Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (Carlton)

If anyone knows me, they will know my daily ritual of watching a Disney movie or an amazing show, while eating Chinese rice, jollof rice, egusi soup with pounded yam, okra soup with fufu, pizza or a nice subway sandwich. These are daily habits that brighten up my day and make me feel very complete. So, on Saturday, when I took a break and decided to watch Fresh Prince of Bel-Air while eating two subway sandwiches, I came across a scene in an episode that really hit home. It may hit home for some of you too. Watch it below.

Fresh prince of bel-air

All rights go to Netflix and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

This episode is in Season 4 Episode 8.

I remember when I was told to be deported by a few of my peers.

I remember when I was asked ‘Is Nigeria, especially Abuja dirty and disgusting’ by a peer.

I remember when I was asked ‘Will I get robbed if I visit Nigeria?’ by a peer.

I remember when a former teacher told me that I was ‘betraying my country by studying in South Africa’. That even though Nigeria has a ‘poor educational system’, I should actually ‘show my solidarity’ and go back there.

I remember when a former teacher of mine called me a coconut in front of a few of my peers.

I put this one last because unlike the others, for me this was one was different. It represented a misconception, a wrong stereotype that did not make sense to me at the time I heard it.

It was a civvies day (Wear what you want at school for one day) and I wore a pretty coat. I absolutely loved my outfit. Anyone who knows me knows that one of my inspirations is Sharpay and so obviously it was a dark pink coat. I had planned this outfit. This was the one day I got to channel my inner Sharpay. But this one comment absolutely destroyed that day for me. When she called me a coconut, I felt embarrassed. I absolutely hated it. In some of her words, it was because I dressed ‘too posh’ or ‘too white’. I wanted to take off my outfit. At 14/15 years old, you don’t necessarily understand what is so bad about dressing nicely. However, that experience gave me the impression that dressing nicely was betraying my culture.

There is a certain stereotype associated with black culture. Many times, an African person has to always wear a dashiki, dance (very well) to all African rap/songs, and lots of the time, people who don’t really adhere to this, are not really ‘African’. This is what I was told. I was not really like that. I loved some of the African songs, danced terribly to them, dressed really nicely but also had African outfits that I could wear every day. I loved my Sharpay inspired outfits. I loved being ‘posh’. It is who I am. So why was I betraying my African roots?

Why was dressing nicely seen as dressing ‘white’? I have amazing friends who dress incredibly but it is never associated with a certain race. It is just an incredible outfit. This is what I have a problem with. What is the opposite of dressing ‘white’? Dressing ‘black’? And what is that necessarily supposed to be? How are black people supposed to dress? These were the questions that I went home to my parents and asked them. They had a perfect response.

Stereotypes associated with bringing a certain race down sometimes stem from issues of the past. There was nothing wrong with me wearing a fancy dark pink coat with my boots. However, other people saw it like that. They saw me as betraying my culture. They saw me as being a ‘sellout’. A term one person had actually used on me. There was a certain way they thought black people were supposed to behave. Some of my peers laughed when they saw my playlist because it was filled with ‘white’ songs. My question to you all is…. What does that mean?

There should be no penalty for success. I shouldn’t have had to be embarrassed because I dressed nicely or had some nice things just because someone saw me as being a ‘sellout’. I should not have had to battle those feelings of embarrassment because of comments made by a teacher. That should not have happened. This comment stuck with me for a long time because after that, I had to constantly check myself to make sure what I was wearing wasn’t ‘too posh’ for fear I would be called a coconut again. However, after a while, I learnt that I should be able to dress nicely and not be attacked for it just because someone believed that there should be a ‘penalty for success’.

However, there is a difference between being ashamed of your culture and trying to change who you are, and being insulted because you have nice clothes, or nice things. You can always reach the top, but never forget your culture, where you came from and where you are going. Those are easily mixed up. There is a difference between someone who tries to erase their culture and someone who dresses nicely but is called a ‘sellout’ for doing so. DO NOT be ashamed of your culture. Our culture is what makes us unique. What makes us beautiful. It will never go away.

Some of the peers who also called me coconut or ‘sellout’ or said some xenophobic words to me, still expected me to stand with them and fight off racism, racism that targeted them, because ‘We are all black’. My question was, “Why was I suddenly black when you needed me to do something, and then a ‘sellout’ and ‘Nigerian girl’ when you didn’t?”

I love Carlton’s response.

You think I’m a sellout why? Because I live in a big house or I dress a certain way? Or maybe it’s because I like Barry Manilow. Being black is not what I’m trying to be, it’s what I am. I’m running the same race and jumping the same hurdles you are, so why are you tripping me up? You said we need to stick together but you don’t even know what that means. If you ask me you’re the real sellout.
— Carlton from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Think carefully about what you say to others because chances are that they sometimes reflect an inferiority complex that has not been addressed. At that age, I believed that I had to change my style just so I could fit into that image of ‘blackness’. There is a difference between representing your culture, being proud of your culture, not being ashamed to truly show your culture to others and feeling inferior. When everybody came to watch Black Panther in their traditional outfits, that was representing their culture. But when someone believes that dressing nicely, having nice things, being in nice places, or listening to songs other than Afro-pop, is considered white, then it may stem from a complex that has not been properly addressed. I suggest all of you go watch Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Season 4 Episode 8 to really educate yourselves. Ask yourselves and assess yourselves.

What do you all think? That’s my opinion, discuss yours.



CultureKamdi Okonjo