I have a problem.

I have no idea how to describe who I am. No, it’s not like I fell and hit my head and woke up to find out that I have no recollection of my life. Rather it is more of a deeper existential identity crisis.

I know the things I have done. I know what interests me and a vague understanding that my passion compass points to Africa, but it does so without regard for a specific field of practice. I am passionate about Africa in all its aspects; from technology to its youth, from entrepreneurship to good governance, from its creative ability to its athletic prowess, from its literary genius to its commercial farming potential.

Thing is, I’ve come to realize that, for whatever I am passionate about, I’ve jumped in with both feet. I start things with no intention of abandoning them. In all the above ways, I’ve created, cofounded, joined, participated in every which way that I can. As a former Olympic hopeful, I wanted to be Uganda’s first Olympic decathlete since John Akii-Bua in the 1970s. As a creative and photographer, I’ve always been passionate about Africa’s captured image and her agency. As a technology enthusiast, I’ve been fortunate to cofound Hive Colab and watch young technologists crafting Uganda’s future digital economies. As an entrepreneur, I started UMPG as an opportunity to show that African farming & manufacturing doesn’t have to end at the export of raw materials. And as a writer, I’ve waxed poetic about the ‘Africa Rising‘ meme so many times that I begin to wonder if I am repeating myself.

But lost in all of that activity is the definition of who I am. I simply have no idea how to describe myself. A recent trip to Dallas, TX – my former hometown – left me speechless on a number of occasions. Friends that I have known for nearly 20 years still start conversations with “so what exactly do you do?” This after years of explaining to them everything that I do. Things are further exasterbated by my fellow Ugandans. To them I am American, yet I know that my heart bleeds fully Ugandan. As a Diaspora, I embrace the two sides of me equally but self-identify as Ugandan.

I am starting to think either I suck at my own 30-second pitch or that I don’t belong in a clearly definable category. My father once said I’d be a “man for all seasons,” but that in itself isn’t a satisfactory label that I can hand to people and say “here, this is me.” To which they would nod approvingly and quiz me appropriately.

What box do I belong to? If you know who I am, can you please write my 30-second pitch please? I am thinking that perhaps asking a general audience can help me connect the right words into a coherent sentence. I keep dodging this question when asked because I really don’t know how to answer it. Ping me in the comments if you have an idea.

  1. Teddy, It sounds to me as though you’re asking people to understand a lot of which they have no clue. I’d suspect that many of the people who ask you that question don’t know much about identity issues, and they are so blind as to their own so called identity and place in the world as to think hey have it all figured out – when in fact they don’t.

    As a teacher, who teaches a course that deals specifically with identity issues, most students that I meet, and most people in general, I’d have to say, understand little about those issues, and they also tend to live in an either/or world. I can’t say that I blame them for that ignorance, because of the way in which we are inundated through media with images and narratives that portray everything in binary opposites.

    I don’t see myself as one thing (and that goes beyond nationality, race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, etc.), and when I am asked what I teach, I usually end up giving the short hand version because most people don’t know, and don’t want to know, really, what anti-racism is, or what broad based approaches to human rights analysis entails. True, I don’t have to explain where I am from, as I spend most of my time in Canada, and when I’m abroad, people usually think that I am American, but that is because of the power of US media and publishing and cultural capital around who is white, and who “sounds” like one of me. Canada is a small country, in terms of cultural and political capital, I accept that, and I do my best to paint a different picture to those who have the patience to listen..

    I know how I see you, and we have never even met! How I see you is how I see a lot of friends that I have who happen to have either come to Canada directly from other parts of the world, or were born here, but who’s ancestors are from other non-European parts of the world, or even those who have 10th degree Canadian ethno-racial “pedigree” but are LGBTQ. How do they “fit in”? Many people that I know self- identify as multiple identity, and they are happy with that. I think that is a good thing. In an earlier post you talked about how many “Ugandans” don’t even see themselves as Ugandan, they see themselves as Acholi, or a member or another tribe. Ugandan to them is arbitrary. To other’s it’s not. What is the difference between those who have embraced it and those who don’t? It is currency, opportunity and agency?

    I’ll be very interested to see how you ask that question after you’ve spent a year in Canada, a country that is a self professed nation of immigrants, many of whom continue to embrace the duality of their heritage. That does not mean tat all Canadians think that way, because, regretfully we don’t. That is not to say that when those immigrants and second generation off-spring go back to their respective motherlands (and I hear this a lot) that they don’t get labelled as being “Canadian”, instead of want they would rather hear, which could be Philipino, or Jamaican (when my wife goes back to Jamaica and walks through the local market to buy something, the locals pick her out in a second, and she is not Jamaican, despite being born there and having lived there for 12 years), or Chinese, etc. They are referred to as “Canadian”, and that tendency to label is obviously universal . Chinese immigrants, after a few years here, are referred to as “bananas” by their in-country Chinese compatriots. They are yellow on the outside, and white on the inside (they also use bamboo as a metaphor).

    I see you as a African, who immigrated to the USA and moves back and forth between one country to the next, so as to contribute to the development of your respective homelands, and to maintain roots. You are an entrepreneur who works in the field of development, and you happen to have a keen interest in photography, advertising, media and communications. You use those assets, strengths and interests to further your profession and career ambitions, and to contribute to the advancement and development of the country of your birth. A very, very noble venture. You make perfect sense to me.

    • Huh! A very astute analysis and insight on the topic of identity. As a youth I had to also suffer the duality of being black but not belonging or being accepted to the African American fraternity. It was really a difficult time to deal with being called an Oreo just because I didn’t have the urban black dialect down. But I think, like your wife in Jamaica, had I been able to master the accent, I still would have been labeled and “otherized”…

      I like your final analysis of how you see me, because it is all you have to go by since we’ve never met. This is what I was going for. Who am I to people that know “of” me… but don’t know, know me?

      Will think more on this! Thanks for the feedback!

      • Haha! Glad you liked it! Just think, next year you’ll be able to say that “I’m a Ugandan American, living in Toronto, Canada, married to a white Canadian, working in the field of international development with one foot in Toronto, the other in DC and the other in Uganda!!

        Seriously though, so much of who we are is only the surface stuff, most people don’t know about the struggles, the rejections and objections to being considered a member of a particular “club”. I’ve always found it quite arrogant and insulting to be told by someone else what someone is, in fact, under certain circumstances it could even be construed as racist.

        There’s an interesting National Film Board (of Canada) documentary out called “Between: Living in the Hyphen”. You can watch it for free off the NFB web site, or maybe even off youtube. I show it a particular class that I teach (the class that deals with identity issues) and students find it quite interesting. It explores the lived realities of about 5 or 6 mixed “race” Canadians (men and women). They have some very interesting stories. It might give you some ideas. It doesn’t get into issues of what the people do for a living, but it does explore how they define themselves and how they are defined by the various societies (and cultures) that they encounter.

        I think the “clubism” mentality is more alive in the US than it is in Canada, particularly around racial issues. Case in point, Obama is considered black, not mixed, and it has nothing to do with any self-defining moment he may have had, but more to do with historical and cultural president in the US. In Canada, most people would consider him to be mixed. If you ask my daughter if she is black, she’ll say straight up “No, I’m mixed”, and that self-definition is a product of the environment that she has grown up in, not just our house per se, but the schools that she went to and the city that we live in.

        When people learn other things about you (us), such as you being married to a white Canadian (or me, being married to a black Jamaican), that’s another piece of the puzzle, as it says a lot about who you are. When many Jamaicans find out that I’ve married to a fellow Jamaican, and have been for over twenty years, and that we have been there many times, they jokingly refer to me as Jamaican! Seriously though, how I am treated and regarded by other West Indians, particularly Jamaicans is affected greatly by the fact that I am married to one of them. Even something as simple as shopping in a local West Indian grocery store invites comical discussion. A couple of weeks ago I was at this local store buying some groceries, and there’s this fruit that Jamaicans like to eat called ginips. My wife really likes them so I was buying them for her and this black guy walks up to me and asks in a very animated voice how I know about ginips so I have to tell him that I am married to a Jamaican. Well he goes in to full-on patois mode, fist bumping me practically proclaiming on the spot that I’m part of the Jamaican diaspora! The same thing happened once when I was buying bread fruit, and this elderly black Jamaican woman walks up and asks how I know about bread fruit, so once again, I have to confess. Within minutes, there’s about three other black women gathered around the pile of breadfruit and we’re into this lively discussion about where my wife is from (and she is not even there!), how long she’s been for, if we have any kids, yadda, yadda, yadda. It’s al god and fun, and makes grocery shopping very interesting!

        • Nice! It is a good reception instead being ostracized. you are part of a much bigger family.

          I think I’ll just define myself by saying “it’s complicated”…

          • I have an idea and a dream, if African countries unite as one’ you will fit to the President of the United States of Africa the confusion will be in abbreviating it as USA for united states of Africa. You are such an amazing person with a loving. keep up the good job. We are so proud of you.

          • Being treated “nicely” is certainly better than the alternative. Fortunately, and I’m not sure how much the colour of my skin has played onto this, I have led a life that has been blessed by friendly and welcoming people, as opposed to the opposite. In my heart of hearts, I know that my identity plays on how people react to me.

  2. Teddy, you may have all these different brilliant ways of identifying yourself, i know you as the grandson of Mordocai Ruge Sondota, a Zande from South Sudan. Just as Barack Obama, we call him black president because his Dad was a Kenyan. He does not ignore that fact though he is from a white American mother.

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