Imitation | 1The assumption of behavior observed in other individuals
2Something produced as a copy
I remember her vividly, her face, perhaps, a bit too clear in my head: the mismatched brown splotches from years of bleaching and the tribal mark that ran across her left cheek. I remember her strained, yellowing eyes and the disgust that filled them. I remember the way her lips twisted and poked as she mouthed, “Ashawo.” I remember feeling terribly ashamed. I remember wishing I were anywhere, but there—anyone, but myself.
That was not the first time I have been called a hoe in Ghana. It was not the first time someone had taken one look at me and decided that they already knew what I was. But it is a time that I have difficulty forgetting—something I cannot shake. It is a moment that became a part of me, and one that set up much of my experience the past few months here.
I did not know it then, but that moment would only be the first of many other startling encounters during my stay. And each of them would come as a surprise because for a long time I believed that moving to Ghana meant that I would find comfort in obvious similarities, when in fact, I have never felt anymore different. The truth was, in trying to make Ghana the home that the U.S. could never be, I miscalculated shared skin color, heritage, and language as the only parts of the equation necessary to be seen as an equal. I had failed to understand that Ghana’s conservative nature did not bend to nourish liberal minds, and that instead, it cut down anything that did not remain in line.
So soon enough, all of these kinds, of moments, became the voice that made my decisions everyday. It maintained a thick accent and heavy tone, a down inflection and clear emphasis. It raised concerns whenever I wanted to wear something short and/or tight and hushed my laugh whenever it got too loud or took up too much space.
I stopped getting dressed up. I laughed much more quietly and I spoke only when spoken to. I tried to be bashful around discussions on sex and reluctant to share any seemingly womanist ideas. I acted more like the woman my culture would rather me be. I mimicked how I thought she moved and I copied her style. I tried to be less, me. But the issue with imitation is that when we run out of the script that informs us, we are left with a blurred line between who we really are the person we have tried to be. We become unable to run from the reality of uncertainty and discontent. Uncertainty of what is, and what was—discontent with who is, and who isn’t. It is when the dust finally clears that we find out that the truth of who we are—who we have always been…is still there, having never left, waiting to be loved.
This is not really about the woman that called me names because she did not approve of my outfit. And this is not about all the other moments just like it. But it is about what happened to me when I internalized them. It is about me twisting and manipulating myself into someone that could fit in. It is about performing under the guise of a copy, because it was the only way I might feel at home; because it was the only way I thought Ghana would love me back.
I still do not really know what it means to be myself. I am still figuring things out. But I am learning that that journey is not worth compromising for a false sense of belonging. I am learning to be proud of my mistakes and to make them loudly. I am learning to be unapologetic over my laugh and comfortable in the home I have within.
It is often, too hard, to imagine the Ghana I want to help shape—the one that does not shame others for what they wear or who they want to be. However, it is always, too boring, playing the copycat. The truth is, I will always stick out—that is to be expected of a first-generation, Ghanaian-American, BOMB ass black woman from the Bronx in any space. So if I am going to be called a hoe, in any language, I might as well be looking sexy as fuck, or at least, like me, when it happens.