‘To get me further in life, my parents sent me to this posh secondary school in a predominately white neighbourhood. I wanted to fit in and dreamt of being like my white male classmates, who had blue eyes and wavy blond hair. Like the boys who had big mouths and who were afraid of nothing. Who were adored by the girls and spoiled by their parents. I knew their lives were so much easier than mine. With the little money I earned from my job at the supermarket, I tried to buy the same designer clothes they were wearing. Of course, I couldn’t keep up. I never fit in and always remained a poor, Black kid from the ghetto. Whenever my classmates ridiculed the colour of my skin, I mostly kept quiet and laughed with them.

At home in the Bijlmer – the Black neighbourhood of Amsterdam – things weren’t much different. In those days, Black was not beautiful: the lighter your skin, the higher in the aesthetic hierarchy you were. Ghanaians had an even more difficult time, not only because a lot of us are pitch black, but also because we come from the underdeveloped African countryside and our parents did the jobs that no one else wanted to do. There was nothing ghetto fabulous about us, and people often called us bokoe, smelly fish.

Image: Elvin Boer

Everything changed when I discovered I could take advantage of my otherness. Some Ghanaian girls seemed to like it when I talked to them in the upper-class accent of my classmates. I would brag about excelling in white things, like excessive beer drinking and being unafraid of the devil and going to hell. It was a role I played, a cheat code. To avoid being seen as a complete stranger in their midst, I dressed myself in clothes that were popular in our neighbourhood and I grew my afro beard. My stylised image of a self-chosen other paid off: I managed to get the attention of the local girls, and with my newly found self-confidence, I even started to get noticed by my schoolmates. Finding out that white girls could be interested in Black men was the biggest mindfuck ever.

Like a chameleon, I excel in adjusting to the situations I am in and the people I am with. I know the tricks, I know what to say and how to speak. In order to be popular at university, another predominately white bastion, I cultivated my fashionable hipster beard while my smart suits signified success and prestige. As a child of migrants this is very important. Unlike white students, I would never wear sweatpants or a hoody at school. You don’t want to conform to the stereotype.

‘I would never wear sweatpants or a hoody at school. You do not want to conform to the stereotype’

Also, in a more perverse way, my looks ensure my safety. With my dark skin, my shaven head and my beard, I fit the cliché image of a thug. On the streets, people are often more afraid of me than I am of them. But it’s a terrible feeling when I see women avoiding me and looking at me with fear in their eyes. Usually, I just smile and say something polite in an upper-class accent to show them I’m a good guy.

I consider myself lucky to have found love and to live together with my girlfriend. Men are supposed to provide and to protect, but often I am the one in our relationship who craves protection. I have a tendency to constantly please her and apologise for everything I do. It is hard to show my true self. But I’m sure I will get there, with her help. I love the moments when she really sees me and takes me into her safe arms, telling me it’s all good.’

Image: Elvin Boer