Josef Adamu


Growing Up African (2018)

But Mom, I’m An Artist.

In an African household, the expectations are clear and the mindset is extremely traditional. Your parents want you to either pursue Medicine, Law, Finance, or Engineering. Well, at least my parents did. They dwell upon the fact that they’ve sent you to school to do something with your life because they hadn’t had the opportunity to be blessed with such resources. We’ll get into that in a bit. For now, let me take a few steps back and elaborate on my past.

As a child born to first-generation Nigerian parents, my childhood was pretty formulated. I’d go to school, face my books, I’d attend church on Sunday’s (followed by Burger King meals because they refused to cook), AND repeat. Luckily, I was a great student, very obedient and never really gave trouble. That being said, my parents would always find ways to discipline my siblings and I for not doing “enough,” but I mean what else would you expect? They told stories of their childhood experiences back in Nigeria. These tales often involved them exaggerating about being “first in their class”, or walking miles to get water from the well. It got old really quickly, especially because I had uncles and aunts who would say the exact same thing. I always thought to myself, how many classes were there for you all to be first? Anyways, I never had any crazy disputes with my parents because even though the expectations were outrageous, I did what I could to make them happy. By the 7th grade, I won the spelling bee, and was rewarded Athlete of the Year. I’d rush home super excited to show my parents these trophies along with my progressive report card results, and still, it wasn’t enough.

“Why isn’t Biology complete?”

“70% is not good enough.”

“Why are you doing sports?”

“Who are the people you are sitting with in class?”

“Do they have two heads?”

“Are you asking for help from the teacher after class?”

It was a pattern each term, and as I got older, I was getting fed up. By the beginning of high school, I started to take basketball a lot more seriously and as much as it did not effect my grades, it shifted my parents’ perspective of me. They thought I was losing focus, and began to blame the people I was hanging around with. An African parent will always convince themselves that you’re robbing a bank or smoking marijuana if your friends were Caribbean. It’s still baffling to me today. The late night basketball practices were believed to be opportunities for me to go smoke “ganja.” It was unbelievable.

“Don’t follow the Jamaicans, befriend the Indians,” was literally a morning PSA as I tied my shoes while getting ready for school. What they failed to understand is that my choice of friends never disrupted my drive and I knew when to work and when to play. As I approached high school graduation, my parents were more concerned about what I’d pursue in university (because college wasn’t an option), rather than simply being proud of me for overcoming this hurdle. Imagine your name being called for not only your high school diploma, but also an honour roll reward, just to see your parents fixed in their seats with straight faces. It’s mind blowing!

Let’s fast forward to university now. My parents were somewhat happy with my choice to pursue business management. It was a program I thought I loved leaving high school, though, I noticed after my first year that I hated it. I didn’t like law, finance, medicine, engineering, or any of the fields my parents felt I had to pursue. This was a problem and there became a disconnect between my parents and I because I was all for the arts. I wanted to pursue a career in the creative industry, a field my parents had no hope for. A field congested with freelance artists without “real jobs.” Nonetheless, I was convinced that this is what I wanted to do, and whenever I spoke to my parents about new opportunities they shut it down by saying I’m wasting my time. They really don’t believe in the idea of freelancing and “working from home.” It’s frustrating, but I’ve learned to follow my dreams because not only do I feel passionate about my craft, but I’m growing progressively as new opportunities present themselves frequently.

My parents are all for family reputation and being able to confidently speak about my siblings and I when talking to other family and friends. They want to be able to proudly say “my son is a medical doctor,” instead of opening their minds and supporting new career ventures that are still very promising.

“African parents don’t believe in your craft until the money is coming in.” This was a quote I had left on Twitter a few weeks ago that directly reflects my current situation. Once you start to show your folks some fancy invoices, progress with your credit, and/or simply putting money in their accounts, they become so intrigued by your choice of work. All of a sudden, they’re your biggest fans and they want to show people your entire creative catalogue! They’re so fake but you gotta love them!

All in all, do whatever it is you’re doing, for you! You will regret passing on opportunities because of your parents’ judgement in the long run. They give you advice based on how they were raised which is much different from modern times. Keep your head up and be consistent with your efforts. Trust me when I say, things will work out! I’ve been working on improving on all aspects of my craft for at least 5 years now, and even though I get very lost at times, you learn as you go.

Announce that you’re an artist loudly. They may never understand, but as long as you know where you’re headed and you feel happiest doing it, that’s really all that matters! One “yes” can change your life forever!

Thanks for reading!

Joseph AdamuComment