Sequins and Sapphires: Out of the Box
By Kathryn Kazibwe, Uganda:
When I was in pre-unit, around the age of 5, our teacher gave us a take home assignment. She asked us to create art in the most creative way we could, using as diverse and numerous materials as we could manage to find, with minimal help from adults. Of course, most of the kids did coloured drawings of people with oddly directed limbs headed to school or church. I, however, had a different creation. It was a doll made out of banana fibre. It didn't have a lot of expression on its face, in fact it was a trick tying its face from the back of its head, but I really liked it. That was the first time I heard the term 'thinking out of the box', when the teacher praised me for doing it and gave us a long lecture about it, telling us that it is the only way to shine. To my 5-year old mind, it was all gibberish.
Today, this phrase has a slot on everyone's CV, and on the lips of everyone who has a pair. If you can't think out of the box, or claim to, then you're probably dead or something. The surprising thing is that many of the people claiming to be so different are so… not! Obviously, either someone lied or 'The Box' is no longer in existence. Or maybe outside the box is another box, and another outside that one and another until we all finally emerge in Russia.
At one time, Blacks were not allowed access to some places and jobs, by their White masters. They were treated like animals, sometimes even worse, because of the color of the skin they wore. It sucked so bad until someone, some brave N-word decided enough was enough. He, and other heroes, tore through the sides of the box they had been caged in for so long and broke free, which is why I am able to do half the things I do today. I imagine that box emptied pretty quickly.
Then it was on to the next one in which women all over the world found themselves. The same men who had hated it so much when they were denied basic human rights wielded the same sword over their female counterparts without batting an eyelid. Enough has been written and said about that box, whose sides have also been demolished, although some stubborn women and men still enjoy the shade of its roof.
But, I daresay, some of 'the enlightened' are creeping back into their former boxes, voluntarily. I was at a gathering recently where someone declared that they don't like Nigerian movies, to which someone else replied something to the effect that it showed how much they were influenced by the West. A third person, a Nigerian, sought to clarify that a lot of what we get to view in Uganda are 'Nigerian home videos' as he called them, and advised us to look out for actual movies produced and directed at much higher standards.
I liked Person 3's comment. He acknowledged that there is rubbish coming out of Nigeria's movie industry, but also rose to their defense and took the opportunity to point out that that is by no means the big picture. He got me interested in finding the good movies and seeing if I'd enjoy them. My bone to pick was with Person 2. All he did was make it seem like not liking something African, just one thing, makes one guilty of being westernized, whatever that means. I doubt anything as complicated and exciting as identity can boil down to something so mundane.
Of course there is the chance that I'm thinking the way I am because I'm just another pawn on the Western board. 80% of what I watch on TV is not from Africa and I know more about the Swiss Alps than Zombo district. Maybe that explains why I have relaxed hair and electricity in my home; it's my way of saying I want to be White! I don't know.
What I do know, though, is that Africans need to achieve a level of comfort within their identity where we don't feel obliged to shun everything un-African for the mere reason that it is not 'ours'. I wish to do away with this, 'she's so brainwashed, look at her clothes!' mentality. No one knows more about being African than another, because it is the kind of thing that is dynamic beyond measure. It can't just be one thing, in this day and age. It changes from person to person, depending on what they've been exposed to and their reactions. So don't try to convince me that thinking out of the box means not reading a particular author or forcibly enjoying particular foods.
Perhaps this is what we now need to escape – cutting up beautiful greys into sharp blacks and whites to no end.