by Oluwaseun Olowo-Ake
“You should give thanks that you get to make a comfortable living on this soil!”
The blonde girl on TV yelled at me when my knees caved in sorrow at the death of yet another of my brothers.
“You should give thanks that we gave you a platform and stop misleading our kids with it,”
The people with money protested when I celebrated my sister defying odds and rising to the top in her field… because she didn’t think like them.
“You should give thanks that we want to hear you out and not say such offensive things to us,”
The crowd told me through clutched pearls as I narrated an experience I had with a particularly hateful fellow on the way there.
“You should give thanks that you have fans screaming their lungs out to your songs and work harder to make yourself more marketable, you don’t want to lose them,”
The industry told me as it took ol’ girl by the hand and paraded her to those same fans with her new hair, new face and new body that… mimicked mine?
“N*****, you should give thanks that we gave you a chance to represent this country, and you should have done better,”
The angry man on the bird app ranted at me, throwing the ‘n-word’ in for dramatic effect, because I had lost a game.
“I should give thanks that I have another place to call home.”
I tried to convince myself when that confirmation came in the mail. I mean I was thankful at first, but then as the congratulations poured in, the “yay, you get to stay”s and “you are a blessing to this country,” all I felt was trapped.
“I should give thanks that I have so many opportunities to work.”
I said, when I thought about how much it bothered me that the people I care most about in the world watch my life unfold through a screen.
“I should give thanks that I’m here. My friends look at me and praise me, I know they would give anything to be where I am right now.”
The guilt makes it hard to celebrate the wins and to mourn the losses.
One minute it’s, ‘look at me, feeding off this place that I complain so much about’, the next, ‘how can I say that about this place that has done all this for me?’
I have come to believe my thoughts and emotions to be like the numbers that sustain the devices that feed us: binary; when, in reality, they are complex and layered and intentionally made so through infinite, divine, wisdom.
I give thanks because I can work and eat,
And I lament because some of my brothers and sisters don’t get a chance.
I give thanks because I can wear these colours,
And I lament because I must be your version of me to be worthy of them.
I give thanks because I can chase my dream,
And I lament because my features propel them forward but hold me back.
I give thanks because I can build a life,
And I lament because I must do so away from the warmth of home.
I give thanks because I am listened to,
And I lament the theft of my voice.
I give thanks because I am made strong through resilience,
And I lament because I constantly have to prove that strength.
I give thanks for the air in my lungs,
And I lament the suffocation of my brothers and sisters.
I give thanks and lament; because I can do both, yet don’t have the room.
© Oluwaseun Olowo-Ake
Themes: blackfishing, racism, immigration, duality