In the 1970s an advertisement appeared in an English magazine announcing “Pretty Nigerian girl needs new home.” An English woman in the small country town of Midhurst took in the baby girl.
So far the story reads like a liberal romance. But then come the revelations.
The girl, Precious Williams, was not given up because of the mother’s poverty or illness. Her mother was, in fact, a Nigerian tribal princess who had come to England to study, who very much enjoyed a party girl lifestyle, and who did not want the trouble of looking after a baby.
The English woman was a 60 year old widow living on a government pension, who “was obsessed with having a black baby, after reading the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
As Precious herself complains, “while my mother lived in the lap of luxury in London, flying to Italy for shoes, I lived in a run-down house with a woman who could barely afford to feed me.”
At the age of six, Precious’ mother took her back to Nigeria to her family’s ancestral home. Precious expected to stay in a mud hut, but instead “found a palatial home made of pink brinks, which was situated in a vast compound of smaller houses occupied by more than 100 of my relatives. There was a pool and a constant stream of cocktail parties.”
Precious continues, “When my grandmother asked me how it felt to be “back home” in Nigeria, I told her my home was in England. So my newfound family called me “oyigbo” – a derogatory term for a white person in the Igbo language.”
Precious returned to Midhurst to live with “Nan”, her elderly white foster mother.
The situation then is that Precious was abandoned by her hedonistic Nigerian mother, called names by her African relatives, but cared for by a white foster mother in a white English town. Did Precious therefore brim with gratitude toward her white foster mother and happily assimilate into white society?
Most definitely not. She felt confused about her situation and then, as she describes it, “During my teens, my confusion about my identity intensified. Nan, by then in her 70s, had a simplistic philosophy: “We’re all the same underneath. I don’t see you as black.” But I wanted to be seen as black ... I didn’t feel connected to her at all, so it was to my long-absent mother that I looked for validation as I entered womanhood.”
And this is what the liberal script usually misses. It is a deeper part of our nature as humans to feel the need for an identity and a sense of connectedness based on family and ethnicity. It is not a “liberation” to be missing these things, or to have these things taken from you, but a trial of confusion – as the case of Precious Williams so clearly illustrates.
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