Friday, May 21, 2010

What it feels like to be half-co in Ghana


Hi Everyone,
I know you were expecting 10 lessons but after writing 7, I've covered everything I wanted to discuss. So how about we hear someone else's voice for a change? 

Today's post is about what it feels like to be half-co in Ghana. Debbie Ahenkorah asked me to post something on what it feels like to be a minority in Ghana, So I got a Baha'i friend of mine to write about what it feels like to be Baha'i in Ghana. Now the half-co perspective is here. Enjoy!

What it feels like to be half-co in Ghana



I was born in Korle Bu to a white American mother and a Ghanaian father. I grew up in Accra, and have lived here for most of my life. As a strong football fan when Ghana played USA in the World Cup I supported Black Stars. I carry both passports but for all intents and purposes consider myself Ghanaian.

So Esi wants to write about what it means to be mixed race, biracial, half-cast, half-co in Ghana. What to write? Hmm… Well I’d like to preface this by saying my experiences are in no way reflective of others of biracial parentage in Ghana. In the same way not all Fantis, Ewes, Gas, etc. are not all the same all mixed race people are not all the same. Secondly while race/appearance is definitely important our lives are affected by multiple other factors: education, class, religion, family, football team, and the thousands of other ways humans have devised to differentiate/segregate themselves. So it’s both inaccurate and unfair to point to any isolated component of a human being and deduce what kind effect it has had on them.

Good. Now that that’s out of the way let me start with the word itself, the most common epithet for biracial people in Ghana: half-caste. I, myself, used to use that word all the time until I came to understand that the word caste (as used in the Indian sense) carries connotations of a racial hierarchy. Interestingly enough this is reflected in Ghanaian society as most half-co people are perceived to be wealthier than “regular” Ghanaians.

Growing up was not particularly memorable in terms of race. When you’re younger you pay less attention to these things, I suppose. But I do recall being more aware of these differences the more rural you go in Ghana.

Also, like it or not many Ghanaians often equate light skin to good looks. Think about it. What’s the proportion of mixed race people in Ghana? Much less than 1%, I’m sure. And now how many half-co Ghanaian celebrities can you name? In the time it takes me to finish this paragraph alone JJ Rawlings (yes, he’s a celebrity…hehehe), Van Vicker, Majid Michel, Eddy Blay, and Dede from Things We Do For Love  all come to mind. The disproportionate representation of half-co people in the jobs where society pays people for their looks says a lot. But it’s nice to have a stereotype work in your favor sometimes, so I no bore . Which makes me think: the fact that biracial actors like Ramsey Nouah, Majid and Van Vicker all tend to be typecast as playboys in every movie they’ve played says something about Ghanaian society’s perception of half-co guys….hmmm.

Now as it happens I do not have an English name. This is often the source of dismay, laughter or even shock to many Ghanaians. I sometimes get interesting reactions from this one - “no, no I mean your real name” – as if a local name can’t be real. So sometimes I amuse myself and provide a name for them. “Oh yeah, I be errm …Mike.” But on the whole Ghanaians are polite and friendly and people will generally not be in your face about race. 

Being able to speak Twi also catches people off guard as most biracial people tend not to speak a local language. This comes in handy: I can listen into society’s nuances like a fly on the wall. I once sat in a Ghanaian taxi driver’s cab in the US, and listened to him berate his girlfriend/wife in Twi “wo saa girl wei kraa adenti na wo ha adwen saa? Wonnim s3 me w) adwuma mu?” I sat there with a straight face and listened to the entire conversation, staring out the window. We got to where I was going and as I got down I paid him and said “me daase”, watching his face gyimi as he fumbled for change.

People often ask me which I think I am: black or white. I rarely provide the answer anyone wants to hear. I think the world is not built in absolutes. As for a sense of belonging I have no idea. I have relatives who look like Lauryn Hill and relatives who look like Ron Jeremy and I get along with both. In fact I often find members on “opposite” sides of my family have more similarities than differences. So although race certainly does matter I treat it like it shouldn’t. Humanity is progressing and people are gradually shedding old prejudices (after race, homophobia will be next).  Hopefully one day we’ll live in a world where race is as important as, say, blood type.

Shout outs to Barack Obama, Bob Marley, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, Halle Berry, Lenny Kravitz, Tiger Woods, JJ Rawlings, Rio Ferdinand, Aaron Lennon, Wanlov, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Norah Jones, Nicole Ritchie, Kim Grant, Rio Ferdinand, Vin Diesel, The Rock, Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, Hannah Tetteh and Goosie Tandoh (was he mixed or just fair?).

 1 -Remember her? Mehnn, what happened to that girl, she was really hot.

19 comments:

  1. Someday, somehow, it will be possible to feel what others feel, eg. Feel what girls feel and feel what it feels like to be Half-co or ofri Gyato. I cant figure out how it will happen, but hey no one ever thought man will fly one day!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Who is that lady in the picture????

    Oh and I have another question while we are on this subject matter.....

    PLEASE, THE CHIEF JUSTICE OF GHANA, UUUMMMMM.... IS SHE MIXED OR IS SHE JUST SUPER DUPER KOKOOO??

    ReplyDelete
  3. Interesting post. My kids are half-co and when we lived in Ghana, they were sometimes treated like mini celebrities ie kids following them shouting LOL. My daughter would cry b'cos she hated people touching her hair(which is straight) and calling her broni. She wanted afro hair so she could get braids like everyone else. Here(UK) they kinda just blend in as part of the black population - except people think my daughter's spanish/south American. One looks asian, the other morrocan and another like your regular half-co(whatever that is),so I've been told, no kidding! Once at a funeral, my daughter was digging into some kenkey+shito(the Ga way) when a delegation (led by a woman. herself half-co) sought me out to tell me 'well done' I was like 'why?' She's Ghanaian too so she eats Ghana food!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Being half-co in Ghana is not a problem at all - as the writer says, you're considered beautiful, wealthy and of a "higher class". I'm female and very dark-skinned and I can't even begin to recount the torture it was growing up in Accra - from co-darkie, to coal pot to blackie to gorilla to mother nigg*r, it was never-ending torments from both family (not immediate, but cousins, etc) and schoolmates. All I had to do was to get into an argument with someone and out came the nasty comments. It's a miracle I have any self-esteem at all!

    ReplyDelete
  5. So I agree...every "half-caste" (oh how I hate that word) person living in Ghana has had a different experience. But commenting on the post above, just because people don’t go around insulting us...wait...let me speak for myself...insulting me to my face doesn’t mean that living in Ghana as a "minority" didn’t have its share of heartache. As much as Ghanaians think it is so glorious to be "positively" stereotyped (which was not so positive in all cases) stereotyping in general really sucks!

    I am (if you didn’t guess already) mixed. I was born and raised in Ghana, and had never lived anywhere else or even ridden in an "aeroplane" until I moved to the US. I was very aware that I was different from a very early age. Not by choice, but because the society I was surrounded by chose to shove it down my throat every chance they got. Comments like “what are you buying this for? Do you know how to eat it?” to “you craa, do you know how to sweep” (random, I know) or my most favorite experiences: walking down the street in my own damn neighborhood and having all the kids rushing out and following us singing “obroni kokoo manche, yaa kiti gongon” (does anyone even know what that song means anyway?) looking back now, I can laugh at it. But as a child walking down the street with my family, minding my own business, and wishing everyone will too, I really hated it! It made me extremely self conscious.

    But aside from the fact that people felt like it was their right to tell me who I was (a rich spoiled kid apparently) and to invade my right to personal space, the thing that affected me the most was not feeling like I would ever be completely accepted by my own people. I have grown out of that mindset now, and understand that there is ignorance everywhere. As long as your close circle of loved ones do not judge you, no one else matters. I still get the ignorance here in the US but now I just laugh at it. Case in point: I go into a Ghanaian store. Me: do you have any koobe? Guy: (he looks at me with a questioning look) what are you going to do with koobe? Me: (a little irritated but he’s an older guy so I can’t be rude) I’m going to cook with it. Guy: ehh? Do you know how to eat it? Where are you from? Me: I’m from Ghana. Guy: Ghana? Ehh? Are you sure? At this point there are so many smart comments forming in my head but I squash them all and keep it moving. Sometimes I’ll make a respectful joke…and then we become friends after that.

    ReplyDelete
  6. My favorite is the customs officers at Kotoka airport who give you a twi/ga/ewe test before allowing you to pass.

    Anyway, Wanlov says it best... enjoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPeECums1UA

    PS: Minini, nice post.

    ReplyDelete
  7. @Edward. Your comment sparked an idea. Wouldn't it be nice to do a post on the ofri gyato perspective as well? Hmm...i'm not in touch with any though.Can anyone help?

    @The lady in the picture is Hannah Tetteh. Minister, Trade and Industry. I don't think the chief justice is that fair. Were you referring to Betty Mould Iddrisu, the Attorney General? I don't know if she is mixed.

    @Anthia. LOL. Where is your husband from and how old are your kids now?

    @Anonymous (please use a name next time), even if it's just an online alias like unhappyblackgirl.

    Was really surprised and sorry to hear the kinds of mean comments you got from people when you were a kid. I'm also quite dark (though not as dark as they come) but never got any bad comments. I also know lots of really dark boys and whilst they got comments like co darkie and some of them even adopted nicknames like Black, Blaqus, and Kiwi (shoe polish), i've never heard them talk about nasty comments. What I notice is that a lot of Ghanaian men prefer lighter skinned women and consider dark skinned women to be not as attractive. But taking it to extremes like calling a person gorilla and mother nigg*r is crazy! I'd like to hear more about how you dealt with it, and made peace with it - if you have. If you'd be interested in writing a blog post about your experience, pls shoot me an email:esi.cleland@maameous.com.

    @ LOL at obroni kokoo manche, yaa kiti gongon...I know you're talking about sthing serious but i couldn't help laughing at that one. I know that song. I heard it when I was a kid. Now it's stuck in my head. lol. But I feel you. I know i'd be upset if i walked into a store and asked for something like Gari and someone questioned me for it because I don't look Ghanaian. You raise an interesting point too - What are real Ghanaians supposed to look like? I guess it must suck to have to prove that you're Ghanaian but hey, maybe the perks make up for it? You win here, you lose there, right?

    @Wofa_eric. The customs officials diE, sometimes they ask all kind of unnecessary questions. Where are you from? As in your hometown. Thanks for wanlov video.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hey - I think I know Kiwi!!! He just graduated from med school, no? If he's the one, he's the sweetest!

    ReplyDelete
  9. I teach Hannah Tetteh's kids! Yes I know it's sad that I just got excited about that....

    This was another really good post. I also cringe when I hear "half-caste". When I was in primary school in London it was drummed into us that it was un-PC so hearing it everywhere in Ghana is jarring, to say the least.

    @Esi and Anonymous Very dark-skinned girls have always been teased/ bullied in my experience. I've heard friends/ classmates being called all the insults that Anonymous stated and more. Being dark-skinned if you're a man doesn't seem to be as much of a problem but the darker skinned girls were always considered unattractive. I think there are still elements of this even now. I always see light-skinned women referred to as being "pretty and fair" whether they're good looking or not. And the woman who decided to tell me "you're very pretty even though you're quite dark" clearly demonstrates that this issue is alive and well!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I am not half-caste, although I am half Ghanaian. I am light-skinned and so get the 'obroni' treatment. I am ashamed to say i have taken advantage of it and still do. There is this mini market (local foodstuff)in my area and when ever I go there, the girls selling the stuff try and speak english with me and end up rushing the other people. 'ye nten na min hwe no'. My twi isn't the best, I'm a Ga, but I think you get what i mean.
    @ anonymous 2 and the koobe situation ... sorry but i found it a bit funny .. and it is so typically Ghanaian, you must have felt homesick.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Esi he's a Brit. My kids are 23,19,17,15,12. The 19 yr old was the one who used to cry aged 5 or thereabouts. We even 'forced' and found a willing soul to cornrow her hair with extensions. Now she's happy with her hair as it is.
    Mixed folk get the questions and comments all the time, but so does anyone who is deemed to not look like a typical Ghanaian. I get this all the time.For some unfathomable reason, people take me for a west Indian or Ghanaian who can't understand the lingo. They blatantly, speak about me in twi or Ga. (might be my locs hehehe) Yonks ago in KFC with my baby, the Ghanaian staff gossiped about us and even called the staff at the back to come and look at us(as if we'd grown horns). Fortunately,they were complimenting us. As I was leaving I said 'abaa na nye' and watched their eyes pop. Having said all this IMHO, I think it's a distinct advantage to be half-co in Ghana, especially if you are female. You get preferential treatment,and favour compared to the rest of us.
    The name-calling described by anon reveals the mentality of many Ghanaians. It's similar to the reason behind why so many of us black women alter our God-given texture, but that'll be another post for another time. Please make a post about what it feels like to be a woman and a natural head in Ghana LOL. I'm sure you have stories to tell. I'll come back and tell you how I was shamelessly persecuted for going natural and *gasp* locking my hair!
    @ the writer, Goosie is 1/4. His mom is half.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I think Anon No. 1 is talking about the Speaker of Parliament....

    ReplyDelete
  13. @Anonymous 1 and Mz.Cleland, the Chief Justice is Ga from Jamestown, her ancestors just happen to come from Brazil. The Speaker of Parliament I heard is half-co cos her dad was a British Commisioner of Police Gold Coast time (or so I heard). Its kinda funny how in Gh. half-castes are considered white and in the States and UK they are considered black but in S.A they are a different race on their own. But honestly, mixed-race girls are like the ultimate on the girl chart and are like the ultimate a dude could have for a girlfriend (sorry if i sound like i'm objectifying) making some of them snobs and kinda difficult to approach and honestly us regular dudes dont usually win ratraces (a ratrace is when you are trying to woo a girl at the same time some other dude is also wooing the same girl thus bringing on some competition)against the half-co boys who usually have their own cars by the time they are in highschool.

    ReplyDelete
  14. good article not only in ghana in america they perceive light skin as beautiful very soon when all black people turn pale dark skin will be perceive as beautiful

    ReplyDelete
  15. Very true. Am American was married in a light skinned color struck family and they never accepted me because I was to dark regardless of feelings and love their son had for me. Eventually got out of marriage mainly because of this situation. It's world wide and not only in Ghana.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I don't want to be unkind to the so-called half-cos, but I find that unless they get a proper grounding in Ghanaian culture, they tend to think that they are superior to Ghanaians... It's the idea that they have options that are not available to other Ghanaians, more often than not their white mothers (generally true) transmit this notion of cultural and racial superiority to the children. Global advertising and its notion that light-skinned folks are better brand promoters has led to the sickening anomaly of a group that is less than 1% of the population dictating cultural and esthetic norms for the rest of us. We need to examine this phenomenon some more and discuss it openly.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Guys whiles reading all this, to say the truth i was smiling i was born in Ghana and lived there till 15 yrs, after that moved to Russia and this is where you really feel who you are, I am also a halfcast, i don't understand why u guys hate the word halfcast i am halfcast and i am proud i am a ghanian halfcast, i was also teased in in ghana obroni kokoo manche, yaa kiti gongo, now i understand that is better than when they call you black money and tease you AIDs as people here say aids is from Africa that means we all have aids. Its very awfull how i felt, i prefere the obroni hahahaha, we should all be happy how God made us, its all in his hands. love you all my fellow Obronis

    ReplyDelete
  18. "Hopefully one day we’ll live in a world where race is as important as, say, blood type."

    Funny you mentioned that. Research Japan and blood type. I'm sure you're in for a shock. lol

    Good post, by the way. I really enjoyed it.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hello I'm Ghanaian and born in the U.K
    I understand where you come from just came back to secondary school in September and i dreaded walking through the door getting rude cusses calling me blick which means dark skinned. Saying that they can't see me in the night ans this even goes on in class when the teacher is there. It's ridiculous and the thing that absolutely shocked me is that people who are from west Africa such as a Nigerian girl does this to me daily it's like being racist to your own colour it's stupid. They are just arrogant and seek attention. I can't stand these people any longer. I don't think we will ever live in a real world where people don't care about colour

    ReplyDelete