Erica Williams

Erica Williams (WOCON – Women’s Consortium of Nigeria): Erica worked at the Leadership Alliance Summer Research Early Identification Program at Howard University, in Washington, where she organized material for the African Burial Ground Project. Between 1999 and 2001 Erica worked and studied in Venezuela, Brazil and South Africa. In South Africa, she conducted historical and ethnographic research at the University of Western Cape. Erica studied for her BA at New York University, where she received several travel and research scholarships and volunteered for several different organizations: Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER), WomenCare, Face to Face International, The Center for African Spiritual Culture, InI Performance Club, NYU, Golden Rose Awards Banquet Committee, NYU. She also served as Editorial Assistant, Academic Achievement Program Newsletter, NYU. At the time of her fellowship, Erica was studying for a Master's degree in African Studies at Yale University and preparing to start a Ph.D. in Cultural and Social Anthropology at Stanford University. Erica asked many probing questions of AP’s new fellowship program, in person and through her final evaluation: “At the orientation, I noticed the beginning of a possible conflict of interest when I learned that interns were expected to engage in capacity-building at their organizations. But I questioned my ability as a 23 year-old student to tell a 50 year-old experienced, renowned human rights lawyer and activist how to run her organization. Perhaps this is the cultural anthropologist in me, but AP, myself, and future interns must recognize their position as outsiders to Nigeria and to WOCON. Being in that tenuous position creates a dynamic where it is difficult to tell people what they should do, because as outsiders we’re not even accustomed to living in their environment." “For instance, with my office experience in the U.S., I’m used to organizing files in labeled manila folders and hanging file folders in file cabinets. Thus, I found WOCON’s filing system of long folders in a multi-shelved closet impossible to understand. But it works for them. My work experience in the U.S. has also trained me to write out my daily activities, allot a specified amount of time to tasks, and rely heavily on the computer. This is an unattainable goal in Lagos because of the constant unexpected power outages and the fact that sending two emails can take you upwards of two hours. Future interns should be fully aware of the challenges they will face in Nigeria, and even then they may still have trouble adapting to the environment.” Erica also found Lagos to be hard work: “The daily struggles of life in Lagos were another challenge. Constant power outages, traffic jams, torrential rains and floods, painfully slow internet service, and the week-long fuel strike all conspired to make my work more difficult.”

On Being White in the ‘Motherland’

09 Apr

I promise, I had no Afrocentric notions of Nigeria as “the Motherland.” I knew full well that there was a massive ocean and centuries separating African-Americans from Africans. I had no romantic hopes of being embraced warmly as a sister who had come back. I had an inkling that people might question my racial identity, but I had no idea that I would be white here.

I didn’t realize that I would be called ‘Oyinbo’ by bus conductors, taxi drivers, drummers at parties, and passersby. I didn’t foresee that children would stare and point at me, or that a teenage girl would ask my host-sister “Why don’t you take her in a taxi? White people’s legs aren’t made for walking.” I would have never imagined that a guy would hit on me by saying he needed some white skin to cure his black headache!

It’s a mind trip when you’re in a place where how you identify yourself is the exact opposite of how people identify you; when how they identify you negates your background and experiences and places you in the privileged category that you and your family have been subjugated by for your entire life. How does one negotiate that?

Posted By Erica Williams

Posted Apr 9th, 2007

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