By: Twumasi Duah-Mensah
It’s pronounced /choo-MAH-see-DOO-uh-MEN-suh/.
The foreign name comes from my parents who immigrated from the West African country of Ghana twenty years ago. I’ve been there twice and went just this summer. As we drove through forests of wiry trees of dry ivory bark and ranges of shrub-littered mountains, I had an ever-so-slight identity crisis. I felt no connection to a country that was supposed to be my “homeland.”
When I arrived at the slave castle in Elmina, a local asked me how
“home” was. I almost didn’t know how to answer; I was born and raised in North Carolina. That felt more like home to me, for I was merely a tourist in this land. As I took every opportunity to note my observations of Ghana, I realized that my upbringing had brought me closer to Ghanaian culture than I ever figured.
I was smugly proud to discover that I, too, was a case of “you can take the man out of Ghana, but you can’t take the Ghana out of the man” syndrome. Alas, a new problem arose for me: I had always been known as the whitest black guy almost anyone knew. That distinction, while mostly relegated to middle school memories, isn’t far off: I sound a bit white, and most of my friends are white. But my pride wouldn’t let me ignore my true identity. It told me, if someone describes Twumasi Duah-Mensah as merely the whitest black guy they know, they’re not describing Twumasi Duah-Mensah.
Apologies if you think my pride has led to me to make a big deal out of something seemingly inconsequential. I’ve never been taught that mediocrity is good enough. I was never taught that it was okay for you to be a shy kid; be bold and talk to people. And if they laugh at you and think you’re embarrassing yourself, why should you care?
Nor was I taught it was okay to dress like a bum. I come from a people who wear business suits in 95-degree weather (it’s actually quite good for sweating and cooling off, for not everywhere in Ghana has quick access to air conditioners). To be fair, the bar has been considerably lowered for me. In any case, I’m not going somewhere to feel comfortable; I have to mean business wherever I go.
When I’m walking in the hallways, I try to greet everyone I can. I’m not afraid to get a bit loud or expressive, contrary to my shier sister who recoils at the idea of socializing with others. Oh, well; we aren’t all cut from the same regal cloth.
Perhaps that was a bit judgmental. Sorry about that; I’ve been trying to work on being more constructive when I communicate my disagreements instead of silently judging people. I wasn’t raised by parents who would respect my feelings on the basis of existing, so I might subtly behave the same way around other people. There’s no“it’s just who I am” with my family. No matter how long it takes, the standard is to be elite.
While I do rate my writing abilities highly, and I would love to take part in Ghanaian tradition by rambling on about something I’ve already established well-enough, I’ll break from tradition this time. If you thought this was a roundabout way to talk about myself, don’t fret; I’m twice as annoying in real life. As for the article, I wanted to show you how important my identity is to my personality, even if it’s not the most obvious. It’s why I don’t hang out with friends outside of school or have a job. It’s why I’m obsessed with soccer—even though I don’t play it—and why I sometimes ask a few too many questions. It’s why I am who I am today, and I wouldn’t change it for the world—my ego’s too big for that.