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Not typically native

Since 1997, we’ve been making work about who we are. The “we” has changed as the diaspora has developed but the question remains one of the most difficult to answer. Who are we? Who are we? Who are we? Who. Are. We? 

‘Where are you from?’ Shudder. Whilst those four little words set off our diaspora sirens and make us look for the nearest exits, we know that where we’re from is part of who we are. So, our Artistic Director turned the tables and asked where she’s really from….

“not typically native.

So the results are in…. Pre-test if you’d have asked me where I was from – I’d have said Edinburgh. Post-test, I’m still saying Edinburgh. No change there, babes.

If you’d asked me what my heritage was I’d have said 1/2 Nigerian, 1/4 Cameroonian and 1/4 White Scottish….. turns out I’m far less Nigerian than I thought and far more confidently European. Apparently “low confidence” in me being Irish and British. Ok. Cool. Irish – I never said I was. British… ummmmm, ok. It’s really hard to understand what that means… how that changes the story of me. 
My family are CIA-level story-guards, they’re Papa Pope and B16 in Scandal. They keep the story of us locked away in the little chests they carry in their breast so I’ve never known the journey of the Ibus and Patersons, of times gone by, to me, never known the countries they called home, never known the roads they walked to get from there to here, to get them to me, here. So you can’t throw me

Ironically, what did take my breath away was the confirmation that I am not typically native of ANYWHERE. Not typically native sums up my life – sums up being the darkest of a mixed race family, sums up being the only black kid on my street and in my school, sums up trying to make sense of my own version of blackness but finding it nowhere – not on screens, in books, on stages, in magazines, on the radio… nowhere. Sums up university, sums up working in the arts, sums up London, sums up – where are you from, sums up so black scottish is a thing?, sums up where’s that accent from… America?, sums up you’re Nigerian aren’t you, sums up touching my hair without my permission, sums up she’s got wool in her hair, sums up a little girl telling a joke to her adult caregiver – taxi driver asks Stevie Wonder what it’s like to be blind and he says at least I’m not black – whilst staring at me on the train, sums up sitting in the audience watching a show that doesn’t expect anyone of colour to be in attendance of and every n-word feeling like a cigarette burn, sums up always being the one to step aside so you don’t have to interrupt your stride, sums up we’d love you on this panel about diversity, sums it all up…

…sums. it. all. up. Makes sense of it all by saying there is no sense to be made. You’re not typically native.”


natalie ibu is the Artistic Director & CEO of tiata fahodzi. If you’re black British and have thought about getting an ancestry test or have taken one, we really want to hear from you. Get in touch.

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