about. Also, I loathe how they have those put-on accents in movies that sound NOTHING like the country that they’re supposed to be from. Great read.
There’s no denying the fact that the way the western world see and perceive Africa is prejudicial and misinformed. What’s shocking is that it still goes on at this time and age. Makes me wonder who needs the civilization and education more? I’m a bit relieved those of them here in Nigeria on work expedition have the new orientation. It goes to show the much ignorance imbibed by many without the one on one experience on the African soil. May God open their eyes
Hmmmmm my Almighty Stella,I have always admired your courage and I know that someday the African woman will walk with her shoulders high because of the likes of you, kudos to your good works and I see us(African woman) getting there.
Hmm…nice article, I love it. But one thing I will say to african living in abroad is that; let try and be ourself, let’s be proud of where we ALL came from, our accents is our accent: let not force ourself to be like them. By so doing; then we are proud of our country and our continent( Africa ) ……..God bless Nigeria; God bless Africa. Proudly Africa. More inspiration ma, God will continue to bless u.
Thank you so much for writing this, lovely article. I get the same reaction here I recently relocated with my family to Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean which is a mostly all black island but most of them assume Africans are not educated and can’t speak English plus they always refer to us as Africans in a condescending manner but I am quick to correct them I am first a Nigerian before an African. I constantly educate them that Africa is a continent while Nigeria is a Country (which most of them don’t even know). They think Nigeria is small like their little island so I quickly get started into letting them know Lagos is bigger than their whole island (lol) Someone needs to do a documentary showcasing Nigeria and other African countries so they know what we really have! My Husband is an Art Director/Photographer/Artist but while we were in Nigeria we never bothered taking the everyday pictures of Lagos we were more intrigued by the old Lagos/Nigeria ones.
Wish I could turn back the hands of time and get correct Lasgidi pictures!
Lovely article you’ve done it again! They just can’t seem to understand that they are not the only educated ones
When you live in a country with more than 100 nationalities, you get used such feedback. Thats why I have decided before I rush to tour the world, I need to know and see more OF the Africa that is not talked about in movies most of all the African woman who is the backbone of mother Africa. Goodread
No one can make you feel inferior unless you already have the notion (inferiority complex) deep inside you that you are! Being a Negroid or Caucasoid is not something you choose; it is what GOD made you. So much the worse for the racists! Prouldy African any day! Thank GOD HE made me an African! Kudos, Stella!
Aie, I have been almost 9 years from my country. When I arrived in France, they would ask me how long I have been there, and they would tell me they don’t believe me because I speak french without accent! But even after 9 years it’s the same question. It’s like we have to be like they want us to be. And if you don’t speak well their language it’s an other problem.
This blog is awesome!
Good read. Movies are such a huge platform to enlighten and I look forward to the days when the roles cast for Africans are not just the primitive roles laced with thick accents, but roles that also show that Africas can be posh, sophisticated, well spoken, etc. So thank you Stella for broaching this ‘small but mighty’ topic.