Nigerian

My Name is Funke

Four hundred and seventy-seven pages into Americanah, I saw it. Shocked by its presence, I sat and stared. Fixated so deeply by the letters, they ambiguated into modern hieroglyphics. I couldn’t decipher them. Familiar but distant. I took a picture and what I saw was my name.

Tosin (toe-seen) is a name of modernity. I didn’t actually discover my first name was Tosin (actually Oluwatosin) until I was in 9th grade. For a significant time of my life, I was called by my first middle name, Funke (foon-keh). As a child, Funke lent itself to humorous, but uninspired name calling: funky monkey, funky chicken, you smell funky. The one time, I fought, it was because someone made fun of my name. His name was Caleb Brown, and I hit his head against a window sill. (I won). Unfortunately, I didn’t have the resolve as a child to own my name.

When I transitioned into middle school, I went by Ola, taken from my second middle name, Dolapo (doe-lah-poe). Ignorantly unaware of the Spanish language, anyone reading this could clearly see how Ola got real old, real quick. Unfortunately, I was highly temperamental in middle school, and “Hola, Ola” lost its humor quickly. I never got into a physical fight in middle school over my name, but I did have mastery of a couple of choice curse words, that aided me in my verbal assaults.

In high school, I landed on Tosin. My most preferred moniker. Half of my life, I have answered to Tosin. I love my name. It fits me well. It has a balance of edge, softness, wisdom, and verve. It has followed me through high school, college, and Texas. I have heard “Tosin” pass beautifully through the lips of friends who have loved me like family. There are not any American songs written about girls named Tosin, but I don’t really need them. Tosin is unique for me. I like that when a friend hears my name, they are not filtering through millions of Tosin’s. There is (typically) a singular Tosin, whose name creates some sort of reaction for them. It is me.

So, why was I so startled by Funke?

Two reasons. First, it was awesome to see my name in the pages of a book. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was not thinking of me when she wrote Americanah, yet I felt represented. I joined along with a 1,000’s of other Funke’s who never thought they would see their name in a novel. Dumbstruck and awestruck. I was mesmerized by the idea that me a Nigerian-American second generation immigrant, whose name was caricatured, would see my name as a complex character even for one paragraph.

Second, it brought back memories of childhood. Dormant beautiful memories of Funke, who was spunky and sweet, tomboyish and rugged. Funke, whose mind was a wonderland of colors and stories and weirdness and spontaneity. I don’t revel in my childhood. Reflections of that time period are embittered by abuses and terror. It was nice to get a morsel of it back.

Hi. My name is Funke.

Next to my many names are the proper phonetics for accurate pronunciation. 

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Christian + Black

There are identities that shape who we are: white, gay, Muslim, female, poor, disabled. No matter where you fall on the multiple axes of this spectrum, you identify with your ability, race/nationality, gender, religion or lack of religion, or sexual orientation. In adolescence, you are at war with what your primary identity will be. In adulthood, you shape your other identities to fall in line with your primary.

I didn’t grow up identifying as black. I was Nigerian. I ate Nigerian food. I went to Nigerian parties. I wore Nigerian outfits. My first recollection of engaging with black, non-Nigerians, was when I was seven. I vividly remember going to Girls Inc. over the summer and hating it because of the girls there. They were black. I remember thinking, I don’t like these black girls, as if I was not one of them.

Since childhood, my world has been overwhelmed with white people. My first crushes, my favorite shows, my music all pointed to a world absent of the cultural diversity that makes life as rich as a Godiva chocolate. It was not until college, I was bombarded with what I had missed: black people, an African-American culture, and a love for not only being Nigerian, but black. It was the emergence of a new and vibrant identity. Concurrently, my religious identity solidified.

Most times when you hear about two identities being at war with each other, it is sexual orientation and religion. However, my newfound blackness and Christianity were at odds with each other and still are. My last semester at Georgia State (2012), in Sanford, Florida a young African-American boy was shot by a neighborhood watchman. This boy was heard pleading for his life. He died. My heart sank as my blood boiled. As, recent history elapsed there have been many stories like this one with names whose legacy has been boiled down to a hashtag and a headline.

What do I do? I dunno. What I have done, is silently condemn the whiteness surrounding me. I make passive aggressive racist remarks and off-putting jokes that don’t address the heart of sin and evil in this world. I would be a moron to not believe that racism, prejudice, and discrimination are not simply societal issues, but spiritual issues as well. I am a fool to not address them as such. I am a coward to not ask, in humility, the hard questions and have the hard conversations.

Paul’s words challenge me: “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” Do, I consider my blackness a loss? Now, if I have some white readers who are quick to consider their skin color as a loss, let me rephrase the question. Do you consider the privileges received from being white as a loss for the sake of knowing Christ? (And, if you think there are no privileges to being white, please call me and I will tell you about some of them.)

Sometimes, I don’t. Sometimes, I hold on to my black card so tightly. Scared that God is going to call me to forgive the injustices of white people against African-American people and me. Scared He is going to tell me to forgive the teachers who paid me no attention unless I made them laugh. Scared, He is going to tell me to forgive every person who’s told me, “You are pretty…for a black girl”. Scared, He is going to tell me to forgive other Christians who don’t care. Scared, He is going to tell me to forgive.

The problem is He already has. He even set the example for me. One that shows forgiveness is painful. Forgiveness costs.

My primary identity is in Christ. So, what do I do with my blackness? I remember, God made me black. God knows that if I fully submit myself to Him. If, I make him first. If I consider my skin as loss. He will ultimately be glorified in my blackness. My blackness gives me ease of access to certain audiences in which I would be impenetrable. My blackness brings relatability  to other people of color. My blackness brings about a diversity and variety in humanity that God revels in. My blackness is apart of the creation in which God said, “it was very good”. My blackness is a beauty in which God delights.

In fact, the deeper my identity is placed in Christ, the better it is for all other components of my life. God can be glorified in my early overwhelming of white people. God can be gloried in my love for being black. God can be glorified in the devastation my heart feels when race is a factor in murder. God can be glorified in my anger towards injustice within the American judicial system. God can be gloried in my desire for reconciliation. It begins when all I am is placed in Him. It happens when I am first a Christian, then I’m black.