I Am Because We Are

Photo Courtesy of MorkiRo / Flickr


I am because we are. I am because of those that came before me. I was born free, from a free and proud people. I was born to the Mossi people of Burkina Faso, in Abidjan Cote d’ivoire. From 89’ until 96′, I was nurtured, blessed, and protected under the bosoms of my grandmother (Adja Doubare, I’ll see you next summer, inshallah) and mother (Alimata Ouedrago you’ll never be forgotten) in the small city of Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso. I often wondered where my father was and this is what I was told, “He’s in America working for you and us, where the streets are paved with gold”.

I never felt animosity towards my father for coming to cold Chicago alone in order to build something better for himself and his posterity. He understood what I now understand, which is that, if I am to bring black children into this world, I must make sure to elevate ourselves and prioritize education, to make their lives easier—for I truly know the plight ahead for them.

In the Mossi culture we celebrate a person’s death day and barely remember or celebrate birthdays. For we see birth as the coming of great joy, yes, but also great sorrow and suffering—a suffering that none of us asked for but that we were brought into by those that wanted us to further their lines. So, during the birth of the child, the women gather and cry for the pain and grief the child will endure in the hopes that they will be lessened. The men however during the same “baby shower” are gathered with the father, who is being advised by the elders and blessed with resources. The men all understand that this child, though seeded by one, belongs to them all.

I say all this to clarify the cornerstones that make Salif, Salif. I was born free, I was born a man, and I was socialized in a Mossi manner. Color never mattered to me, nor did I even know I was black until someone told me so at school in America.

In fact, I had to learn that my name was Salif because, back home, my nickname was Bouba from “Baba” (father). My whole family called me this out of respect that I carry their father’s (my grandfather’s) name. Bouba was born free and is free. Salif Doubare has chosen different masks to wear in different situations—and all masks come with their own chains. From age six until eighteen I was re-socialized on the West side of Chicago, where I excelled at school and was on track to be an Engineer or a doctor. Those were the options my father gave me, along with the customary education in the unfairness of racism in America. Though I had no passion for the sciences, I was always taught that to disagree is to disobey is to disrespect—so it took a great deal for me to choose a different path and to convince my parents of its merit.

In my first semester of college, I took an African studies class that made me realize that there are other people who think and experience similar issues—who can empathize with me. At the same time, I couldn’t believe how little I knew. I knew a lot but sitting there, I was a shamed. I felt shame from my ancestors who seemed to be saying, “we’ve been waiting for you to recognize who you are and that you can’t be anything else than what you are.” I know why I devalued the African American history: black America gave me more shit for being African and dark-skinned than any white people. But instead of making me want to conform and bleach my skin, I wanted to get darker still and make them respect me—so I made sure to excel at whatever I do, even if it’s joking and playing.

So why am I a non-conforming black man? I was born a free man and I know who I am, where I want to go, and why. No one’s vision for my future can trump that. Slowly, I’m regaining my agency and freedom again, until the day I return to the heavens with my mother. I was brought up to respect and love elders, women, God, family, self etc. I was taught to think conservatively and collectively when consuming, planning and living.

Because I know my story and have reclaimed agency over myself, I hold everyone around me accountable for giving me due respect, and I hold myself accountable for doing the same. This is what keeps me balanced and happy. However, like Teddy Roosevelt said, “Speak softly but carry a big stick.” So I am ready to check anyone who wants to disrespect me and those I love—especially the profilers and racists.

Salif Doubare wrote this piece for Flux, an online forum for those of us encountering adulthood. Mr. Doubare studied at Pomona College in Claremont, California. He was born in the capital city of Cote d’ Ivoire and moved to Chicago in 1996 where he embraced the public school system finishing with a diploma from Walter Payton College Prep. Mr. Doubare is a Posse Foundation Full-Tuition Leadership Scholar. During his college career Mr. Doubare had an affinity towards education which led him to participate in Namibia’s WorldTeach program and the SIT study abroad program in Mombasa, Kenya. Recently, Mr. Doubare and a few peers launched an NGO (teachsummit.org) to circumvent structural blockages in the educational system globally. As cliché as it sounds Mr. Doubare believes that “knowledge is power” and that everyone deserves to be powerful. “With All People Empowered We Excel.” (WAPEWE) A code taught to Mr. Doubare by a businessman in Nairobi, Kenya.


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