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As an African Man, I Took Pride in Lupita Nyong'o's Win

03/03/2014 05:39 EST | Updated 05/03/2014 05:59 EDT

By the time Lupita Nyong'o uttered powerful words from a stage that has never welcomed an African, the crowd at Rendez Vous Restaurant, an Ethiopian eatery in Toronto, was on its feet giving a standing ovation to Hollywood's newest star. Her gracious words: "When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you're from, your dreams are valid." How touching.

You see, being an African in the world, and especially an African in the diaspora in North America, is unique. The acceptance of our excellence and efforts is rarely recognized by the mainstream. Most of the time, we are even forced to celebrate a contribution of others that remotely mirrors that of ours.

I remember in the 1990s for instance, Toni Morrison discussing how Bill Clinton was celebrated as America's first African American President by many blacks. "White skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime," the Nobel Laureate said. "After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, and saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas."

None of these descriptions met my own experience yet believed her reflection to be my destiny. I believed that was the way the world saw me in Canada no matter who I would become.

Then, the part-white and part-Kenyan,Barack Obama came along and, by America's definition, became the first African American President of the United States. Even though his connection to the African continent and even interest to the continent was minor, we celebrated his achievements. I even went to volunteer for him in 2008.

In Canada, as an African diaspora, we celebrate anything black even though the connection to our African ancestry is minor. We emulate Caribbean Canadian achievements as if it's an African diaspora achievement even though it is not and in fact, the connection between modern day Caribbean and African immigration and biography is minimal.

Then, during Black History Month we celebrate ordinary achievements as if they are extraordinary. Like the first black bus driver, orthe first black postman who lived eons ago, while sheltering our own dreams and ambitions for our moment to shine. Then, we celebrate the extraordinary -- the Martin Luther Kings and the Malcolm X's -- as if it's our history, yet in our minds we wonder what connections we have with these people.

In the privacy of our own space, we complain and discuss the burden of being not black but an African. How much of ourselves do we have to change or reduce to fit in?

Being an African is hard. The African story is connected too many ills in the world, such as the burden of colonization, racism and the shortcomings of all ills in the world. As an African, one is expected to be an expert on a slew of African issues. The positive aspect of being an African is almost always non-existence. It seems we are charity to the world.

For African Canadians, climbing the mountain top is hard and almost impossible. I have experienced it as an activist in Toronto. I have seen how an innocent idea of an effort to name an area as Little Ethiopia on Danforth has become a divisive issue. I dreamed of an area much like the Greeks, the Chinese and Italians for the large emerging Ethiopian Canadian population yet I think deep down the reservation is linked to not wanting to be associated to or with Africa. Despite the many shortcomings, there are many positive stories in our African story that the mainstream often ignores or neglects to tell the world.

Last night, as her beautiful African name was announced, Nyong'o, as the recipient of the best supporting actress made a historic walk to the stage and the crowd at the busy restaurant stood up and gave the young actress a standing ovation. This was not planned but came from the heart and I wondered why we celebrated her unique achievement.

Then again, Nyong'o was living our dreams while validating ours. How can we not celebrate that rare moment?

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