BENJA MUST GO: Dunkwa-on-Offin, where I’m local

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I left Ghana at the age of 8 and little I knew about the world out there. Now I’m almost 22. I’ve longed to return to Ghana for the longest time, but the thought was never strong enough. But great friends came my way, maturity did its part and I finally took the step to come to Ghana. It’s Friday afternoon, and I’m sitting right here, in Ghana; I’m in my mother’s ancestral hometown, ready to celebrate the life of my aunt, Margaret, who passed two months ago. Aunt Maggie raise me between the ages of 2 and 8, and the last time I saw her I was 8, on 14th August 2002. I should have been here earlier.

When I left my ancestral hometown of Dunkwa-on-Offin I was 8, aware of my being but not of the world around me. I grew up under the protection of strong and loving matriarchs, and my household was (is) known by people who were near and far. I played with every child in this town and every mother and father knew me.

When I moved to Italy I entered a new space, a place where new memories, languages and traditions were formed. I did not let go the memories I had from my hometown, but they faded slowly, leaving fragments of stories. My parents held the fragments together.

On Wednesday I made my return to Dunkwa, where I grew up. I don’t hold memories of people, just some few uncles who I’ve been talking to all this while. I’ve been to the market several times, I’ve been walking through the streets of downtown Dunkwa and people never fail to recognise me and say my full name. Yesterday I was stopped by some elders who told me the jokes I would share with them when I was a little girl; I told them I don’t remember, and they proceeded to lament how time flies and changes people. They told me not to worry, that I’m home now and that’s all that matters.

These days I’m reminded of Taiye Selasi’s “Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From, Ask Me Where I’m Local” through my story of encountering my hometown after 14 years. Thinking about the place of origin of a person, one can have two notions -whether by choice or by circumstances, of locality. I’m local (1) where I am recognised as such, (2) where I recognise the place as such. I’m reminded that it’s not where one is born nor where one lives that gives one locality and a sense of belonging, but a shared system of memories from the person toward the place and/or viceversa.

MY HAIR AND I: on negotiating the idea of beauty standard

I was born in Ghana, and at the age of eight I moved to Italy. In Ghana I was living in a fairly big town, where everyone would dress the way that please their soul, and wear their hair in many, sometimes fascinating, styles. I never knew, nor realised, I was Black until I went to Italy; until I was made aware of my different shade of brown. I never knew I had to conform, until I went to Italy.

I have two sisters, and my mother always took care of our appearance, whether it was the hair, the clothes or otherwise. My mother is a typical West African woman: black, loud, and proud of all things African, especially Ghanaian.

Every morning, from Monday to Saturday, she would wake me up, help me get my school uniform together, and then do my hair. My mother is a typical West African woman: black, loud, and proud of her culture and her ways. She would often braid my hair with the Ghanaian black thread, and send me to school; but she would often not notice the mockery I would receive from my classmates, my White classmates. My relaxed but not that straight threaded hair became my worst nightmare. I wished I could one day wake up and have this smooth and long blood hair I would see on the TV, but that would not happen.

So as a child I grew up hating what I had on my head; hating it so much that I would not go to school. I started dreaming of having long straight hair, the kind of hair you would find in magazines and on the cover of relaxer creams, but that didn’t do what they promised to do. I grew up accepting an unconscious discrimination of who I was and of my appearance, a discrimination I never questioned because I never saw the problem with it; because straight, smooth and long hair was the norm, the beauty standard.

I did have big dreams of having locs, but that was not possible, because they looked untidy, smelly and all round not an appropriate way to wear the hair on your head. (I am glad to say that this is not true! As you can witness, my hair smells of strawberries coated with honey and confidence)

I have been out of Italy for about two and half years now, and it took me a couple of countries, a sea, a different language and a multi-faceted shades of brown, to understand that it was not my hair, and the colour of my skin, but the ignorance of people who are too absorbed in their self-righteous being and doing.

Not long ago I decided, after getting to know a world that I’ve never asked to know, to leave my hair alone, to try to love it the way one loves its own self. I failed and went back to the relaxers, because I was lacking in confidence and support.

Now I’ve found the courage to go back to that decision and to embrace it with all my will, even if it’s hard and “different”, the kind of different I would normally avoid. Now, there’s no greater joy than to experience this crown of hair grow heavy and heavier, like the crown of queen Nefertiti.

The danger of portraying a beauty standard that does not embrace diversity and intersectionality (economically, socially and politically), lies in the discrimination and segregation of a portion of the society, a discrimination that is not only physically harmful, but psychologically damaging (like it was for that eight years old me).

This is the transcript of a talk I gave at the Women of Colour Forum event on “White Beauty Standards” at the University of Manchester Students’ Union on December 11th, 2015. During the speech, I made reference to identity and Blackness in Italy through this article I wrote a while ago. For more information on the talk, or comments, please share in the comments section below or email me at benjamina@theafricanitalianproject.com.

You didn’t get the job because you are not qualified, not because you are Black

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I wrote about this some time ago, and because I’ve witnessed it again, let me argue it once more.

I am a Black Woman, and I am aware of how this race and gender shape how I walk through life as a human being. However, I also know that my experiences cannot be limited just because of my gender and/or race. I know the barriers and sometimes it’s difficult to shatter glass ceilings, or be who I want to be because of, in the words of bell hooks, the ‘White supremacist capitalist patriarchy’. BUT a lot of the times, I sadly see some Black people using race to justify their actions and to deflect the truth, or using race to escape reality and the heart of the matter. Let’s talk about the fact that you didn’t get the job because maybe you are not qualified, instead of making it a race party! One could argue you didn’t get the job because you have not been provided with the opportunities to be able to be prepared, like a White person. Fair argument, but this is not the point. The employer’s goal, at that given time, is not to embrace the opportunities you were not given, but is to find the most appropriate person to hire. Let’s talk about the fact that you are being kicked out of the store because you are actually stealing, instead of making it a race issue! Is stealing an intrinsic factor to your Blackness? Not that I am aware of.


I am a warrior and advocate for the rights of my people, and it frustrates me to witness these situations, because it takes away the dignity of people who are actually experiencing unfair treatment because of race and/or gender.

This is a very complex issue, and I know my opinion comes as unpopular, but get out of your feelings and get the message. We can agree to disagree.