Part of this whole experience has been in search of myself and people trying to categorize me. Well, I guess another name for this is, life. However, as a person of African descent, a part of me has been searching for acceptance in Africa.
Growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, in one of the most affluent counties in America, my black peers would tease me, calling me "white" because of where I lived, the way I talked and the music I listened to. Along with that, I would get the occasional stare of people trying to guess what I am. I would often be asked if I was Hawaiin or Asian.
In Mali, it is no different. The other day, a group of girls yelled "hee-hong!" to greet me in Chinese; a man asked me if I was Malaysian (I was thoroughly surprised that he had even heard of Malaysia). Only a few times has someone called me of the Malian ethnicity, Peul; I felt proud of that, although I'm not. What a strange way to feel.
Then again, maybe it wasn't so strange. Why can't I be Peul? I have a caramel complexion, thick curly dark hair, and I like milk (cultural joke). I actually feel the most comfortable around this group. They are less in my face, quiet and more chill than the Bambara. I could fit in with them, but I know it's not me.
Another reason I semi-accepted this group could be that I get tired of sticking out all the time. Every day I've been called, Toubabou. Can you imagine being called "white person" at least 5-times a day for 19-months? What must this be doing to the psyche of one who is descendant of African slaves? (If only my ancestors could hear this.) Anyway, it was just nice to know that some Peul see me like they see themselves.
Now, going back to the aforementioned question, what has being called "white" done to my psyche? Honestly, sometimes I like it, because I'm not being called black. When I first realized that, I wondered if I was self-hating or had become a bit racist, as strange as that sounds. But, then I realized that it had nothing to do with race or color, but I liked being separate from them.
It's a lot more, "me and them" than "we" going on here. Honestly, being called Toubab has kept me from being swallowed up and forgotten in this African abyss. The name reminds both of us of who I am, a stranger. I've found that as important as it is to integrate into this community, I'm glad to be a misfit.