Defying the oppression of labels
Born in Liberia to Sierra Leonean parents, I spent most of my formative years in Nigeria. My background and exposure to many cultures means I’ve always been problematic for those who would seek to label or “place” me within a single frame of their understanding. This natural defiance towards labels and the resistance I find in others towards the challenge I pose has taught me many things.
One thing I’ve learned and that continues to propel me forward is that every group of people and community has and is offering something of great value to the world already. However, not all contributions are viewed the same or even acknowledged because of the labels ascribed to those communities. This is one of the great injustices of our global world—the refusal to acknowledge equitably the contributions of all cultures to the economic, social and political advancements that we are all making together. In our world some societies and their contributions are centralized and spoken of, while others are banished to the periphery and when acknowledged viewed with surprise as if their greatness were an anomaly rather than a natural everyday occurrence. We often label groups—such as African women—with the intent of “helping” them when these labels actually serve to verbally dominate them under the tyranny of our “help”. Labels such as “disadvantaged”, “oppressed”, “disempowered”, “poverty-stricken” and so many more. It is so hard for our world to view African women the way African women know themselves to be—intelligent, strong, industrious and powerful—and not needing to be rescued. It is so hard for this to be considered normal—not needing to be mentioned—rather than something that is strange or intriguing.
“Voices of our Future” fits into my journey because mine is one of challenging ideas and narratives such as these. By simply being present and using my journal to question how I and my fellow African women are perceived I intend to engage in one of the most important battles any person can take on. Challenging perceptions, ideas and labels that seek to dominate and make manageable things and people who should be left to define themselves. I challenge ideas because my personal vision for the future includes contributing to the expansion of Afro-centric communities and their ideas. Africa is already a continent making great and innovative advances in the sciences, technology and mathematics and not just in the realm of music and arts. I intend to be part of that community that reorients how we talk and think about Africa and the significant and ongoing contributions of Africans to the world. One day I hope this will be a type of conversation that we no longer engage in but take for granted.