Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Another ‘Chi’ in a Name, White Privilege, the Nigerian Presidential Committee

Another Name with ‘Chi’

There was a rally last Saturday at the Nigerian Consulate in New York City to call on the Nigerian government to rescue the kidnapped girls. In my last post I shared the photo of my friend Sylvia at the rally. I promised to tell you a story about her name.

She uses the name Sylvia at work. Her Igbo name is Chinedu. Do you remember the contest about Igbo words for God? So you know now that Chi means God in Igbo. Her name means ‘God leads,’ or ‘God is the leader.’ In the story for The New York Times I had to limit the length so I removed the part about her name. I’m including it for you here.

At this point in the story, she’s already brought out the eyebrow pencil I wanted. Now I’ve asked about a purse-size perfume spray and she’s pulled a bright red Clinique container from the shelf.

“Where are you from?” I asked, looking at her instead of the red box with its jaunty bow.

“Nigeria.”

“What tribe are you?” I said. She looked up to stare at me. This isn’t a question she expected.

“Igbo.”

“I na su Igbo? Do you speak Igbo?” I said to her in perfect Igbo.

“Oh my God,” she said as her eyes flew open. She reached out to the sales woman next to her. “She speaks Igbo.” She turned back to me. “Why, how. . are you married to an Igbo man?”

“Yes,” I said. “My name is Onyemelukwe.”

While she recovered from her shock, we talked in Igbo and English. We shared information about her town and my husband’s town, how long I’d lived in Nigeria, and when she’d come to the U.S. I told her when and where I first taught in Nigeria. I explained that I had spent part of the Biafran War in my husband’s town of Nanka.

I asked her name. “Chinedu,” she said.

“I thought Chinedu was a boy’s name.”

“Yes, in Anambra where your husband is from, it is, but in Imo, where I’m from, it’s a unisex name,” she said. “It’s amazing that you know that.”

Would you like to know more about Igbo names?

White Privilege

In early April I wrote about white privilege and I gave you the link to an article by Chuck Larson.

Today I have another link for you – to an article in the New Yorker. This is an interview with Peggy McIntosh who brought the term white privilege into common use. The interviewer asked her what the reactions to her early writing about white privilege had been. “Well, at first, the most common responses were from white people. Their most common response was ‘I never thought about this before.’ After a couple of years, that was accompanied by ‘You changed my life.’ From people of color, from the beginning, it was ‘You showed me I’m not crazy.’ And if they said more than that it was along the lines of ‘I knew there was something out there working against me.””

In the class at Lifetime Learners in Norwalk Connecticut that I facilitated with two friends, we had similar reactions when I gave out her article The Invisible Knapsack, which describes the tools we white people carry around with us and pull out whenever we need them. I think my favorite is, “When I am told about our national heritage or about ‘civilization,’ I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.” One woman in the class said almost exactly what Peggy McIntosh reported – “I had no idea!”

Nigerian Presidential Committee and the KidnappingHauwa Ibrahim

I’ve heard from Steve, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Nigeria, that the Nigerian female lawyer Hauwa Ibrahim is participating in a 17-person Presidential Committee assembled to investigate the kidnapping. She is known for her defense of Amina Lawal, the young Nigerian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery in 2002.

In an interview Ibrahim, who’s a research scholar at Harvard Divinity School in Boston, was asked how she got involved in the Presidential Committee. She said some government ministers in Nigeria brought up her name.

“They felt I could bring neutrality to the process, which is important because of the cultural and religious divisions in the country. They also thought I could bring credibility. I knew I could bring my passion to the issue of education, particularly for girls and the powerless.”

I heard Hauwa Ibrahim speak a few years ago at a reunion of former Nigerian Peace Corps volunteers. I was very impressed with her. I hope she will be able to help bring back the kidnapped girls.

I’m looking forward to another Peace Corps reunion in June. I’ll be sure to tell you about it.

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.

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