There seems to be a misconception that when an individual or a family, move from a third world country to a first world country- life is perfect and lived without caution or worry. This fallacy has led to most (not all) people in the diaspora to portray an image that makes it seem as if we DEFINITELY are living our best life all the time.
Even though there are those who are living their life to the fullest daily, this does not apply to everyone in the diaspora. Whether you have a red passport (code name: British Citizen) or you do not, life still kicks you in the shins as much as it pleases. Being amongst the majority of those who do not live life to the fullest daily, I will give you a glimpse of the day to day struggles (and pros) of living in the diaspora as an immigrant or as most natives like to call us; foreigners.
Yep, there is racism in England. I know right, SHOCKER! One would not notice until you really paid attention. You are possibly thinking, “Oh if you really have to pay attention is it really racism or you are just nitpicking?” or, “Is it not suppose to be as obvious as racism in America?”. Well, I am glad that has crossed your mind because I will gladly explain to you from experience. Racism in England is very subtle (amongst white people, do not get me started on Asians), it could be thought of as ignorance or innocence (the former yes however the latter, not so much) but it really is racism. As much as the country believes in tolerance, acceptance and equality, it is never really practised.
There comes a time in every breathing African (or black person, I am speaking from an African’s point of view because that is what I relate to) person’s life when we encounter someone who tells us how “articulate” or “well spoken” we are. This is usually said with such amazement and disbelief as to how an African can sound so well educated. It is mostly said as a compliment, like Oh my goodness, look at this black person correctly forming a full sentence in English. It is always followed with, where you born here and if not, how long have lived here? While these might seem like harmless and innocent questions, 98.4% of the time the questions lead to being asked if you are here for work or study (code for let’s hope you are not here forever) and of course, when will you be going back home. These questions are carefully orchestrated and accompanied with a smile, they would not want you to feel uncomfortable or have you think there is an agenda to the questions, now would they?. However, because you are a person with good home training, you answer with your articulate tongue and of course, a smile. Praying they do not interrogate you with sly questions of whether you are a citizen or you are here on a visa because that is usually the decider as to whether you are worth the tolerance or not. And most times, either way, you are not.
If it is not the 21 question routine, it is the look. The “look” of disapproval and disgust, that will put you in your place and make your black body feel pale making you wish you were invisible. It is a look which has questions and answers at the same time. “Who do you think you are? You are just a statistic from a country (or continent, apparently Africa is a country to most) ridden with poverty and primitive thinkers. If not the look, it is a White/Asian person choosing to stand rather than sit next to you on a bus, even if it is a 30 minutes journey. The worst part is, they never tell you that they do not like you however they smile and call you all names of endearment but behind your back, it is a different story. Personally, I think that is worse kind of racism (yes, it ranges from low to high BUT STILL IT IS RACISM) than someone who clearly says they are racist. I do not like it but I appreciate the honesty because now I know I have to avoid you.
You might then be thinking, if you do not like this why not go back to your country so you do not have to face this or complain about it? First of all, I am a global citizen so the whole world is my home. And just to give you a quick world history lesson, I am a Zimbabwean formerly known as Rhodesia- a British colony conditioned to think it belonged to Britain. Most of our history mainly concentrates on us being a British colony and it is what we have accustomed to. They wanted us to be British (civilised *inserts rolling eyes emoji*) so bad we were stripped of our identity, confidence and culture. Now that we are coming to join our long lost white brothers and sisters in the “motherland” – they have the nerve to tell us to go back home? PETTY!
There are also those who tell you England doesn’t feel “English” anymore (code name: too many foreigners, we do not feel at home). And those who literally do not have time for you and make sure you do not forget that you are black (white and the majority of Asians.) I think I will have to write a post only focusing on racism in this country to further stress my point and perceptions. And yes, whilst not ALL of them are racists, there are still racists and I frankly think and BELIEVE it is something to be talked about.
Nevertheless, these are some of the struggles immigrants are facing on a daily basis, if not hourly. You never really feel like you belong, you get comfortable yes, but you always have to look over your shoulder. It took me over 3 years to feel comfortable here, but I know I might never be completely welcomed. HELLO!!BREXIT!! It really gets scary because your future is always uncertain and this leads to my next thesis of what people in the diaspora go through.
Depression is real- I would like my fellow Africans to say this with me: DEPRESSION IS A REAL THING AND IT NEEDS TO BE TALKED ABOUT! I know this because I grew up having no knowledge of what it was or what it did. It was labelled as a white people disease- only for the feeble and faint at heart. I grew up believing black people always need to be strong and if you find yourself feeling low or like the image on top-you just had to snap out of it and get on with life. As much as that seems to be the safer option- of burying our feelings and blame a demon or evil spirit. It has to do with mental health (and no, mental health does not mean you are crazy- we are supposed to take care of our mind. We need to take care of it as much as we take care of our bodies- if not more). Depression has been stigmatised as something to be ashamed about, it is treated like a bald spot on a lady’s head. You may cover it with hats, wigs and weaves, but until you find the cause of it, it will never go away.
Depression is not always not wanting to get out of bed or being paranoid. Sometimes it is smiling on the outside but screaming help on the inside. It is telling people (even back home) that everything is alright when you feel like you have to purpose in life. Trust me, I have been there- I have had days when nothing makes sense at all, months when I withdraw myself and not talk to anyone. Sometimes I lose my appetite and sometimes I can not stop eating. I tell myself I am having one of “those” days, but it turns into weeks and sometimes even months. I know most people might think, “You are too young to be depressed, what are you stressed about, boy problems? “YOUNG PEOPLE GET DEPRESSED TOO- depression has no age nor gender, it attacks and slowly eats you alive from the inside out. I have heard so many stories of people in the diaspora who have had depression but can not talk about it or confide in family and friends because they do not believe it exists or (brush it off) you are being too emotional.
As much as depression has to do with emotions, it is not being “too much in your feelings” or too emotional. It is when the brain becomes ill and it needs attention, in the form of a friend to confide in, a professional therapist and when it is severe, please do not be ashamed to seek professional help. Most people can not tell people at home because they have it worse. You have no right to complain because “at least”, you have it better.YES, that is true financially we might be better but that does not erase the fact that we are also met with real issues that have nothing to do with money. Whilst we are on the subject, as much as money brings comfort and has its perks. IT IS NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN LIFE. People have died from exhaustion because of working 24/7 LITERALLY. They have to pay rent, buy essentials, save and send money back home at the same time. It is stressful because some people do back to back shifts where they sleep 2 hours A DAY. There is so much pressure and of course, you end up pushing yourself as the strong black person you are- however slowly but surely, it will catch up with you, physically, mentally if not both. People back home do not liaise with you, I think it is even worse for those who are by themselves here. Most people will stop answering their phones because they feel they are all they have got- they might stop replying to messages or Facebook pokes. And while it might be easier for those at home and here to think they are ignoring you- at times they are not, they are probably lying coiled in their beds feeling hopeless and needing someone to talk to or they are probably sick and tired of you asking for money every Friday. Which brings me to my next thesis.
For those who might not be familiar with the term BLACK TAX, I will kindly explain it. Black tax is when you share your salary with your family (including extended) and making sure they are well- taken care before you think of yourself. Whilst this might be viewed as a characteristic of love and compassion (which it is true for those who do it because they want to and not because they are afraid to be dishonoured), for most, it is a burden. Before you come to the conclusion that I am saying do not help the family- please take a seat and let us discuss this. Let us say hypothetically, I am the first person in our clan to move to the diaspora (for work/ school). Of course, it is expected of me (and I also expect the same from myself) to send money to my family (parents and siblings). In doing so, I am also preparing for my future (male or female, please ladies learn to save for your own future, not wait for a “husband” ) and I also have rent, essentials, transport and spoil myself(I am worth it, let’s not argue). For me to be able to pay for all this and take care for those at home, I need to work and for me to keep working I need to rest (self-care is important people). Obviously, one job is not going to cut it, so I need to get another job to try and balance things out so that we are all comfortable. I gladly inform my family that I now have a second job so we all live a little better- next thing, I receive a phone call that my uncle’s second wife’s cousin needs a pair of shoes or needs tuition for school.
I can not say no because, first off I am the breadwinner of the WHOLE family it is expected of me to “help” out and secondly, how do you say no to an African without being labelled inconsiderate and selfish. You will be constantly reminded how that aunt used to change your diapers when you were three months and shame on you if you do not remember that. That will be your label for life, while there are others who really do not want to help (one should not be cornered to help because I subscribe to giving because your heart is pushing you and you actually can help, not to be liked or make people happy while you suffer- you are abusing yourself), there are some of us who are struggling to make ends meet. People are LITERALLY dying from exhaustion because the wage of being abroad and working is a black tax.
Please do not get me wrong, I am not saying do not ask for money when you desperately in need but be considerate too. Give your relatives a chance to save first, invest and make something for themselves THEN they are able to take care of the whole clan. It makes no sense that as soon as the person lands, you are already asking for the latest phone because your current one makes you feel left out (well get a job or wait until you get a job to get the iPhone X which I do not even have) or a pair of the latest Jordans.
I would encourage the people in the diaspora to save MOST of their money. Yes, send money back home but make sure you are saving for your future and for those back home too. If one saves and builds something and they are financial literal, they will end up even helping those at home to go abroad and start a life for themselves. Black tax is real and it is a burden-the black community ends up being in a cycle where no one ever really succeeded because before we even get the money, it has already been spent. So it is always 2 steps forward 3 steps back.
Culture shock might be viewed as a minute issue when one moves to a different country. For most people, they seem to think it is an upgrade but personally, it had me question my manners at one point. Back home, we address elders with respect and you can not look them in the eye (no idea why, but you should never look grown-ups in the eye). Adults are never called by name and you can never be too comfortable to sit amongst them when they are talking. This is the culture had known to be correct and Godly all my life, however when I moved here I had a moment of culture shock (still do, like some elderly people do not want you to give up your seat for them because they are not “that old” (that could be a 98-year-old telling you that), so you brace yourself sitting whilst a grown person is standing *unsettling*). In most if not all Western country, one addresses people by their first name- Mr/ Mrs/ Miss are mostly for formal occasions. So you might HAVE to call a 78-year old by his name, Bob and a mother of 4 children with 2 grandchildren, Sally. It is not comfortable, it feels alien and unholy- but that is the thing, moving to another country is not so you feel comfortable but for the natives.
The dressing is another factor which has brought questions in my mind. Back home, morality was questioned due to dressing and manner rather than character. The reverse is true for the West, a person is judged by character rather than what they wear. To some extent yes, what a person wears speaks volumes however someone wearing a short skirt with red lipstick does not automatically mean they are prostitutes (come on fellow Africans and Christians) or always wearing long dresses and turtle necks mean you are modest. People wear for comfort and are not made to be ashamed because they decided to wear a skirt with a slip up to their hip. Personally, I think you should question WHY you are wearing something and if you are comfortable to have it on for the whole day, anywhere and anyhow. One has to adjust (if you want, it’s not forced but can be jeering at times) to this, and when one visits home they might dress that way because that is what they have become comfortable with my friend, do not think you will not have your whole life questioned. The safe option is to shop for “modest” clothes to wear when you visit home. I will be honest, living here has opened my mind not to think a person is “good” because they go to church 6 days a week and pay tithes on time but to question their character, despite age, race and gender.
Interracial relationships are something we have to accustom to-I rarely saw white people back home, seeing them court or marry each other was mind-blowing. I still find myself staring (rude I know) at interracial couples and smiling to myself because despite racism-love literally trumps all. I had to unscrew and change my mind and see that I am an equal to any living human being on planet earth. There are so many areas in which things are different from back home and one has to accustom to because, at the end of the day, the land is not for you to be comfortable but for the natives.
It is not always good or beneficial, the confusion and adjustments can lead to anxiety (one becomes uncertain as to whether they are doing the right thing or not), changing or altering your culture are always unsettling- it is a partial identity loss. Change of diet is a major factor, I have seen people who barely eat because their digestive systems do not go well with most foodstuff. One becomes irritable, ill and this might permanently affect one’s health.
Tolerance has become a characteristic of most immigrants. Having to agree or smile when opinions or behaviours you disagree with are being practised is something I fall short at. I am talking about tolerating someone asking if I have another name because my current one is too hard to pronounce. Honestly, I have one of the shortest names in the Shona vocabulary: RUDO. RU- (like how you say Ruth) and DO- (the sound a droplet makes when it falls into a body of water), yes it may take a while but please learn, the same way you learnt to say, Schwarzenegger. Sometimes you have to tolerate someone asking if you lived in caves and some even touch you to see if your “blackness” will rub off on them. I have had people stare at me, thinking maybe I will start shedding and become contagious. I have had people touch my hair and say it feels like a sponge (*rolls eyes*) and being told my behind is too big (well am I suppose to cut it off then?). You even have people who are shocked at how “pretty” (pretty is ok but I prefer beautiful, thank you very much) you are as if there are no beautiful people in Africa (*side eye emoji*). Most people tolerate this because your job or school results are on the line.
Whilst this might seem like not much of an issue, it is uncomfortable being seen as an object being touched or stared at. No, I am not overreacting and as much as most white people and Asians have never been exposed to Africa in its glory- I do not think it is excusable to go around rubbing on people and asking if they have lions in their backyards (hey, some people just might). GOOGLE IS NEVER BUSY and if not google, ask me to tell you about my country rather than just assume and making yourself look dumb. Now I am embarrassed for you and I am just smiling at you (feeling sorry on the inside) because I do not want to lose my job. This is the plight immigrants face, the West is so misinformed about Africa at times I get so angry when someone says Zimbabwe is in South Africa- not Southern Africa BUT SOUTH AFRICA. You have to tolerate someone asking if you speak African – oh why yes Rebecca, I did speak African but after coming here I have forgotten it so I mostly speak English which I am shockingly fluent in.
On a more serious note though, it is painful and worst seeing a black grown man/ woman laughing when they are being degraded and ridiculed. This obviously results in anger, low self-esteem (even older people have low self-esteem, SHOCKER!) leading to depression and that is not the way to live.
These are some of the real-life issues immigrants face on a daily. Life is not all roses (it has tulips and dandelions at most) all the time. Please liaise with your family and friends abroad- they need emotional, mental support and money from you too.BROKENESS (not a real word YET but you get it) KNOWS NO BORDERS!