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“My Apologies, I Thought You May Be African”

by Angel


i was sitting in the back of the cab trying my best to not fidget so much in the car. my freshly shaven legs poked out of my black stretch mini skirt and stuck to the hot pleather seat. the ac, blasting at full force, and set on the lowest temperature, was straining to pump air to the back of the sedan and it seemed to be having an extremely hard time reaching me. i could feel the cool air abruptly stop right at the tip of my nose and prance around in a torturous tease. salty sweat beads eagerly gathered around at my hairline like bees to summer honey as i mumbled painstakingly under my breath that i didn't want my twist out to start messing up - i had a date in a few hours and did not have the time to try to redo my hair.
my cabbie, who couldn't help but glance at me and all my awkward dancing across the hot seat through his rear view mirror, took note of my frustration and started to strike up a conversation with me to get my mind off the heat that was only amplified every time he hit a pot hole at what felt like 90 miles an hour; every bump repeatedly knocked over my pink tote spilling all of it's contents on the floor. being the southern belle that i am, i obliged his sincere attempts to make this 30 min ride as smooth as possible. we talked and laughed at times about everything from the new black president to farmers markets and how to pick a good tomato to why women like high heel shoes even when they hurt their feet (including his wife) to the bad traffic and high humidity that day. when we finally got to my destination i was relieved to open the door and meet more sun belt, unapologetic hotness - albeit it temporary until i got inside my front door - i just wanted to get out of that sticky car!

after paying for my ride and taking my receipt the cabbie turned to me as i was placing one foot on the concrete and asked me if i was african and where exactly i was from in africa, as he cocked his head to the side and said he "couldn't place me," i smiled and blushed.

wait, me, lil ole kbella looks african? okay, i have to be completely honest, that was not the first time i've had someone from africa ask me if i was african. the nice, talkative cabbie was from africa and thought i might be too since, to him, i looked like i could also be african and additionally had a "very high forehead"; which as he continued on, is very common amongst different african people. in previous conversations, i had my ugandan friends tell me i look ugandan as well as my friends from ghana tell me i look like i could be from ghana.

it does not happen very often, but when it does, i welcome the compliment. i think african women are some of the most beautiful women on the planet and i am an african descendant. like many of you, i have no idea exactly where my ancestors came from less the region, so when i hear how i look like an african woman i'm not taken aback or see it as an insult, and why would i?

despite my always blushing at the words - i mean anyone who thinks i am as pretty as alek, iman or ajak gets a gold star in my book - i know many, many women who would consider any association in physical aesthetic an insult. how dare ANYONE equate their looks to that of a *gasp* african?! they'd rather hear something and we all know that for some, african is just too black...too something.

i am not disillusioned about who i am as a woman. i know we have been colonized, miscegenized and have our own culture as "blacks" or "african americans", but as a black woman, it just feels different when someone from africa looks me in the face and sees themself. it's kinda like someone saying i look like my mom, or a great, great, great aunt. i'd never be able to see my looks or features being called african as an insult. we already have enough people telling us that all the black girls are ugly, and there is no need for me to step in an reinforce that idea with mental shortcomings that plague many.

i hopped out the cab and straightened my skirt. i could feel the heat from the setting sun pulsating through my tank top as it toasted the skin on my back. i turned to the cabbie as he rolled down his window and leaned across the cracked and peeling armrest, neck strained and eyes fixed on me, waiting for me to give him an answer to his question.

i smiled, "no, i'm not african, but thank you for the compliment."

as he pulled away, i softly jumped on the sidewalk and walked inside my front door, steps from where i was just dropped off. my apartment was as cool as an ice chest and i lazily let my pink tote fall to the floor and slowly kicked off my flats as i flopped back onto my over-sized stuffed sofa with a heavy, gracious fall. i was still reeling from the heat but my smile remained. that cabbie had just made my least until the next compliments came rolling in from my date later that evening.


Photo Credit

  • http://kisforkinky Nic

    I think this was a great article! I don’t consider myself African and I know many Africans who consider us only American. Culture is what make us different. There are people all over the world with skin the same color as mine. For me, being mistaken for African would never be an insult, only being mistaken for anything less than human would hurt.

  • Patricia Hutsona

    I think you are a very beautiful woman, I know that it hurts not knowing OUR culture. I Feel that if we are African Descent then we are African, just being born somewhere else, and misfortunes
    happening to OUR ancestors. If We can stand together we will ever fall.

    • Ericka

      Of course we are African! People of other cultures claim the countries of their ancestry, even though they may be American by birth, i.e. Irish-American, Italian-American, etc. Because we are Africans transposed by slavery make us no less African. I would have said, “Yes, I am African, the blood inside us is thicker than the water that divides us.”

      • Votre Khaleesi (@_AfroFly)

        I so don’t understand why she replied no.
        I’m “Afropean”. I’m born & raised in Paris, France. I don’t speak my African original language, but I do know what are my origins. (Krou people) I’m not less African than an other one who is born in Dakar, Ouagadougou, Abidjan, Lome or Nairobi. Africa is born in me. and as a black woman, there is no reason to feel different when someone who is BORN in Africa looks me in the face and sees himself. (cf. what you said)

        i sometimes feel uprooted & transplanted to France. My country has been colonized and my mom moved to Europe where i was born here. My ancestry wasn’t miscegenated, but even if it was the case, i will try to know how much it has been miscegenated, and would represent with proud every origin in me, and wont replied i’m not descendant to. Yes you can’t “placed” yourself, but that doesn’t mean what you are not from there :/

        i really hope my comment doesn’t sound negative, i’m a follower of kistokinky for now so long (i think two years) and i was feeling sad (and chocked) of what I’ve just read.
        i’m wondering what are African features are….. my sister looks like you(bella) same skin tone, same eye shape, same curls(maybe a little looser). and she is not mixed (and she is born and raised in west coast Africa unless me who feel sometimes uprooted. And i beg anyone to not reply to me “but you can’t know if you grand grand grand grand grand slept with an asian/white/arab” ) so what are African features ?
        if someone ask you from which part of Africa are you from, it’s because you are first, black. just don’t think it’s a “compliment” it’s just because you are.

        (sorry for my bad english/grammar mistakes, not my mother tongue)

  • Nikki

    Thanks for writing about this. I have had this experience as well. I have been asked if I am -Jamaican, Ghanian, from Togo (which i had never heard of until then), and finally Nigerian… It sparked my interest because I have close descendants that I never knew where they were from. Surprise Surprise, I’m 3rd generation Nigerian and sooo proud of it! So i appreciate your article on this!

  • just-to-say

    nice read I enjoyed it, but to reiterate a few of the earlier comments, “African Americans” are African right I mean they didn’t just appear in America, they had to be from somewhere… I am a very light skinned African straight from Africa, and I am surprised to read that some people are taken aback to be referred to as resembling Africans, because they are “light skinned”, there are a lot of light skinned women in Africa, and we all have very different features. Tutsi people with straight European noses, light skinned south-Africans, people from Eritrea with type 3 curls, and cinnamon skin, beautiful Nigerians with dark skin and some with light skin, my point is there is no one African that looks the same, different regions have different features etc. and yes there are a lot of light skinned Africans, just as there are as many dark skinned Africans, I feel as black people regardless of where we are from we should know the MOST about ourselves and our differences.
    with very kind and warm regards to all
    an African Queen

  • CypherPunk

    I was told by a native Ghanian classmate and professuer that I ”look African”. Honestly I was shocked, because my skin is as yellow as poundcake and i have smaller features and my hair is a fuzzy brown, but its always a compliment when a native african thinks your from africa, it has somewhat of a familiar feeling.

  • birdie

    Hey Just Me, but she doesn’t know her ethnicity, that would be whatever tribe she’s from..American is her nationality.
    Nice article though,good to see others appreciating their beauty,bc it seems like everything now is bogged down with the western standard of beauty, so nice..made me happy:).

  • Chika

    Hmm…if one is of African descent, doesn’t that make them African? Or do people say that their ancestry is so far back that they are from the country in which they and the generation before them were born?

    I was born and raised in Norway, but I do not identify myself with native Norwegians, and perhaps that just has to do with my upbringing. Perhaps America is more free, which makes it easier for a black person to say that they are American and not have people laugh them in their face. I still think it’s a nice thing that you appreciate the African heritage ^^

  • likkle ol me

    People are always asking if i’m Ethiopian. I say no and they look at me like “oh so you just gonna deny it” lol! Even an Ethiopian lady in a beauty supply store began talking to me in another language lol My mom was just cracking up cause she always tells me I look Ethiopian too.

  • IampeaceIamlove

    My mother was born in Alabama and her mother as well. Although my biological father did not raise me, we cordial relationship. He was tall, muscular and the deepest shade of black you ever want to see. He was strikingly handsome,ooh man my daddy was a fine black man. I am dark skinned and have his features and was not told until after his death that his mother was from the islands. Which island, I have no clue, but plan on getting his history. Anyhoo, I have been asked by african men if I was african and Caribbean men if I was Caribbean. I have been told I have their features, something about my smile and cheek bones, what ever that means but whenever said I always take it as a compliment-smile.

  • Anita Njeri

    @Njeri, I’m Kenyan and you are my namesake! I think it’s so cool that you got an African name!

  • Rou

    I’ve mistaken for Nigerian, Jamaican, Haitian, and Eritrean! Of course, all of this happened, while sporting natural hair. No one ever thought I was African when I had a relaxer. Although, people typically think I’m from the islands because of my Louisiana accent for some odd reason. Maybe, if you mix a Louisiana and California accent, you get an island effect. LOL!! SMH! I think it is interesting when people think I’m from different countries. It makes me wonder where my African ancestors came from. I believe some of them came from the Congo and Haiti, though.

  • Just Me

    But aren’t you from Africa? Ethnically you are an American but as a Black person you are racially an African. You may not know which part of Africa your ancestors were from but that does not mean you are not an African.

  • Nyachomba

    Thanks for a great post. As an African and a Kenyan, its lovely to know that there are some people who think that being thought of as African is being thought of as beautiful. Despite what people may think, we Africans rock! Gotta love being African.

  • Angela

    I love the message underlying your post! My dad’s from Nigeria and my mom’s from Sierra Leone, but I was born and raised in America and whenever people bring up looking African many people do it in a negative way. I’m dark skinned, but people don’t always associate me with Africa (probably because of my first name) until I tell them and then they accept it with open arms. But my mom, who’s fairly light skinned, is asked where she’s from, it’s always assumed that she’s from somewhere in the Caribbean not Africa.

    Love your roots no matter the specificity to which they can be labeled! Because depending on the man I marry my children will become a mixture of African roots and whatever else may be mixed in :) and I don’t want that lack of specificity to remove them from what they know to be their homeland.

  • MrsF

    Great post! Despite looking (and being) African, I’m often asked if I can speak French. Go figure.

  • Lakeitha Duncan

    My first time commenting, but I must say that I LOVE this post!!! Your writing is amazing! I found your blog about a week or so ago while doing a search on Rachel Stewart.

  • Mila

    Nice. Go’on and write, girl. I get this all the time, too, and have never ever been offended. However, though born in America, I do consider myself an African (with no home country). We are not native Americans and did not come from nowhere. we are mixed heritage Africans (some with other mixes) which is why I get everything from Ethiopian and Somalian to Ghanaian. One of my closet friends is Somalian because we struck up a conversation when I was mistaken as such. I get asked if I’m Ethiopian most often (i live in a heavily Ethiopian area and eat Ethiopian food often, so I guess that doesn’t help…)and girl, yes, I got the African forehead, too:) African women are beautiful, this Euro-centric world has just worked HARD to teach us different!

  • HarlemBaby

    Ms. Kbella
    You are African. You just don’t know what part of Africa your ancestors are from. I am of mixed race. I tell people I am African at times. “They” say I am African American althought my father is Asian (one drop rule), I know the truth. Every race in this world comes from the African women. I was born in America but I don’t feel American. Why? Because if I am “American” why do I have to check a box stating I am “African American”? Why can’t I check “American”? I am proud to say I am African, and Africans I do come across tell me I look like I am from Africa as well. Although I live in Dominican Harlem, I blend in with them most because I am mixed. Majority of people I come across think I am spanish but Africans tell me I look like I am from Africa. I am delighted by both.

  • AGrlCanMac

    I agree with this. I get asked this a lot (even when I was relaxed but even more so now) and am always flattered. I too think African women are some of the most beautiful women in the world. To be likened to them is pretty cool!

  • Jennifer

    OMG Uchechi I’m Nigerian too and totally agree! I always get the ‘you don’t look African’ and ‘you are too light to be African’ I hate comments like that because it makes me feel like I lose something unique about myself and that people see Africans as an ugly group of people. I love finding other Africans, I have friends from Ghana, Nigeria,Kenya,and Sudan. We are an eclectic group of beauties!

  • fabfreshandfly

    I love this post. Although I was born here, it always makes me feel warm inside when someone ask me where I’m from. I have been told that I resemble the women from Ghana and that I carry myself like an African woman. To me, this is one of the best compliments that I could get.

  • Maha

    this post is the story of my life!! It’s a big compliment… especially when people think you are from their country… I feel that’s like saying that you are like family.

  • CandiceD

    I can relate, I heard I was Jamaican (it was implied that due to my eclectic look (natural hair) that I must not be Black)…go figure.

  • Amber

    That’s so cute <3 I have never been mistaken for african ha I wish…I am obsessed with girls from Eritrea!

  • Kiki

    I love this post, especially the underlying message. Girl, your writing style is mesmerizing!

  • Uchechi

    I’m Nigerian and I LOVE LOVE LOVE this. This is the first time I’ve read an article that puts a positive spin on being called African. For the first time, its not “You’re too pretty to be African” but instead “You’re so pretty you must be African”.

  • Njeri

    I get that all this time but it’s usually because of my name, for freshman orientation an African guy walked up to me and was like ” I just know you’re from Africa” . Also a women asked me if I knew Swahili once, I wish :)

  • doc

    i get excited when i hear that (are you african?) too, kb ;) i’m always like…well…not directly ;)
    great post!

  • Ashlei

    Great post! I’ve had similar experiences of African men (and even a few women) asking me if I’m African. I feel it’s happened more ever since I went natural, I find it interesting to hear, oh you look like you’re from here or there, I’ve never been offended by it though. Thanks for sharing your story :)

    xx Ashlei

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