Self Discovery, the Education System and Owning one’s Feelings

You need to stop being what you think people need you to be. You learned this as a child.” ~Rita Nketiah

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This is an extract from a Skype chat (February 6th 2013) between Rita Nketiah and a friend (name withheld, but we shall call her Ama for the purposes of this post), Ama was deflated and was considering relocating from Ghana.

Rita responds: 

You are an African womon…anywhere you go will be a struggle…but go, definitely go for the experience”

Rita believes young people are disempowered when they are not taken seriously and considers having mentors helpful in the struggle for self discovery.

 “Do you have any mentor?  I think if I had had more mentors while I was there, (in Ghana) it would have made a huge difference in the outcome.” She writes.

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Implications of trying to fit in:

“Truth: You need to stop being what you think people need you to be. You learned this as a child. You wanted to make everyone happy. You thought that was your responsibility. And whenever you failed in this department (which was often), you felt completely dejected. When you were unable to perform at a maximum level, you threw up your hands. You quit. You spiraled downward. You have always hated disappointing people. You felt like your own worth, your intrinsic value had to come from other people. Other people had to tell you how and why to love you. And when they didn’t, you didn’t. Not truthfully. You may have said you did, but you weren’t actually affirming all of the good things about you. The quintessential Virgo that you are, you scrutinized everything you were not and could not be, because it just wasn’t you.”

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Classrooms and what you won’t get there:

“Man, I wish this self-discovery process counted for some damn marks in the classroom. School is such a constrictive experience. It is meant to discipline you. It is meant to value and validate you by very arbitrary measures. And that is a hard pill to swallow as someone who has always prided herself on “excelling” in school, has always loved learning, has always loved the comfort those structured walls gave her. School is where I first fell in love with words. It has nurtured me in particular ways that I will always be grateful for, and will encourage and pass down to my nieces and nephews, when given the chance. But school is also the site of a lot of trauma, abuse and oppression. School evaluations are great when you are getting consistent A’s. But when this becomes the primary way to assess a child’s capabilities, it becomes difficult when she enters adult life, and her grades are not there to validate her. And then, when grades turn into grants and bursaries awarded (which have a direct influence on your career) it’s even more difficult to see your self-worth outside of this. Capitalism makes us believe that we are only valuable when we are productive members of society. And when those grants and bursaries do not come (because, let’s face it, there are only so many awards that are given out, and how many of those goes to funding second-generation Ghanaian-Canadian identity and home-making?), it is difficult not to feel dejected, worthless, less intelligent, less interesting, whatever.”

Oprah Winfrey says, “Why are you trying so hard to fit in when you were born to stand out?” I guess the real question is, how do you set out to stand out without falling flat on your face without clean air to breath?

Rita Nketiah is an Anti-racist Feminist Scholar-Activist and PhD Candidate at Western University, where she is currently studying in the Women’s Studies and Feminist Research Department. Her research interests include Second-Generation African-Canadian identity, gender and sexuality, and Diaspora in (African) Development. When she is not bombarded with loads of reading and writing, she wastes copious amounts of time on the Internet, reading feminist and/or African blogs.

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