I have never experienced racism as it is in the books. Occasional stares from non blacks maybe, and I guess that can pass, humans will always be humans. I don’t however expect that in the century that we are in, human beings will still be classified based on what they do, much less skin colour. It is perhaps still subtly there, like in a work environment, not direct and profound but it is there. Well at least that’s what I thought. Let me give you a little background story. I live in small town Takoradi, western region of Ghana. It is the oil producing town of Ghana, so it is not rare to see people of ALL races in Takoradi. Deutch, English, Nigerian, American, Ivorian, Venezuelan, Pakistani, Indian, Chinese, name it. Blacks are blacks really. An Ivorian can easily be called a Ghanaian until you hear him speak. But light skin doesn’t exactly mean American only. In Takoradi though, foreigners are only those who are light skinned. There are blacks, and then there are the “obruni’s”. American, Chinese, Lebanese, as long as you are light skinned, you fall in the obruni bracket. The rest of you from Tanzania, Uganda, (black) Brazil, Nigeria don’t count, despite the fact that you are miles away from home. Obruni means “the one who beats” derived from colonial times, which many light skinned people believe should be extinct by now, considering they are not particularly the ones who did the beating. I agree. Its been too long. Subtle racism maybe. In all fairness though, they don’t mean it to be derogatory, infact Obruni’s are still sucked up too.
As long as you are black, the average Ghanaian starts to speak Twi to you, until he realises you don’t get him. And even after that, he keeps speaking Twi, maybe hoping that perhaps by some divine intervention you will suddenly understand him. Everything is over priced in Takoradi. It is not surprising, I mean, not with the number of foreigners you find. Anyway in restaurants or relaxation spots, there is a sea of light skinned people, and then there is a flock of Ghanaians accompanying them. I believe you are all smart, so define accompanying in your own words. My definition will be what Nigerians like to call attache. So, moving on. Takoradi reminds me of Ibadan in Nigeria, all you can do to have fun is eat, pretty much, so you try out all the restaurants one by one, and then begin again. On the day I saw the warning above, it was the turn of the restaurant at the Country Club around Beach Road. From the parking lot you could tell that 90 percent of the people inside were light skinned (Americans maybe), well I don’t know about you but I can tell who Americans are by the sort of cars they drive.
Yea, and there this bold sign post was standing there, by the entrance. I don’t even know how it caught my eyes, because generally I don’t see such things like sign posts and posters until the 10th visit maybe. There, in all its pride, it read ;
Drivers, Houseboys, Housegirls and Nannies are not allowed in the club.
I immediately took a photo. I was so shocked I didn’t even read the other rules until I went back to view the photo I had taken.
Now I don’t know how you may view this, but for me, it is a direct racist attack, especially on Ghanians since it is their country anyway. I’ll tell you why I think it is. There are obviously no white drivers or house-helps in Takoradi. Non whatsoever. Any driver or house-help is an indigene. Hence such specifics from the management of the club. If for instance light skinned foreigners generally travelled with their nannies, I doubt this rule would have been made. So how are the house-helps different from other humans coming in to eat? Maybe you can tell who they are by their tattered clothes. To which I’ll like to ask, why is your house help dressed in tattered clothes? I digress, that’s for another blog post. See its not even a sub rule like “Drivers/House-helps of Guests should ensure not to be loud or obstruct bla bla bla” its the first and major rule of the Country Club.
I examined the 2nd rule that says children must be accompanied by parents or a responsible adult. Isn’t it the job of the nanny or the help to be a responsible adult in the absence of the parents? I am guessing it is because of this same drivers and nannies that the 3rd rule applies. Maybe, maybe not. This is a club where there is a tennis court, swimming pool and a park where anyone should be able to stay, even if you don’t want to go into the restaurant . It is run by light skinned folks, so why they felt the need to draw that line, in a host country, I am still trying to comprehend. Unfortunately, I am not a Ghanaian, and I will not be raising placards to demand fair treatment, but I vehemently refused to be treated like 2nd class that day, seeing that we were the only blacks (family friends) If I needed the waitress 5 times, I called for her. She wanted to scantily read me what was available that day, but I demanded the menu, twice. She wasn’t willing to have conversations, just dumping the plate and generally having attitude. I wouldn’t have non of that. All of this was majorly an attempt to get over and done with us since it is generally assumed that only the obruni‘s can pay “good money” for the food.
Ultimately, I resist racism of any form, whether it is coated under the guise of driver/house-help, purposeful direct name calling(nigger, obruni) or obvious feeling of superiority from any one. That you are a nanny is not what you are. Its only what you do. We are humans first, before any such classifications of white, black, doctor, rich, nanny, superior, or poor can be bestowed on us. If you look down on people, the people seemingly beneath you, I consider you racist, because there is only, truly one race, the HUMAN RACE.
6 Comments Add yours
I couldn’t agree more! There is indeed only one race, the Human Race. Thank you very much Mrs. Owolabi for this very beautiful, beautiful and insightful piece.
May your inks never face racism.
Make sense die.
Hmm! I never knew you have experienced this same thing. I and my kids were given wicked stares when I went to look for their tennis coach inside the Country club. All the people in their were Obrunis and the only blacks there were some Ghanian ladies apparently married to the Obrunis. Lo and behold, after 10 minutes, I guess they couldn’t bear seeing my boys running about in the courts, they sent the manager (Obruni) whom I know from my kids school to ask me if I was a member.
She ended up handing me a registration form which has in bold letters “New members would be placed under a 6 months probation”. Racism inside Africa.
Lovely and very explicit piece Tope! Well done!