Recently, I was invited to be a ‘VIP guest’ and speaker at the first official gathering of the newly formed Afro-Asian Association. Even though it was a last minute invite and then told of the speaking request a few hours before the dinner, I agreed and took on the challenge.
Straightaway a theme formed in my head and I roughly knew what needed to be conveyed. I was just told if I could share my experience of having an African as a family member.
The theme was black and white and I came that night with my very ‘white’ husband and in a dress I last wore for my previous speaking engagement. With an ever-present flower in my hair (black and white of course!), I made connections with a few people around me.
It was indeed my first official function where the majority were black Africans and I’ve never felt so special. I was given a brief of what the association were aiming for, amongst which:
The Deputy High Commissioner of Nigeria preceded me (His Excellency was unable to attend at the last minute). He gave a beautiful speech about the community in Malaysia and how racism exists everywhere in the world. He mentioned that funnily the racist ones he encountered here in Malaysia are the ones who have never left the country. How poignant!
After hearing his speech, I decided to formulate my talk based slightly on him touching the issue of racism (and perceptions to me). Even though the crowd was smallish, I was still a little nervous about what I had to say. All formulated in my head, none on paper, all done within the last 2 hours!
After getting the crowd’s attention, I shared that not only am I a child of a mixed race parents; I’m also in a mixed marriage. Even though it didn’t work for my parents, doesn’t mean it’s doomed for all. Love has no colour, no race nor boundaries.
Then I shared about my shameful perceptions of Africans (Nigerians in particular). Sharing with you, my dear readers: When I lived in the UK in the last decade, the word “Nigerians” was bandied about as the biggest culprit for all the scams happening online and on the phone. Nigerians became the bogeyman for me.
It didn’t help that her Nigerian partner in Singapore was then bullying my beloved younger half sister. I started loathing their race!
Fast-forward a few good years later, my sister again met another Nigerian. This time she met her soul mate. He turned out, to me, an African version of my own Danish soul mate.
I remember telling my sister when she was wishing for someone like my husband, when you are finally ready to respect yourself and accept only the best, your own version of “Abang Anders” (Brother Anders- my husband) will come floating along.
I pointed out to the crowd the man who has managed to not only give my family and I a new perception about Africans, he completely erased the bogeyman idea I had from the past. I pointed out to a giant of a man (in the literal sense), my 6’4” brother in law, Michael, he who has the gentlest eyes. The crowd applauded him.
I also pointed out that the media has a bad habit of pointing out that ONE bad man, that ONE bad crime done by a particular race, never the good of the collective community. Therefore it becomes imperative that as a mixed race couple, we educate the public about love and respect, showing the world our best moral values and our best character.
A mixed race couple is in the privilege position, straddling the 2 worlds (or 3 or 4 like my family) and being able to show 2 sides of the best coin. Our children will be the faces of the peaceful future, as we are no longer able to make fun of the blacks, the whites, the browns, the yellows, or the purples.
Because one day, the world will be populated by a brown shade of cocoa!
I applauded the group president Wani in her effort to bridge the gap between the 2 communities and I wish her the best in her endeavours. I hoped that the guests enjoyed my sharing and will keep my encouragement in their hearts.
It was wonderful to be entertained after that by promising “Naija” singers and rappers. They all decided to sit with my husband and I and we started sharing stories of our lives.
It was amazing to realise again how it was almost drilled into good Nigerian citizens heads that they must have a good University degree in order to forge ahead in life. If I am not mistaken, Nigeria has one of the highest educated citizens rate in Africa. One of the dashing singer (who had quite a good English accent, punctured with a little Americanism) shared that he was studying Mechanical Engineering and would love to work in a high position in Shell Nigeria. And hopefully, at the same time, develop his skills to start a music studio for other aspiring artists in his homeland.
Speaking to a few more Africans, they all sounded and looked pretty ‘normal’ to me. They were either working hard for their degrees in Malaysia in order to get a good job back home (or somewhere in the world) or they were working pretty hard to support the family they’ve made here in Malaysia.
I’m very proud of my very international family. It has reiterated to me that LOVE is as round as the world and that it is as deep red as our blood. We do not chose who we fall in love with but we can certainly choose how we perceive someone else.
Have you had your perceptions changed lately?