Called "la blanche" although my shade is the color of rotting caramels. Sleeping in a cold air-conditioned room, while my neighbor sleeps on a stained mattress with no pillow. Living in a developing country, that is genetically mine but not culturally.
The 14 year-old main protagonist of Endangered, Sophie, has lived through similar experiences-- she is also multiracial, and must reconcile two different cultures and selves.
Coming through the sanctuary with deep apprehension about her mother, being called “princesse” (p. 22) by women who took care of bonobo orphans, Sophie made one of her few visits to Congo. Used to living in America, when the rest of her people in Congo do not even have electricity and suffer in poverty, she unconsciously feels guilty. This guilt is expressed when she realizes she should show more affection towards those who have died in the fictional conflict rather than bonobos.
Like Sophie, I live with the constant pressure of reconciling both of my countries in my identity. I often wonder: how could I talk about my two countries as one? Should I value one more than the other?
Being Franco-Burkinabé, I face the hard answers to these questions everyday going to school, to the grocery store, the restaurant… Things that normal people do without getting noticed. But it seems like I always get noticed, just like Sophie. Walking down the road with my all-white cousins, or entering a boutique* where I am seen like a great person to steal money from, I feel like an outsider. In my own countries.
When Sophie arrives from the airport, the man who held Otto spoke to her. As Sophie rolled down the car windows, the man says “Please, la blanche, I have traveled six weeks down the river to bring the monkey here” (p. 4).
Many may wonder why this man calls Sophie la blanche, when in reality she is half white and black. But it is not surprising when we have two cultures imprinted in our DNA. Zadie Smith, renown British author who is also biracial, wrote: “When your personal multiplicity is printed on your face, in your DNA, in your hair-- well, anyone can see you come from Dream City.” To Whites we are Blacks, to Blacks we are Whites. Even though sometimes these labels are not explicitly expressed, they are present.
Sophie’s personality provides a clear view on the book’s setting. Being of mixed origin, she is able to see the two sides of life in America and in Congo. The contrast between the two countries is flagrant. In Congo, Sophie is valued as the girl who has a lot of money to buy multiple bonobos. In the US, she finds that she is the girl that brings back the cool notebooks for the rest of the girls.
Similarly when I travel, these differences strike me--especially socially. In Burkina, ignoring someone as I cross the street can be impolite, and could get me in trouble. In France, greeting someone I do not know could feel ‘pushy’, as if I wanted to cause harm, or ask for charity.
Because she has lived the majority of her life in the West, Sophie has a blurred vision of Africa. Through the war, she learns a lot about the continent and its people. At the beginning, Sophie has a vague idea about Congo, which she characterizes as “poor” (p. 8) When she comes back to the United States after this enriching experience in Congo, she finds the desire to return to the Congo in order to start a business. Her views about the country have dramatically changed, as she realized its potential.
For my part, I have always had a precise and distinct feeling about Burkina Faso, and Africa more broadly, that is hard to explain. To me, both France and Burkina are where I belong. It does not matter if I am a little lighter or darker than the rest, it is how I see everything that matters.
In the end, just like myself, Sophie chooses to focus on the beauty of both of her homes, and to take out the most cultural knowledge as possible to build on the diversity that makes her who she is.