XXXL White Shirts
“...I knew all it took was my skin to make a first impression...”
Oh, to be a thirteen-year-old in eighth grade, the pinnacle of adolescence, the time when pop culture intertwines with who we aspire to be.
“Buford, this isn’t you,” Onome "Buford" Obahor remembers his father tell him in the store while back-to-school shopping.
I can only imagine the flash of irritation across Buford face as he grabs the clothes back, staring back into a face of astonishment. “I would always pick out five XXXL white shirts, and a couple of baggy jeans,” he describes, “my dad would suggest, ‘why don’t you pick something more fitted?’” “No that’s not me,” he thought, “because in my head, I’m thinking, this is how I am supposed to be.”
This identity crisis berated Buford conscious as he reminisced on days when he did not have to try so hard to be “likeable.”
Though raised by Nigerian parents, Buford spent most of his childhood in Italy as his father sought his PhD. “I was raised in an Italian culture and a Nigerian household,” he explains. “When I started school in Italy in the fourth grade, the first thing I noticed was that I was the only Black kid in the school.” In fact, Buford remembers he was always the only Black person wherever he was in Italy.
“I remember thinking about how nobody would want to be my friend, because I was so different…. But it was great because everyone actually wanted to be my friend. All because I was Black. I remember playing in recess for the very first time, and my whole class was all around me. I lived in Italy for about 10 years, and throughout that whole ten years it was always easy for me to make friends, because I was different,” says Buford.
When Buford did live for a brief time to Nigeria, in a similar way, there was a sense of comfort and acceptance he received from them. “As far as Nigerians, we are very big on family. We take pride in being together, and being one,” says Buford.
How, in America with it’s unique amalgamation of so many different people, was starting over so much harder than before? “Obviously, I have an accent… so I was made fun of for my accent. I did not have the American accent. I spoke with a thick African accent. In Italy I was celebrated, but here I was made fun of my first year of school, which sucked,” Buford recounts.
Deciding to take the offensive against the toll of adolescent teasing, Buford decided he had to become not just like his peers, but wanted to become more than his peers.
“I started picking up on the slang, and eventually I became the ‘cool guy’ at school. I started wearing baggy pants and XXXL shirts,” Buford describes, laughing, (keep in mind, this was the early 2000’s).
“I realized I had to do these things to make friends. Because I did not have friends at all. I wasn’t different in the United States, that’s why it had the effect it did. Literally, in Italy I didn’t have to do anything to make friends, but here I had to act a certain way to get noticed,” he realizes.
This is how he was supposed to be…? “This is how a 16-year-old is supposed to dress. I’m cool. Cooler than everyone else,” he thought. “Over time, I realized that’s pretty much everyone as kids. We try to be people we are not. I realized that sag-wearing Buford, was not me at all,” Buford says.
“I knew all it took was my skin to make a first impression,” he explains. It took time for Buford to get to know the person he actually wanted to be. “The transition from ‘baggy everything’ to more fitted clothes was huge, because I felt comfortable in my own skin. You can still be cool and have your own swag, by wearing what you want to wear,” he reiterates.
Buford shares a piece of advice he has learned over the years: If you are authentic with others, you will attract the like. Authenticity is challenging in practice, but is so empowering, as Buford found.
“Self-esteem and self-confidence comes from within, and once you realize that you are cool enough to be what you want to be, everyone will see that,” Buford advises.
From his own unique experience of growing up into three different cultures, Buford understands more than most how we carry our individual experiences with us everywhere we go.
“You are unique, but recognize that everyone around you is also unique. I don't believe we were put on earth to just do our own thing,” he concludes. “I do believe in God and I believe God put us on earth to come together…. That is the way to make our world beautiful — each in our uniqueness, to come together. Be intentional. Be understanding. Be open-minded. Strive to know more about someone who is different from you.”
Buford Obahor | Human Being
Written by Abi Floresca