When I put this collage together, I had an abundance of cool ideas for a picture caption. “3 peat/3 da hard way/Get you an Igbo Wizard” and so on and so forth (Maybe I should rethink my coolness). Then I heard and saw the visuals for The OJ Story by the GOAT Jay Z and immediately had a mindset change.
“Rich nigga, house nigga, poor nigga…. still nigga.”
Great album by the way. Not up for debate about its ranking in his catalogue right now; I just like it. Back to this poor sometimes rich field nigga.
The three images of me in different clothing represent something more than just a wardrobe change; it showcased my earlier struggles with identity crisis. Hopefully my story can register with or help another soul out there.
I was running late to catch a flight back to Baltimore from Houston. I was a mess, sporting BRED Air jordan 1s, Under Armour Shorts, an “Umu Igbo Unite” tee shirt and an Igbo hat (Formally called Okpu Agu). I pulled out my phone to take an Instagram video where I was singing in my native Igbo language and a familiar face interrupted me.
Chinomso was the key note speaker at the event I had come to Houston for. He founded TalkNaija, a platform for Nigerians to talk about their mental health. He recognized me as an Igbo man due to my attire and asked how come we hadn’t crossed paths as we both were Igbo and living in the same area. After a quick pause, I told him it was due to identity crisis.
As a lad, I was fortunate enough to grow up with both of my parents around. The extent to which they both were around was skewed in favor of my mother. Pops was a rolling stone aka he moved around. God bless my pops for providing financially, but my image of the Igbo man was tainted when I found out about his infidelities and negligence of his family later in my life. When we moved from Nigeria to the states in 2001, I always thought my dad would find me somehow until I realized he wasn’t looking. As much as my mom did to mold me into a responsible young man, she couldn’t sell me on my culture. A single mother with 5 kids in Igbo culture is not looked upon as “good.” I’ve heard Igbo people call my mom all sorts of names because she decided to leave my unfaithful and faithless dad. God bless my dad’s soul as he has passed, but call a spade a spade; my dad had plenty of cake and ate it too. The disdain for Igbo culture loomed large as a young teenager.
I came to the states in middle school and went through the normal African kid routine. I had never scratched anything on a girl, heck I hadn’t even gotten a hug from a woman outside my kin but was labeled an African booty scratcher. It was a rough transition, but I slowly became normal in the eyes of the cool kids thanks in part to my older brother’s sneakers. I didn’t have the money to buy fresh air force ones (the craze back in my day lol), but my brother stayed with a fresh pair. Sneaking my brother’s sneakers to school got me my fair share of beatings/punishments, but it was well worth it to me. I was walking lie as a kid, and loved to go behind my bro’s back and rent his kicks not knowing Air Force Ones crease like hell! He would find out and make sure to punish or tell me to fight back as he punches my chest in. After getting tired of my brother, I found other means of collecting sneakers and looking cool. I became the guy you see in the middle picture. I thought I was that Nigga. I told people to stop trying to call me my name Tobechi and cut it down to Tobe, I told people I was American with Nigerian parents and I basically neglected anything about my culture. FYI I never stopped eating fufu and egusi.
Moving past high school and into college, I realized I fill out a suit pretty well. It’s not about the suit, but the man in the suit. While pops was a rolling stone, he left me with some pretty good genes. With broad shoulders and good height, you throw a suit on me and I’m ready for the “Steal yo gurl Olympics.” This was also around the time that being “African” became cool again. Chicks wanted to date a guy with a complicated name and accent. They finally wanted me to scratch their booty lol. So just like Cavalier and Warrior fans, I resurfaced when it was time to eat. You can start to see the issue here; I went with the wind! I wasn’t firmly rooted in anything! I was just a “cool” guy.
Realization of self is important for every man, and the earlier you realize who you are, the better. It took me until my 20’s to realize my true identity. I am a man of God; this doesn’t mean I am a pastor of some sort, but that I long to fulfill God’s purpose for me. It was no mistake that I was born to my parents, neither is it a mistake that I am an Igbo man. Regardless of the outfit I wear, the God in me will always shine. Colossians 1v16 states “Everything was created through Him and for Him” It doesn’t matter where you came from if you don’t understand the creator’s purpose for you. I am currently living out my purpose by being a loving son, uncle, brother and friend while keeping a keen ear on God’s voice. I listen to God by always trying to identify and clear out clutter in my life and giving a clear path for God to dwell. I also am making sure I embrace my Igbo culture so I can always explain to my future kids and family where they come from!
Hopefully this post can give you a good read, or even better, help you realize who you really are! The clothes don’t matter!