by KurlyBella of K is for Kinky
I was sitting in the back of the cab trying my best to not fidget so much in the car. My freshly shaven legs poked out of my black stretch mini skirt and stuck to the hot pleather seat. The A/C, blasting at full force, and set on the lowest temperature, was straining to pump air to the back of the sedan and it seemed to be having an extremely hard time reaching me. I could feel the cool air abruptly stop right at the tip of my nose and prance around in a torturous tease. Salty sweat beads eagerly gathered around at my hairline like bees to summer honey as I mumbled painstakingly under my breath that I didn’t want my twist-out to start messing up – I had a date in a few hours and did not have the time to try to redo my hair.
My cabbie, who couldn’t help but glance at me and all my awkward dancing across the hot seat through his rear view mirror, took note of my frustration and started to strike up a conversation with me to get my mind off the heat that was only amplified every time he hit a pot hole at what felt like 90 miles an hour; every bump repeatedly knocked over my pink tote spilling all of its contents on the floor. Being the southern belle that I am, I obliged his sincere attempts to make this 30 minute ride as smooth as possible. We talked and laughed at times about everything from the new black president to farmers markets and how to pick a good tomato to why women like high heel shoes even when they hurt their feet (including his wife), to the bad traffic and high humidity that day. When we finally got to my destination I was relieved to open the door and meet more sun belt, unapologetic hotness – albeit it temporary until I got inside my front door – I just wanted to get out of that sticky car!
After paying for my ride and taking my receipt the cabbie turned to me as I was placing one foot on the concrete and asked me if I was African and where exactly I was from in Africa, as he cocked his head to the side and said he “couldn’t place me.” I smiled and blushed.
Wait, me, lil ole kbella looks African? Okay, I have to be completely honest, that was not the first time I’ve had someone from Africa ask me if I was African. The nice, talkative cabbie was from Africa and thought I might be too since, to him, I looked like I could also be African and additionally had a “very high forehead”; which as he continued on, is very common amongst different African people. In previous conversations, I had my Ugandan friends tell me I look Ugandan as well as my friends from Ghana tell me I look like I could be from Ghana.
It does not happen very often, but when it does, I welcome the compliment. I think African women are some of the most beautiful women on the planet and I am an african descendant. Like many of you, I have no idea exactly where my ancestors came from less the region, so when I hear how I look like an African woman, I’m not taken aback or see it as an insult, and why would I?
Despite my always blushing at the words – I mean anyone who thinks I am as pretty as Alek, Iman or Ajak gets a gold star in my book – I know many, many women who would consider any association in physical aesthetic an insult. How dare ANYONE equate their looks to that of a *gasp* AFRICAN?! They’d rather hear something less…black and we all know that for some, African is just too black…too something.
I don’t mind being mistakenly called African or told that I look like or very much like or similar too an African woman. I am not disillusioned about who I am as a woman. I know we have been colonized, miscegenized and have our own culture as “Blacks” or “African Americans”, but as a Black woman, it just feels different when someone from Africa looks me in the face and sees themself. It’s kinda like someone saying I look like my mom, or a great, great, great aunt. I’d never be able to see my looks or features being called African as an insult. We already have enough people telling us that all the black girls are ugly, and there is no need for me to step in an reinforce that idea with mental shortcomings that plague many.
I hopped out the cab and straightened my skirt. I could feel the heat from the setting sun pulsating through my tank top as it toasted the skin on my back. I turned to the cabbie as he rolled down his window and leaned across the cracked and peeling armrest, neck strained and eyes fixed on me, waiting for me to give him an answer to his question.
I smiled, “no, I’m not african, but thank you for the compliment.”
As he pulled away, I softly jumped on the sidewalk and walked inside my front door, steps from where I was just dropped off. My apartment was as cool as an ice chest and I lazily let my pink tote fall to the floor and slowly kicked off my flats as I flopped back onto my over-sized stuffed sofa with a heavy, gracious fall. I was still reeling from the heat but my smile remained. That cabbie had just made my day…at least until the next compliments came rolling in from my date later that evening.
The time I was asked that question, it was at the supermarket till in London (where I live) by an African man. When I asked why he thought that, was it influenced by the African print snoodie I was wearing (never really been asked that before, usually people think I'm mixed race, South American or where I'm from orig, the Caribbean). He said, no, its because you haven't relaxed your hair yet! Yet. The cheek. Only five minutes before another guy walking behind me to the till complimented how refreshing it is to see a woman with her own hair, so I guess it swings both ways …
I have been asked if I was Ethiopian, Nigerian, from Ghana, and even Haitian. I did not get offended, I was just surprised that that is the initial reaction when others see me. I become flattered but explain to them that I am not. Sorry to disappoint, I am Southern bred and corn bread fed lol!
It's funny. I've never had this happen until I first read this article. Two days later an Eritrean guy asked me, "Are you Black African?" I told him that I am an African American. I was curious why he thought I was from Africa; and he said, "I thought you were Ethiopian because of your complexion and eyes." I was smiling the whole day.
I think it's bizarre that some people get offended when others mistake them for African. Sure, we might be a couple hundred years removed from Africa, but it's still a part of us.
I get ethiopian references… my mother gets ghanian references and we both take them as compliments.. those women are beautiful!
I am nigerian, although i was born and raised in the US. I found this article and the comments very refreshing. I have heard many ignorant comments, mostly from African Americans about being African,but im glad to see its not a consensus. People generally can tell that i'm african based on looks alone. Which growing up i always thought was strange but I've grown to appreciate it. I love my heritage and think thats the most important thing, it helps you to love yourself.
African and loving it. I am from Eritrea, and I am so excited to read how so many of you embrace and love all your African parts :)!. #EastAfricanandLovingIt!
This was beautifully written. What I find even more beautiful is, the fact, that so many women take the question as a compliment. We've come a long way, baby. I think maybe I will, indeed, live long enough to see black people be proud of all of their Africaness. I'm proud to read that a lot of our gorgeous African features are noticeable, and did not get lost in translation (diaspora). I wouldn't expect less from the Curly Nikki community, anyway.
I can't tell you how many times i've had Ethiopian men walk over to me and ask where I'm from. And when I tell them Michigan they are always suprised and respond that I look like I could be from their country. I'm flattered and I find it kind of funny that Ethiopians mistake me for Ethiopian.
I am from the Caribbean and live in Canada and I have had quite a few Ethiopians ask me if I am Ethiopian. I always take it as a compliment as East African women are stunning.
YES I MEET SO MANY PEOPLE WHO WOULD PREFER TO SAY THEY ARE CUBAN, JAMAICAN, HAITIAN, ETC… INSTEAD OF JUST BLACK OR AFRICAN. THEY THINK THAT IF THEY SAY THOSE OTHER THINGS, THEN IT MEANS THAT THEY ARE MIXED AND BETTER THAN AFRICANS. ITS CRAZY BECAUSE I HAVE ALWAYS WANTED TO FEEL AFRICAN. I HAVE ALWAYS FELT LOST AS AN AFRICAN AMERICAN AND I WISH I KNEW WHAT PART OF AFRICA I WAS FROM. THAT WAY I COULD JUST SAY IM SOMALIAN, EGYPTIAN, UGANDAN, KENYAN ETC…
I am 100% Ivorian (from Cote-D'ivoire, West Africa). I get the question "where are you from" a lot, not because of my looks, but because of my accent. This article is very refreshing, because I've come accross many African-American women, who do get REALLY offended when mistaken for "Africans". I once asked one of my African-American friend the reason why she would get offended if she was mistaken for an African woman. She told me :" not to offend you", and continued to say that she perceived it negatively and associated it with a lesser value and a lesser rank… Almost as if she was "ugly or did not have any class". I found this really interesting and I am glad to learn here that some ppl embrace it as a compliment.
I am American and live in Berlin and get the Ghanaian thing all the time. In the U.S. I get just about every island in the Caribbean and Brazil. I think it is cool too. I love the fact that Africa has a foot everywhere. A couple of months back I was in Amsterdam and someone asked if I knew my ancestry because beofre he heard my American accent, he had thought I was from Ghana. I told him no I was American. Then one of the bystanders says, with a smile mind you, "Oh you must be insulted." I set him straight and said "absolutely NOT! I am proud of my African ancestry and wish I knew more of it."
Love this piece, exquisitely written. All I can say is African=Beautiful! I've been asked if I was Kenyan and once Ethiopian and I too was thrilled.
I can't claim I am either, as I don't know the specific origins of my ancestors, nevertheless I still take this as a compliment.
African/Black American ancestry is a complicated one. Although I've had positive experiences, I've also had some unsettling experiences.
Once I met a guy from Kenya, who asked me about my nationality. I answered, American. His response was, "come on, why do you say that, you're American, you're African?" My reply was that "I feel a close connectedness to Africa and its people and that my ancestors were clearly of African descent, but since I do not know the origins and grew up in the US, I am in essence an American." He shrugged and walked away.
On another occasion in a taxi, a driver asked me and a friend (Japanese) about our ethnicity. My friend of course answered Japanese and he asked her a few questions. I stated African-American. He laughed and asked "is your mother or father African?" My reply was that they are both African-American. Then he went on to tell me, I should just say I am American, since I am not from an African country and did not grow up with a "cultural tradition". He said it annoyed him to see Black Americans running around claiming Africans.
Can't win sometimes….
I've had that happen to me also. Except I've been asked if I was Eritrean. African women are the most beautiful women in my opinion. It seems like now everyone is trying so hard to obtain European looks whether it's colored contacts, skin bleaching, or overprocessing hair (although I have nothing against contacts and hair straightening)but the motive is often the problem.
It's really nice to see that everyone responds positively to being mistaken for African. I have to be honest and say the 1st few times this happened to me I did not take it as a compliment.
I'm Jamaican and growing up in Caribbean or Latin American culture post European colonialism to look less african is perceived as a good thing e.g. light skin, light eyes, coolie hair etc.
Although, all of the men who had mistaken me for African were asking me out, so they obviously found me and West African women beautiful, I still couldn't see it as a compliment. I didn't even realize I had adopted this anti-african mentality until I had to deal with my upset with being thought of as looking African. I think East African are generally seen as very beautiful so that wouldn't of offended me. However, to perceived as West African I honestly have to say I took it as an insult.
It wasn't until I went to university where most of the black students were Nigerian and Ghanian that I truly saw the beauty in West African women. West African women are some of the most beautiful women in the world and I very proud to have a phenotype which mirrors my ancestors.
I'm truly sorry if I offended anyone. I just wanted to be honest about journey of self-acceptance which hasn't only included natural hair.
I was in a seminar about Japanese culture, and this really old lady sat off to the side and just stared at me through the whole thing. She introduced herself as an anthropologist and her eyes were doing that sparkle your eyes do when you're excited/happy about something. When she finally did speak to me, she started analyzing all of my facial features really excitedly. It was something I'd have expected to see on Bones. She started rambling gleefully about East Africa and I couldn't do anything but sit there and blush in silence. I've never had somebody be that interested in my face, let alone be more excited about my African features. Usually I get people seeing the European/Native American in me so it was really different and awesome to have somebody note the African in an extremely positive tone and with such detail. She made me feel gorgeous.
I get the opposite. I'm 100% Nigerian (Igbo) and I get asked if I'm Haitian or Brazilian quite a bit. I also get East African. I think a lot of Haitians look like Nigerians, so maybe that's an indirect way of asking me if I'm naija;o) Even other Naijas don't recognize me as naija… until I whip out some pidgin or Igbo. My mom says it's because of my features, which are very aquiline. I guess I go out of my way to compensate by making sure I'm always repping the motherland to the fullest with my hair, accessories, clothes. I've always been that way though, lol- long before being afrocentric was a trend for girls my age.
I am sooooo GLAD that I am Nigerian. Although I was born here, my parents were not. Its sad that some black ppl refuse to say African. We are all from AFrica, just because many were enslaved does not hide our African blood. So for those ppl who get insulted need to change their "African American" title. How can one say their not African yet they call themselves African American…it does not make sense to me.
@Beth…point well taken! I DO get your point. I remember Tyra Banks doing American's Next Top Model. She once said that she wanted to showcase the beauty with the Black Women here in the U.S. She said that many go to other countries in search of the exotic model. She felt that she would definitely embrace those who are from other countries but also showcase the ethnic/exotic beauty we have right here in this country. Again, great point!
Yes, I get this all of the time. As a teenager, people mistook me as a Caribbean, especially Jamaican and Haitian. Now that I'm older, I'm mistaken for a Native African. I tell them, yes and no. I'm African American, with a smile :).
This was the first post I read on her blog and I've been in love ever since! She's a really great writer and I thoroughly enjoy reading her posts.
One time, an African guy asked me if I was from some country in Africa (sorry, I can't remember which country) because of the way I tied my head wrap (Nefertiti style)–he said I did a great job tying it. I was so flattered and saw that as a HUGE compliment.
Oh thanks for this post – it's giving me a different way of thinking.
I too often get the "where are you from?" thing, usually from people form Ghana or Sierra Leone, and I have never taken it as a compliment. This is not because I want to distance myself from Africa or Africans, but because my Sierra Leonean heritage and looks come from my father, who was seriously the worst most deadbeat father ever. No, ok, there are worse ones, I have to admit, but he was pretty bad. Even though I know people are only looking to make a connection to a countrywoman, I can't help hearing "Hey, you should start thinking about how your dad's a complete asshole."
But yeah, that was focusing WAY too much on me and my crap. I much prefer the interpretation that they're singling me out as a compliment. And it's a bit true, because one of my features that I like most are my high cheekbones; when I saw a photo of my father I was really shocked because it's like his cheekbones were cut and pasted onto me.
Great post. Thanks for sharing.
I'm of Trinidadian and Malawian descent, and I've always felt that those slave ships did "great" jobs at dispersing our ancestors. So yes, perhaps there is some legitimacy to those questions and compliments. How many degrees of separation?
I also wanted to add that while viewing some of the photos from Michelle Obama's recent South African trip, one little girl reminded me of a Haitian friend. It was as if I were looking at a younger version of that person.
I always thought I was unmistakably a Black woman, but lately FIJIANS have been approaching me thinking I'm from Fiji. Odd….
I have almond-shaped eyes and high cheekbones so others think I'm mixed with Asian.
I would LOVE for someone to think I was from Africa. Such beautiful people we all are!
I love when I'm asked if I'm African. It's happened a handful of times and people always ask if I'm Ethiopian. Though I don't know where exactly my ancestors came from the continent I figured it was very unlikely they were from East Africa since not many slaves were taken from there but it always makes me smile! I do live in DC where theres a large population of Ethiopians so I guess that's why they assume from there. Anywho, I get pretty excited about it and tell my mom! lol
Anon 7:31, well the people who have experiences with that are much more likely to comment than people who don't…
ppl! it's all in the features! africans have a distinctive look from some black americans. i think it has to do with the mixing that has occurred over in the americas and everywhere. distinctly west africans look different from east africans who look different from southern africans. as a central african born in southern african, ppl have always been able to tell that im not southern african but have always had trouble placing me :P. central africans are like that – we are a mix of everyone i'd say. be proud y'all! being african doesn't mean ur poor, illiterate or stupid!
Interesting article. I am frequently asked if I am Jamaican, Bahamian, or Haitian. I was even asked if I was Nicaraguan once! I chalk this up to the fact I live in Miami 🙂
so judging by the comments, everyone looks mixed or gets mistaken from being from some exotic African/Caribbean country…what a coincidence.lol But, great post!!
This was so beautiful. I was recently complaining to my boyfriend that people always think I'm African because I'm different than "other black people" as if Africans don't act a fool too. Trust me they do I stay in West Harlem lol and I think I also took the "you look african" as offensive because I'm the dark girl in the family but you are very right. Being called Nigerian, or Ghanian or Senegali is beautiful especially when I can only date my family history back to Arkansas so thank you for helping me realize how ignorant I was in not appreciating wonderful complements
I didn't appreciate it as a compliment until I started to travel abroad. I'm able to blend in. I think it's funny as heck when Africans talk about me (like I'm not there). I know they are attempting to place me. I've been mistaken for Kenyan, Ghanian, Nigerian, Malian and Ugandan. Only when I open my mouth do they realize that I'm from Alabama.
This article hit home for me 🙂
While I've never been asked if I was African, I will be prepared to give a polite "no". I now look in the mirror and truly see that black is beautiful and African/Black women really do exclude a beauty that is like no other.
well im gambian (west africa) and german but people always mistake me for brazilian, carribean, morrocan or even black mixed with asian?! haha i guess i just look international but i like it that way 🙂
In the last couple years since I've been natural, I've had a good amount of random people ask me if I'm African/x African country, and I really do take it as a compliment, though I was always quite confused why they thought was the case. Sometimes I wish I was a bit more open in asking why they think that but usually when they say no, they smile politely and walk away. I'm Jamaican though, so I guess I'm not too surprised by their conclusion.
I do agree with Beth a bit though, because there was one encounter that really made me think about another reason why they might be pinning me as African. Once at a train station in Boston, I was waiting in line and a lighter-skinned black man was nearby and staring at me a bit. I don't think he was interested in me in a dating way, but he looked kinda perplexed. A couple minutes later he asked "Are you African by chance?" and I'm not "Oh… no, I'm not" and gave him a look to encourage him to explain. And then he said "Oh… that's a surprise… your look is really too beautiful and interesting to be American". I was a bit surprised by his comment and decided not to correct him on where I was actually from, least he say something like "Ah! So I was right that you're not American". To this day, I still wonder what he meant by that…
I am Nigerian, and people react to me the direct opposite way. When I tell people I am African, they are taken aback and shocked. Then comes the follow up question, "you speak so well!" I find it all quite insulting. First the assumption that for whatever reason, I don't look "African" enough, and then to act surprised that I speak English properly to boot.
To Beth — I get you BUT I don't think the article was trying to dive that deep with the "black" versus African issues. Seems like she was just acknowledging the beauty that is being an African-looking woman and how that should empower, rather than be taken as an insult. Try to stick to the positive. The more we pull apart every post and find the negative the more we're giving power to all the nonsense in the world. Peace… 🙂
I sometimes get this, too. While I do think it is a compliment to me, I sometimes feel like it is an insult to black American women in general.
Let me try to explain… I have a northeastern, suburban accent. Often, when people say, to me "Where are you from? Are you from (insert an African or Caribbean nation here)?" it is prefaced or followed by, "you speak so well!" Mind you, my accent does not sound like I grew up anyplace but the predominantly white Connecticut suburb where I grew up, or a similar town in the northeast. All of the white folks I grew up sound exactly the same. However, I've received the "Where are you from? You speak so well!" comment in my hometown, from white folks with exactly the same accent. I've also been asked the same sorts of questions following a compliment about my appearance. In both cases, people are very reluctant to accept that I am descended from people who were African slaves (and yes, likely a couple of their masters as well as possibly some Native Americans) who have been on this continent for at least 200 years, and many a great deal longer. In other words, people–frequently white people from the US and Europe, but I've also been in this situation with people from various other parts of the world–have difficulty thinking that someone who they find attractive and articulate can be a "plain" black person from the US.
So, this isn't to diminish the beauty and grace of sisters throughout the diaspora–I admire my sisters from the Caribbean and throughout the continent of Africa and elsewhere–but it makes me a little sad that people have such difficulty in seeing those qualities in those of us who aren't from those places. I've also heard people of various ethnicities make claims that they think black people from the US are inferior to those from elsewhere in the diaspora (as in, "black people from X place are much harder workers than black people from the US") over and over again, so I don't think that this is just in my head.
Ghanian/German descent. High cheekbones. Kinky hair! I love what she has written!
Am glad you took that as a compliment as well. Proud African ova here, Zambian born Namibian!!!!! But living in Europe, I have been called mixed/ bi, from the Islands and Indian. I take it all in my stride and explain, I am African born in Zambia but from Namibian parents. Anyone who knows Southern African women knows these hips were gifted from the Ancestors lol !!!!!!!
Through the years I've been asked if I was Nigerian or Ghanaian from people who were from there. Last year I had a White journalist stop me on the street and ask if I was from Zimbabwe. He said that he had just returned from Zimbabwe and that I looked like all of the beautiful women he saw there. I think I smiled for days after that.
I also have a lot of people from the Caribbean ask if I'm Trinidadian or Jamaican. They keep saying that I look Black and Indian or Black and Chinese. This happened a lot when I wore my hair straight.
Recently, I went to a Brazilian restaurant with some coworkers for lunch and I noticed that some of the waiters kept staring and whispering to each other. Finally, one of them came over and ask if I was Brazilian. He said that I looked like a lot of the women from his country.
I absolutely love it when people ask if I'm from all of these wonderful countries. I think it's a huge compliment and it always makes me feel connected to people around the globe.
Ethiopian/Kenya and proud of it 🙂
I'm half Nigerian and i get pegged for being from africa all time by other africans, but they usually think i'm Ethiopian b/c of my big eyes
Very Nice Article! I get it a lot, everything from West Indies, panama, Ghana or Jamaica! It is a compliment, though pre- natural I don't know if I would've took it as such, but I've grown up a lot since those days, and you are right, women from the African Descent are INDEED Beautiful!
I get that a lot and I'm always blushing too. Some say my eyes or hair but I also think its my big ole forehead too lol. People ask if I'm ethiopian, egyptian and other parts of African I've never heard of. I think its a huge compliment.
I recently moved to Harlem and I get this quite often. I'm either called an African or a British woman because of my accent. My mother is from Guyana and my father is from Ghana, in West Africa. I grew up on Long Island, and so my accent is a fusion of "Valley Girl" mixed with my mother's Caribbean accent and my father's accent which has a British undertone. It's never really been my forehead either though! lol…It's always the way I act or as I mentioned, my accent, because they tell me that I don't act like a "black american"…
But I'm very happy that you were not offended!
I've gotten this a few times and I always feel confused. I guess I expect someone from Ghana to be able to recognize someone else from Ghana? IDK
I definitely never thought it was an insult. If anything it makes me wanna look into my genealogy or get that DNA test done to see where my ancestors are from. Shoot maybe they are from Ghana LOL
Anon @10:06, I don't know you or anything, but you could always be mistaken for East African (think Liya Kebede). They're all pure African as well.
awww, i would love it if someone, especially someone from africa, mistook me for a pure african. no one ever has though. once back in college a group of asian girls asked me if i was indian which i chalked up to my freshly crimped, relaxed hair but that's about it. i guess i look too much like a mutt to be mistaken for a pure african. i read that the average african american is 30% european. :o(
I got mistaken for African once but I never thought it was because I had a huge forehead. I just assumed it was the way I carried myself or dressed. I took it as a compliment.
Awesome read! …and very well written. I found myself waiting for the next chapter!!
I love this story! I'm glad that you took the cabbie's question as a compliment. I don't think he meant it as an insult, but as you stated, there are some people that would be offended by such a question.
Funny enough, I don't get asked if I'm African all that much, though I am. My family comes from three different West African countries (Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone), and I think the one time I was asked if I was African was maybe six years ago when I had braids. I guess my high forehead was really prominent then! 😀
I do sometimes get asked if I'm Dominican, but I chock that up to the fact that I taught Spanish for a number of years.
I get it all the time. I have had caribbean people think i am from their countries and african people think i was from their countries. Even a lot of americans question if i am american. But the crazy thing is, i have pictures of me with my in laws, and I do really look like i am apart of the family and they are from trinidad. Sending the past few years around caribbean has really affected my Texas twang…lol
I get this a lot too… and it's also because of my forehead, lol. Sometimes it's because of my hair though. I love it!
Ha ha, my parents are from different Southern African countries, making me 100% African, yet the opposite happends to me. People don't believe me when I tell them I'm Afircan. "You're too pale to be African. plus you've got freckles and curly hair." It makes me happy that you're not offended 🙂 People hate on my continent so much! I shout from the rooftops that I am African!
I get that all the time. Folks tell me it stems from me wrapping my head when I'm abroad (not at home). I have had Africans come up to me and start speaking to me in a different language. I don't exactly know how I feel about that. It's not like stray white people walk up to other white people and just start speaking to them in French or Italian….
Yep, I've had the same from women and men. I also feel the way you've stated. It makes me happy! Sometimes I wonder if the guys are flirting, but I usually don't think so. Well written. I also hope that when someone asks the question and find out that we're not recently descended from Africa (as in the past five or so generations), they may slowly gain a more positive reflection of African Americans (if indeed they had a negative view at all). We are not completely the same, but we're still family.