As a (proud) Congolese person living in London, I'm often asked strange questions that make me laugh and sometimes want to scream! My favourite question & statement will always be:
"Is Congo in the Caribbean?" & "Oh, you're from Congo (pause) you're an unusual beauty" This one still cracks me up because what does that mean?
Over the years I have learned that although we as Africans do share similarities we should not shy away from learning & celebrating our differences!
Growing up in an Anglophone country when you have a Francophone background can be great because there are so many different groups of people you can identify & relate to - but sometimes it can be lonely. I've often always been the only Congolese person in my friendship groups so because I thought nobody could relate to my experiences I just became an ambiguous African, I let my Congolese identity slip under the radar, unless asked then I'd gladly let you know I rep #243!
Know your history…
When I was younger (younger than I am now because I'm still young folks!) I didn't know how to share my Congolese culture with others, not because I was ashamed but mainly because I didn't have all the words, I didn't know how to translate certain aspects of the culture I loved so much from Lingala to English. A few years ago, I discovered translating Lingala-French-English is so much easier! That's how I discovered thomson is horse-mackerel, kokamwa! Anyway, I digress...
This was fine until I realised my nearest & dearest knew nothing about my culture, one of the biggest things that make me, ME! (Shout out to the friends that still push me in the middle when premiere gaou comes on at parties). This year for Congo (independence) day I decided to share some facts about Congo on my Instagram story as a way of sharing my culture & history. I wasn't expecting any responses but quite a few people responded saying they knew none of this and thanked me for sharing!
Over the years I have learned that although we as Africans do share similarities we should not shy away from learning & celebrating our differences! When people respond to my low tolerance to spicy food with "Are you really African?" I explain that although Congolese people eat spicy food, we do not necessarily cook our food spicy but rather eat it with a homemade pepper sauce on the side or poured over your food if you're mad, which means it's very easy for a Congolese person to grow up without having to eat spicy food.
And just like that you've shared something about Congolese people with somebody that was none the wiser!
Here are my personal top tips to help you keep your identity amongst others:
Remember that the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. (shout out to Chimamanda). Don't be afraid to challenge the single Congolese narrative the majority are familiar with.
Know your history, I'd recommend these books as a starting point: The Congo from Leopold to Kabila: A People's History by George Nzongola-Ntalaja (written by a Congolese person) and Congo: The Epic History of a people by David Van Reybrouck (focuses on the Congolese perspective)
Easier said than done but if you can, visit Congo.
For French speakers or those that understand French, I listen to French podcasts where there is a focus on Francophone identity and culture. L'emission pimentee, The Why "Le Poukwa", Le Tchip & Thé Noir.
Attend YPC events & do not shy away from meeting other Congolese people.
Gracia is an experienced Education manager with a history of working in the non-profit industry. She currently works for the Greater London Authority bringing education & businesses together to create sustainable career strategies in schools across London.
You can connect with her on Twitter or Instagram @greyseeya