“I recently traveled to Ghana”. This may sound insignificant, rather irrelevant to most, and to be fair it is. Most of the responses I’ve received have been one of the following two: “Where is Ghana?” and “What made you choose to travel there?”.
Aside from meeting my partner’s immediate family in person, there actually wasn’t much of a motive behind it. I had traveled to the UK over the previous holiday season and could hardly contain my excitement. Hell, my grandmother even cried when I told her I’d booked my flight. Her response was “I’m so proud of you!” and honestly I was proud of myself too. While I was there, I spent a lot of my time in museums that contained artwork I had only dreamed of seeing in person. I marveled at them and stood awkwardly with glee as I begged my partner to “Take my picture! Take my picture!”. He obliged and watched curiously as I carried on.
When I returned to the states, I felt established. I walked with my shoulders back and my head high, secretly wishing someone would ask about my holiday endeavors so that I could feign humility when I told them “oh, not much just a couple weeks in London”. London. As if saying it aloud produced some tangible form of prestige that I could cloak myself in. I was sick of myself, truthfully, but I couldn’t help it. I was finally ‘in’ on the secret and now all the cultural references from my favorite show like Friends, and ‘Gossip Girl’ finally made sense. For the first time, I really understood what being cultured felt like.
Needless to say, I did not have this reaction when I arrived to the Kotoka International Airport in Accra. I remember landing from the 14 hour flight, claiming our baggage, and exiting the building into what my southern-Californian mind paralled as ‘Tijuana with Black people’. I was not in awe. I was in shock. Certainly my grandmother would not be shedding a tear of joy if she’d accompanied me on this trip. Still, something in me sparked that I hadn’t anticipated. Something I wasn’t aware I’d been missing.
I had never seen this dense of a body count that ALL looked like mine; ‘black’. I was not in my familiar ‘melting pot’ of cultural variety and no other ethnicity surrounded me; not Mexican, not Not Filipino, and certainly not Caucasian. Still, these unfamiliar faces represented pieces of a world that I am derived from, a place I probably would have called my home. I stood silently for a moment too long and my partner asked if I was alright. But before answered, I noticed that he appeared different. Not a different that alarmed me, but one that I had seen in myself after returning from our holiday in the UK. His shoulders were back and his head was high. He was proud. He belonged.
My Ghana trip was very different from my previous journey, in so many ways that it will take multiple entries to fully express, but it is very important that I point out a lesson I learned. Whether we are aware of it or not, being an African American is to be inherently displaced. Generation after generation, African Americans have resiliently adapted to the impositions of Western society and culture, to the extent that many of us have lost our sense what it means to the majority. There is power in numbers, especially when all of the numbers share the same roots. Our experience cannot be compared to other ethnic communities. Where other communities can find cultural asylum in returning to their their homelands it is not the same for us. Like Frankenstein, African Americans are the experiment a scientist once created for himself but now discards in fear.
With new research surfacing on epigenetics and genome alterations created by extreme long term exposure to stressors like abuse and isolation, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to draw a connection between the centuries of abandonment our forefathers and mothers endured and the alarming rates of mental and emotional disparities that plague many African American communities today.
Certainly I have more to say about this historical gem that is Ghana, but
for now I will leave it with one question: What would our lives be if we had never encountered the hand of colonization?
To be Continued…