Sometimes how we vocalize things betrays the way we feel about them.

For example, sometimes I cannot stand the word “AFRICA” – the way it comes out of people’s mouths. It is as if their timid voice and the lack of inflection between the “RI” and the “CA”, the dullness there, betrays thier feelings. Perhaps it is a guilty feeling. Like with that person I spoke with who ‘specializes’ in African __X__ initiatives, I could not shake the feeling that she did not own the word AFRICA when it was in her mouth. Maybe she felt like she wasn’t doing enough, or that her career was built on the backs of African disparity. Maybe she felt that her specialization was less informative and more silencing. Maybe, of course, this is only what I felt given my defensiveness. (Freud called this ‘projection’.) Perhaps she just stumbled with her words due to an unfamiliar recognition: I was there, an African Canadian girl, looking up at her expectantly while she explained some of her projects in her unusually large, cluttered and seemingly productive office. Maybe she doesn’t say it like that in public places. Maybe she owns “AFRICA” in public places.

Whatever the reason, something wasn’t right. (We aren’t taught to trust our emotions so I am trying to go back to that place of trusting them for what they might be worth. It is dangerous, especially with something as indeterminant as an inflection in a voice when uttering a word.)

Sometimes when I say AFRICA I am shy because I feel that I have been too privileged in this life. I say it softly. Other times, when I am feeling like a “true” African (the essentialized African) I say it with my parents’ accent. It depends who I am talking to. If I am speaking in Tigrigna then I definately say it like that; if not, then I don’t.

I like when Ugandans say Africa. I love when Ethiopians say it like ‘Afreeeka’, I like when Nigerians say it. I like when Jamaicans say it like, “HAFRICA”. But why is it that I remember exactly how Lisa Miller, my childhood friend, said “Helen is an African” to her mother. She recited it with more than one emotion I think. I believe it could have been confusion and disgust; misunderstanding and judgement.

We could replace the word “AFRICAN” with “ITALIAN” or “GERMAN” or “MUSLIM” or “ABORIGINAL” or “JEWISH”. I think we all get some feeling when someone says a word that is close to our hearts. We might not be sensitive enough to understand what it is exactly, but when we do, I find it funny how some people (ourselves especially) will jump to say we are hearing things.