By China Okasi
(CNN) — Moms everywhere like to ask their unmarried daughters dreaded questions like: Why are you still single? Are you married yet? Anyone catch your eye? Especially around Valentine’s Day.
Sure, we’ve seen Carrie Bradshaw agonize over the issue, watched Bridget Jones’ awkwardness around it, heard Amelie’s lamentations au Francais, and we’ve even heard from the lovable Mindy Kaling vis-a-vis her Indian-American perspective. But, we haven’t heard the modern African woman’s story.
Being an unmarried African woman in her childbearing years is like being a manicurist with a hand tremor: very odd and rather tricky. She is expected to marry early and marry well.
African mothers, then, are in a deep crisis. They immigrated to the United States with the hopes that their daughters would get a good education and fulfill the American Dream. But they never considered that, along with having all that modernity, their daughters would, like the rest of America’s young, empowered women, be so “late” in marriage.
Granted, African moms are not alone in their hopes. But still, some of them seem particularly affected. What shall they do?
Well, first, they might accept that their daughters have not just a “double consciousness,” as W. E. B. Dubois termed it, but rather infinite consciousnesses, complicating their very blackness. If an upper middle-class girl has one or more African parents, for example, she has likely schooled in the United States or Europe — maybe even a generation after her own parents have.
And she has likely spent a fair amount of time in London via Lagos, a common lifestyle practice for those of formerly colonized African countries. If she has lived down South, say in Texas, for some time, she has likely acquired a George Bush twang for survival sake. If she has taken up a neuroscience residency in Boston (which, of course, she must, if she is African), she might now sound like Matt Damon’s sister. And the minute she wins an accolade in some not-so-diverse department (which, of course, she must, being African), she’ll be labeled the “first African-American” to have done so.
In short, she is global. If she is living in a melting pot like New York, she is global on steroids. Naturally, global girls outgrow such local traditions as arranged marriages, dowry and bride price, which have not been exclusive to African tradition (see the English period drama, “Downton Abbey”) but have certainly lingered longer in homes of African descent.
African moms need to accept that globalism has allowed their daughters to know the world better, and as a result, seek partnerships more wisely. This process of self-determination takes a tad longer to form than setting up an arranged marriage.
Thankfully, my mom, educated in America, a New Yorker and rather global, has not been as insistent on marriage with me. But it seems like only yesterday her older sister, my aunt, warned about the dangers of waiting too long, or being too educated, to be married.
Really, if you’ve watched Maggie Smith’s blunt character, Lady Violet Crawley, in “Downton Abbey,” you have watched my aunt. Despite being an accomplished woman who acquired a Ph.D. later in life, she praised my graceful exit from my doctoral program. I’d just turned 21 when I’d chosen a rather eccentric doctoral study. In her words: “What man would marry a 20-something-year-old Ph.D.-holder?” It would be too intimidating to men.
“I’d do better to tone it down a bit,” she suggested. Which brings me to my second plea to African moms. If you want your daughter to be as happy or happier than you have been in marriage, it makes no sense that she should dumb down the colorfulness of her character, the boldness of her spirit and the fire that made her the “first African-American” this or that in order to appease those who are potentially intimidated by her.
If you’d never match a conservative Christian with a flagrant porn star, it’s not clear why today’s educated woman should edit herself in hopes of attracting a feeble idiot. Yes, she’d be married, but then she’d live only to repress herself for someone else’s ego — and what kind of message would that be for the children?
You see, dear African moms, global girls need global boys. Not intimidated ones.
We can sit and try to make sense of why one kind of match would work or not work for a global girl, but we must concede that love is messy and unpredictable. Love is not like your daughter’s medical career with a blueprint to follow, or like a GPS map that can calculate the distance between Addis and Accra.
Yesterday’s woman wanted marriage. Today’s woman wants love — and marriage, if it turns out that way. Olivia Pope’s character in the TV series “Scandal” spoke quite unapologetically for today’s woman when she said: “I could probably give all this up, and live in a country house and have babies and be normal. I could. But I don’t want to. I’m not built for it. I don’t want normal and easy…and simple. I want…painful, difficult…devastating…life-changing…extraordinary love.”
Extraordinary love? Sometimes, dear African moms, that process is just a little more complicated than marrying your cousin like in the 18th century. So, you’ll just have to be patient.