This is an email-turned-guest-post by Nomunfo, who writes of herself, "I am of mixed heritage, my dad is black and mom is white but I consider myself a black African. I was born in Liberia but have lived in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa."
I've been a long time lurker on your blog and I really do enjoy reading the posts and comments. There's something that has been troubling me, and I seem to get a mixed reaction from my friends and worry if I'm overacting.
First a few things about myself. I recently completed my masters program at a prestigious UK university and I am very well traveled. I also speak two languages (French and English). I was born in Africa and lived there for 15 yrs (in several countries too) before moving to the States for high school and college and settling down in Europe. I recently applied for a position at an international institute in Germany that was looking for a research assistant for their Africa Department. I applied but found out a few (2) weeks later I had not received the position.
I browsed the page two weeks later to find out who had been selected over me, and it was a girl who was completing her Ph.D. I searched for work she had done and scholarly publications and found that she had done quite some research on the continent, but had never been there. So I spoke to my friends and asked them if it was fair to pick a Ph.D student who had never been to Africa over a Master's student who had lived in several African countries.
Most of my white friends believed that because she had a Ph.D and had published works that she was more qualified than myself. I told them that this is something White People tend to do, hire a white person who has never spent a day on the continent instead of someone who has lived in that part of the world. My best mate said I was being completely unfair to this girl who I did not know and was bitter about not being selected.
I will admit that I was a bit hurt because I do believe I was adequately qualified for that role. Now I worry that I may have overacted and that I should accept that this girl is way more qualified than I am.
Are my friends right?
The reason I concern myself with such issues is that very often, the continent and its people are painted in unfavorable manners. Having lived there, I understand the politics and the issues people face. I've still got family there. Often time what upsets me is that most of the people (in the World Bank, UN, IMF) implementing policies that affect most countries in Africa have not lived on the continent and do not grasp how these policies affect generations.
Anyway I feel like I am ranting. Hope you can offer some advice.
PS....Feel free to post this on your blog. I would like to get some feedback from your very insightful and intelligent readers.
What do you think, dear readers?
Since Nomunfo asked for my thoughts, here's what I wrote in return -- I kept it brief, because I'm sure readers here have more experience with such situations than I:
I don't think you were being paranoid. Unfortunately, it seems that you can't know for certain why she was chosen and not you, but I think it's likely that white/Western ways of knowing were privileged unjustly over your more experiential knowledge. Also, I think your white friend displayed a common white tendency, which is to rather arrogantly explain away the probable racism that a black person is trying to point out -- a terrible irony, because the black person is actually more likely to know what is probably racism than the average white person is!
I look forward to hearing what readers have to say, and I hope it all helps you sort through your situation.