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Human Parts
A publication about humanity from Medium: yours, mine, and ours.

Identity

In Human Parts. More on Medium.


Living between my Nigerian and African-American identities

I shoved my research notebook in my desk drawer and slammed it closed.

I’d just completed my dissertation study. I should have been eager to sift through the pages, but that notebook was the last thing I wanted to see.

The year before, I’d traveled to Detroit to purchase it.

I barely recognized Woodward Avenue. No longer decorated with broken streetlights and vacant lots, it was now well-lit and laced with high-end stores, modern buildings, and farm-to-table restaurants. The media called it “an urban renewal,” but Detroit natives knew it was gentrification.

“I can get out here,” I told my…


Humans 101

Your curiosity does not take precedence over another person’s comfort

Painting of many colors.
Painting of many colors.
Photo: marthadavies/Getty Images

Recently, a friend of mine asked me why people of color often get defensive when White people ask where they are from. She had a new friend whose heritage she was unsure of. She genuinely wanted to learn more about him and asked where he was from. Her question led to a disagreement, hurt feelings, and offense on both sides.

For people who don’t fit the stereotypical social expectations of an American identity—whether because of their skin color, accent, or any number of factors—this question can come up a lot.

And it’s almost always a White person who asks.

If…


This Is Us

Illustration: Niege Borges

i hate those stories

the ones
where women recall
how they once hated
the shade
of their deep dark skin

the same stories
that appear in
Oprah’s documentaries
and characterize
the dark-skinned women
across her network

whenever i hear them
i never understand
how ugly words
can form on the lips
of such beautiful women

i hate hearing them

because
they dig up
old memories
i buried

memories
of when
i wanted to
live outside
of my own skin

it wasn’t my choice
it was
the narrow
beauty perceptions
that are placed
on young Black girls

Black
African
booty
scratcher
girls like me

why you so dark…


This Is Us

Society asked me to take a man’s name. I didn’t want to.

Photo: Marissa Price/Unsplash

20 years ago

I got married! I am 20 years old. I replace my family name with my husband’s without a thought. Two become one—how romantic.

15 years ago

Back in university at the age of 25, and after birthing two beautiful children, I explore self. I realize I have come to dislike my married name. It is unbeautiful. Most people mispronounce it, and when they get it right, it sounds like “grunt.” I miss the meaning of my old name, “summer field.”

I also begin to learn about patriarchy—through my classes and at home. The men in my husband’s family are unlike the men I…


Global cuisine and its untold stories

Simple crayon drawing of a dish of kimchi, a spoon, and a set of chopsticks on a blue-gridded placemat.
Simple crayon drawing of a dish of kimchi, a spoon, and a set of chopsticks on a blue-gridded placemat.
Illustrations: Julladonna Park

Probiotic. Raw. Vegan. Napa cabbage kimchi. We cackled at the labels on the sorry-looking mason jars filled with sallow yellow leaves.

Kimchi had become ubiquitous in my chosen spaces — a trendy fusion diner, an upscale grocery chain, YouTube channels filled with millennial cheer. It had become some sort of Asian sauerkraut, a pickle that imbued some kind of cosmopolitan flair to the irreverent melting pot of North American cuisine.

To me, kimchi is an inheritance I never asked for, a reminder of the lineage I belong to — a genealogy of women’s sacrifice and buried stories, and the painful…


This Is Us

The pursuit of a PhD from my urban vantage point

A dark-skinned person with dreads dipping backward while dancing.
A dark-skinned person with dreads dipping backward while dancing.
Illustration: Niege Borges

what they don’t tell you
about getting your PhD
is that your childhood memories
of growing up
on the Westside of Detroit

and sitting inside of
overcrowded
public school
classrooms
with more students than desks
will be etched across
the pages
of your mandated
course readings

they don’t tell you
that your carefree moments
of sharing textbooks
with your classmates
and bike riding
up
and
down
pothole-ridden side streets
past boarded up homes
with caved-in roofs
hidden behind
tall dense grass
will be placed inside of a frame

they will
hang it on a wall
and gaze at it
and their faces will…


Humans 101

Instead of simply assuming everyone’s trying their best, ask: ‘What if they’re secretly suffering?’

Illustration of a swimming pool ladder going down into the galaxy of a pink person’s mind.
Illustration of a swimming pool ladder going down into the galaxy of a pink person’s mind.
Illustration: dickcraft/Getty Images

When I am angry and irritated by a result I don’t want to accept, remembering to ask, “What if they are trying their best?” usually works to calm my roiling emotional heartburn. But a heated encounter at my community center pool last summer had me thinking about how I can go a step further to ask, “What if they are suffering?” Can “assuming suffering” go beyond just dissipating frustration to actually building a bridge of empathy? And should I extend this kind of personal empathy even to someone who is wielding systemic privilege?

I love swimming because it always makes…


This Is Us

On who I am and where I came from

Multicolored gradient image of a mountain range.
Multicolored gradient image of a mountain range.
Photo: anand purohit/Getty Images

I found the source,
The place I sprouted from
Through all the wombs before,
Where I discovered truth
Without a blindfold at last,
Unearthed with just a little digging.
There in revered old books,
Grand old buildings,
Old street names,
Sugar, cups of tea,
But I was taught not to see.

I lost my root before birth
When someone decided
To carefully rub out history,
Keep the ugly bits quiet,
Downplay the numbers,
Tell one side.
They told me I came from
Chains, servitude, rape,
Never power, wealth, love,
Only existing to make white lives
Profitable, easy, fun.

I had…


This Is Us

A story of transition, family estrangement, and academic achievement

Chess pieces with three black ones illuminated with a reflection.
Chess pieces with three black ones illuminated with a reflection.
Photo: Markus Spiske/Unsplash, edited by author.

I have a lot to say about names. Like most writers who’ve dabbled in fiction, I’ve spent ages trawling baby name websites, diving into the meaning and vibe given off by a particular array of syllables. And as someone who has been active in chat rooms, forums, and on social media since 1998, I have considered and tried on many labels and pseudonyms for myself.

Then there’s the fact that I’ve changed my own legal name twice. Three times, if you count when I got my PhD.

And I do count it. Getting a doctorate changed my prefix, the way…

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