How America Made Me Wish I Was White From 6000 Miles Away

When I was a child, I threw a penny into a Las Vegas water fountain and wished that I was white.


The feelings that brought me to that fountain are not as clear-cut as they seem. It wasn’t as easy as hating my dark skin, or pressing my lips to my teeth in hopes that they might shrink, or flattening my coarse hair to my head and praying that it would stay there. There are many things inverted and combined that took my small feet to that place that day; to put it quite simply: there are levels to this.


Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria didn’t equate self-love. To be sure: everyone around me was dark, all the time, because it was a West African country. My mother had never said anything negative about my skin or forced me to bleach it, even though many other Nigerian girls could not say the same. But Nigeria is still an African country, which almost always means it’s an ex-colonial country (we see you, Ethiopia), which means that the West is everywhere. The West is in the school curriculum, the government, the language we speak, but most importantly, the West is in the TV.


But Nigeria is still an African country, which almost always means it’s an ex-colonial country (we see you, Ethiopia), which means that the West is everywhere. The West is in the school curriculum, the government, the language we speak, but most importantly, the West is in the TV.

I was not unlike any other child: I would watch Disney Channel, Cartoon Network, and more everyday of the week, but, as a child living in a country that had been colonized – and specifically a black one – the effects that what I watched had on me were slightly different. TV shows were never just shows to me: they were small glimpses into an American life that I did not live, they were small glimpses that I began to fall in love with. It was something in the way the characters spoke, the way they dressed, the easy names they always had like “Emily” or “Bridgit,” the way that couples held each other in those fictional high school hallways. Something about it made me cringe at the harsh notes of Nigerian pidgin English, the loud way that my mother spoke Igbo over the phone, the undeniably ethnic way that my Igbo name sounded when pronounced: “Dah-loo-chee.” Its is not at all rare for children growing up in foreign countries to begin to romanticize America and garner shame for their homes. But this was the catch: with the exception of maybe two TV shows, all of these American characters I was shown were white. So here, as TV made me side with America over Nigeria, it also made me, whether I knew it or not, side with being white.

“TV shows were never just shows to me: they were small glimpses into an American life that I did not live, they were small glimpses that I began to fall in love with. It was something in the way the characters spoke, the way they dressed, the easy names they always had like “Emily” or “Bridgit,” the way that couples held each other in those fictional high school hallways. Something about it made me cringe at the harsh notes of Nigerian pidgin English, the loud way that my mother spoke Igbo over the phone, the undeniably ethnic way that my Igbo name sounded when pronounced: “Dah-loo-chee.”

This didn’t really kick in until I left Nigeria for Houston, Texas. Sure, in the classrooms of my American school in Nigeria, I made sure to anglicize the pronunciation of my name for the non-Nigerians in the room and put on an American accent, but once I came to a predominantly white middle school in Houston, everything had to change. I took out my braids that I had had for my whole life, the braids that allowed my hair to grow so much that no one could ever stop talking about how long it was, and I did what many black people have done: I relaxed my hair. To death. For the next four years, I refused to wear my hair in braids, because I was in America now. Having my hair in braids might hint at my Nigerian-ness, might hint at my blackness, so it had to go. I even went so far as to change my name: I stopped going by my middle name, Daluchi, Igbo for “Thank God,” the name my family had called me my whole life. Instead, I went for my first name, my English name: Blossom.

So when I stood in front of that fountain praying for whiteness, it wasn’t rooted in any physical features specifically, it was more rooted in what I was: a Nigerian girl who wanted to be American. And far too often what is left unsaid is that to be “American” without hyphenation attached simply meant to be white. By the time I turned 14, I had been attending another predominantly white school in Austin, Texas for a year and my mom had made a choice: no more relaxed hair. Your hair is dying, she said, you’re getting braids, she said, and that’s final. And from a Nigerian mother, final meant final.


I can’t describe the fear I felt about people seeing me with braids. I thought it would be some awakening for them, a cruel trick: they would finally be able to see that I was black. They would have to ask themselves how my hair had grown so long in only months, would have to rethink the Blossom they had always known and try to see if this new version fit. It was a strange and heartbreaking balance between policing my appearance based on how white people viewed me and also basing my own self-perception on whiteness. It scared me shitless: those white children would have to think about me separate from the frameworks that they had always been presented with, and this prospect of making white people uncomfortable made me uncomfortable.

I can’t describe the fear I felt about people seeing me with braids. I thought it would be some awakening for them, a cruel trick: they would finally be able to see that I was black.”

But by the time I got to high school, not only was my black hair not enough, but my black body wasn’t enough either. By freshman year, I had much more so come into my braids, my culture, and my blackness, but that still didn’t change the fact that everyone around me was white. I began to look at my legs and how much larger they were than every other girl’s, at how it seemed that every girl could eat forever and never bloat while I that could never happen to me, how smallness as standard never allowed for me to ask why we were all so afraid of being large, why we thought largeness was antithetical to beauty. How every girl had at one point been desirable except for me (nevermind that desirability was informed by the cis white boys in Patagonia shorts). But still, Zora did not lie: “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.” And I felt most colored when thrown against the background of my school’s whiteness. So yes, my mind knew that black was beautiful, but everything around me was constantly saying otherwise.


I’m only starting to realize how these are all connected: yes, the west was in the TV, in the way I saw my language, in the way I saw my hair, but now, the West was fundamental to the way I saw my body. I remember trying to lose 10 pounds over the summer before sophomore year, I remember talking to my mom in frustration because I had 3 pounds left to lose in such a short period of time, I remember her telling me this: to stop trying so hard to make myself look like white girls who I was never made to look like. I remember crying slightly, agreeing. But still wanting to be 3 pounds lighter.


I remember being 17, going swimming with white friends for one of their birthdays, wearing a bikini for the first time since I was a child. I remember, beforehand, sucking in the mirror for minutes upon minutes telling myself it would be okay. I remember stepping into the water with them and feeling huge, marvelling at the power of these skinny white girls to make you feel othered, to make you feel like your body exists in overflow. Something about being juxtaposed to people who set a standard of smallness made my body seem hulking, distorted, out of proportion, superfluous: much more than bodies were supposed to be. I remember looking at the pictures of us and feeling gigantic. Wondering why I had chosen the smallest people I knew to go swimming with. Seeing a black boy by the water with a white girl, making eye contact with him, and somehow feeling like he knew he had made it somewhere that I never could. That he had carved out a small space for himself in a white world, a place that being not only black, but also a girl, prevented me from really reaching. I remember going home almost immediately after the event, almost vowing to never swim again.


So I don’t know. I’m just a kid. I’m only starting to really process my life, to process what this all means for me. One thing that my life has reminded me of is this: that the way I hated my hair and culture in Lagos, Nigeria is the same way a black girl right now is hating her skin and 4c hair in Philly, which is the same way a black child in Kingston, Jamaica is bleaching, which is the same way a black boy in a white school in Ohio is smoothing out his accent, which is to say this: white supremacist thought is alive in every space. That shit is moving. Everywhere in this world there are generational systems at work and messages being sent that exist to make us hate ourselves, that work so hard that self-hatred amongst black people has almost become a bonding point.


“One thing that my life has reminded me of is this: that the way I hated my hair and culture in Lagos, Nigeria is the same way a black girl right now is hating her skin and 4c hair in Philly, which is the same way a black child in Kingston, Jamaica is bleaching, which is the same way a black boy in a white school in Ohio is smoothing out his accent, which is to say this: white supremacist thought is alive in every space.”

But I should say this: I am learning to find the spaces in which I can be loved. Everyday there are more and more black people in my corner, more and more black femmes in my corner, more and more people who allow me to feel like my body is mine and that I deserve to fit into it. Sure, I do not always feel desirable because I am not often desired by those whose opinions I center: so I am trying not to place self-worth in external opinion, trying to center myself instead. I am only starting to unpack the fatphobic thinking that made me degrade myself, and, inevitably, others. I was only able to realize, upon exiting my white high school, that the way I viewed my body and other people’s bodies was not a reflection of reality as much as it was a reflection of my body juxtaposed to whiteness.


So yes, my story isn’t done; I still have so much to learn about myself and others, and so much to unlearn, but: I’m trying. I’m trying to try. And this white world will not move for me, has never had any intention to move for me, so: I must move for myself.