The young American white couple a few doors away from me are leaving Ghana today. So I’m told. “Too poor,” they say. “One minute, water no lights. Next minute, lights no water.” They’ve had enough. After five years of working to improve education in this country, where their two children were born, they’re packing their bags and hauling their doll-like offsprings back to the good ole US of A; Colorado, I believe.
I’m relaying this story to you, second-hand; from one of their hired help. For in the two years I’ve lived here, I’ve never actually seen the parents, but their children have fascinated me. Here they are in my yard with their Ghanaian nanny. Lovely, well-mannered kids. Never say a word to me. They just stare. Though, I hear, they’ll point out “Rasta house” to anyone in passing. They speak Twi, too, apparently. But I can never see them without thinking of those ‘Children of the Damned.’ Remember that film, ‘Village of the Damned‘ or the sequel with those scary looking blonde-haired, blue-eyed kids? I know it’s wrong, but that’s what these two remind me of…
They share the same milk-white almost luminous, pale skin tone as the children in that movie – even though it was in black and white, if memory serves me well – combined with the brightest of fine, blonde hair, cherub-like features, and these piercing blue eyes; all of which really sets them apart in this sub-Saharan environment. Yet they seem to have no problems at all walking around all day under a scorching sun that never seems to darken their skin but just bleaches their hair even brighter.
Then a few weeks ago, it hit me like a rock when I met their mother in passing. Imagine a tall, powerfully built, Amazonian woman the colour of wet sand, with thick, kinky auburn hair not too unlike my own, and firm, strong, long arms and legs, and you will get the picture. I’d been looking out for two white parents all this time, but this woman was clearly not white. Being biracial (half Ghanaian and half Norwegian) didn’t make it any easier to imagine how this ‘black woman’ could have given birth to these two ‘white children’, until you met her husband.
This slim, pale, blonde American man with a touch of clever around the eyes and a sense of something fragile in him had clearly passed on a visual stamp from his side of the gene pool. But it was their mother’s physical strength and vitality that had infused these kids with an almost alien-like durability in this white façade that made them totally stand-out. It made them “pop” as folks like to say these days.
Picture Beyoncé painted ‘white-face’ but with that same African body and spirit and energy, and you might get close to what I’m trying to convey. It’s what one of my academic friends used to refer to as “that look” in “people of ‘dubious’ ethnicity.” It’s what had kept me fascinated by these kids all along without really knowing why. I could just sense that there was something else. Something else underneath that had made the surface appearance almost like a mutation. The 25 percent African blood visually muted but very much there in every other respect. Fascinating. And yet it often happens the other way around, but where society only ever sees ‘Black.’
Just goes to prove the myth of racial purity. Am I making sense? I’ll miss them when they’re gone.
Kwame Nkrumah once said, “Far better to be free to govern or misgovern yourself than to be governed by anybody else.” This statement directed against the British colonial forces oppressing Ghana at the time has inadvertently come to represent a way of life for one Stephanie Benson, modern heiress to the ancient Queen of Ashanti throne.
Sultry, sexy singer, mother of five, independent woman, and loving wife are just some of the hats worn by Stephanie Benson. Dressed casually in jeans today, this beautiful woman would cut a dashing poise in any setting. But don’t let the chiselled features, hour-glass shape and sexy pout belie the strength of character and steely determination that drives this woman towards her single-minded path for happiness.
The stories of a fairytale princess never normally go from rags to riches, not that Stephanie is short of a bob or two these days. But never did the Brothers Grimm or The Arabian Nights tell tales of beautiful princesses who gave it all up for love and a bungalow in Kent. Then again, these stories were written long before Princess Akua Ohenewaa Asieanem of Kokobin (a.k.a. Stephanie) was born. So, this daughter to millionaire pharmacist Samuel Benson and Queen Nana Achiaa Boahemaah II decided to marry an English bloke and live in the unsanctified world of unsanitised people.
It all started when Stephanie’s father died. She was sent to live with her strict uncle in England. At the age of 15, she thought that she had escaped the restrictive lifestyle of royal protocol but found out that although she was living in North London affluence, her movements were still constantly supervised and under the watchful eyes of her uncle and his employees.
When she had finished her schooling, she took up employment as her uncle’s secretary. Whilst there, she was sent on a computer training course where she met her future husband, Jonathan. It was more or less love at first sight for him, says Stephanie, and she recalls that it took slightly longer for her to warm to the idea.
“I was 19 when I went on my first date with Jonathan. And I ended up falling head over heels in love with him. I had also realised that my uncle would never accept it, so we had to meet in secret.” When Jonathan proposed Stephanie eagerly accepted. The night she rang her mother to tell her the news, her uncle insisted that she return to Ghana immediately.
Once there, a huge party was arranged and the place filled with eligible suitors. Despite thinly veiled attempts by the family to force her to stay, Stephanie quickly returned to England where she is now twenty years into her marriage. Five children later, a chocolate shop and factory in Tunbridge Wells, a record deal she walked out on, and a flourishing career as a singer, she still claims to be very much in love.
But who in their right mind would follow the little man’s dream in reverse – from riches to rags – and still loudly proclaim to be happy?
Why would anyone want to give up a life of luxury; personal servants, a 25-bedroom mansion, education in the best schools of the world and, an annual trust fund as big as most people’s lifetime earnings?
“My life growing up was really never easy,” she sighs. “My mother was never around very much. Our life was governed by strict protocols, customs, rules and old-fashioned traditions. I couldn’t just run up to her for a hug when other people were around, or even call her mom,” she says rather wistfully.
This enforced distance between mother and child is in stark contrast to the relationship she cultivates with her own five growing brood, aged 9 to 20 years old. Her busy day-to-day world is very much like any other mother, yet despite a hectic schedule, daily school runs, live performances, time in the studio, and helping to run the family business, she still somehow manages to share quality time with her children.
“I like to be a trendy mum. My children know they can talk to me any time. I am their mum, and their friend,” she says matter-of-factly. So what lessons on race, identity and culture does a black woman who grew up in the royal lap of luxury pass on to her mixed-race children, particularly when deciding on schools and where to live? None, apparently, and it works just fine. “My two eldest daughters went to a private school from the age of three and, as it were, they were the only black children there. They never suffered any harm from it,” she shrugs.
“The only time we had a problem was once when another child told my son, ‘We don’t sit next to brown people.’ My son didn’t understand what he meant and was quite upset by it,” she says now, visibly disturbed by the memory. “That was probably my mistake. I never really discuss racism with them. I never had a chip on my shoulder in that way.” This statement, which to many may seem both ignorant and cold, underlines the reality of Stephanie Benson’s world view.
She has never really seen herself as a ‘black’ woman as such. She has never really shared the same cares or concerns as the masses. What Stephanie Benson knows above all else is that she is in-line to the throne of the royal Queen of Ashanti. She carries within her the lineage of great warriors and daring heroines, and that knowledge of history coupled with determination is what propels her through life and gives her an edge on self-worth.
In fact, Mrs Benson comes across as fiery, rebellious and very, very confident. None of it is a front. She is a consummate professional and utterly charming with it, too. This strong, rebellious, single-minded ancestry is what she claims to pass on to her children, and hopefully, they in turn to theirs.
Shortly before my thirtieth birthday, I decided to apply for The Carl Foreman Award organised by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). All entrants had to be British, under 30 years old, and submit a full-length screenplay with a completed application form. The winner of the competition would receive a bursary for six months of study at a leading US film school specialising in screenwriting.