The face of black royalty: a West African boy

Jongen uit Nigeria
Boy from Nigeria

On my desk are pictures of three boys. I may come to talk about the other two someday, but the appearance of the child in the accompanying photo (N.J. Wosu Picture Cards), is how I would wish all children to look. The times when I look at this photo are my most hopeful moments.


I bought the photo of the boy with the coral cord in an African-American bookstore in New York that had a wide selection of Kwanzaa cards. Kwanzaa, a new, religion-transcending festival in which seven candles represent seven days and virtues, is widely celebrated among black people in the US: American and African. It is a festival of life and it lasts a full week: from December 26 to January 1.


I enjoy the serene gaze, the regal appearance. Then I think I understand: this child has never been laughed at for his dress style, never been a slave, never been called names because of the colour of his skin or his curly hair, because only when you are allowed to be who you are can you develop this air of confidence.


The child is a beauty in my eyes, a royal in miniature. West Africans are the best dressed people in the world. The whole family has clothes designed in the colours and fabrics of their choice, moving with dignity and with their backs straight. Memphis Depay, who is familiar with that style of dress, hadn’t counted on the reaction he would receive when he covered his head: “Mujdiehoedzien!” (which sounds like mujahideen but also like ‘look at that hat’ in Dutch) I hear a man snigger on a TV show. Clearly someone who has forgotten that, here in the Netherlands, every well-dressed man wore a hat one-and-a-half to two generations ago.


Ghanaian or Nigerian boys and girls in Amsterdam learn that it is best to stay within your own circles in a party outfit like this. You may be dressed fit for a king, but they know: to the front door and no further. If dark children survive the excesses of the Sinterklaas party, the comments about their appearance, the jokes that men write, the banana throwers in the football stands, the flawed school system, if… then they will keep that serene gaze. Otherwise, that angry look awaits them, which is the result of powerlessness.


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