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To Be Young, Gifted and Black

The 1920s in Harlem, Paris or London. W.E.B Dubois. Ella Fitzgerald. James Baldwin. Zora Neale Hurston. Langston Hughes. The cultural and artistic movement called the Harlem Renaissance prepared the way for global black liberation

I often envision myself in different eras. If someone ever gets around to inventing a time machine, I would love to visit 3 historical moments.

The mid-late 1960s and 1970s. In the wake of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s, the Black Power/Arts Movement of 70s, and the wave of Independence Movements across the global black diaspora, it seemed like wonderful moment to be “young, gifted, and black.”

The 1920s in Harlem, Paris or London. W.E.B Dubois. Ella Fitzgerald. James Baldwin. Zora Neale Hurston. Langston Hughes. Need I say more?? The cultural and artistic movement called the Harlem Renaissance prepared the way for global black liberation movements of the 1950s and 1960s.

The 18th century in the height of the Oyo Empire. Before the fall of the Old Oyo Empire in 1835/36, the richness of Oyo-Yoruba influence was felt throughout West Africa. I would love to be in that space living moving dancing. As a Yoruba girl, I do admit that I am completely biased in this regard.

Afros. Shuku. Aso-oke. Dashiki. Funk. Highlife. Gbedu drums. Jazz.

Then was a wonderful moment to be young, gifted and black. And unapologetic.

That is…up until now, this very moment of now. This now of Blackness being pervasively present everywhere. This now of black bodies laughing beauty and joy in the face of gratuitous violence. In the face of a system that seeks to steal, kill and destroy us.

From birth, we were constantly told to change. To be other—than who we are supposed to be. We are told that we are too dark, too loud, too African, too smart, too us.

Rarely do we ever hear that we are enough. That there is beauty in our natural existence. Rarely if ever, are we taught to be satisfied with that dark face with big nose and full lips staring back at us in the mirror.

As a result, we spend a good deal of time trying to explain away ourselves…names, accents, clothes, culture, all the things that makes us unique.

We spend a good amount of time waiting for better versions of ourselves to arrive like packages coming in the mail.

Nowadays, things are changing. We are fighting loving crying dancing struggling powerfully to love ourselves as we are now. We are living our difficult individual truths without fear of falling, without fear of failing, without fearing now.

Kanyinsola Obayan
Ithaca, New York – Kányinsọ́lá Ọbáyàn is a PhD Student in Africana Studies at Cornell University, where she is investigating questions of nationalism and postcoloniality; transnationalism, diaspora, and globalization in contemporary Nigeria. She is currently Deputy Editor of Applause Africa.
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