Being Black in America without forgetting our heritage in Africa
The experience of black people who came here by choice and people who came by force are certainly different, but to say you/we are not “African-American” is to deny our rich history from long before slavery. The story of us who were bought here by force didn’t start on a slave ship. It started in Africa, making us African-Americans, even if we don’t know our country of origin, region or tribe.
How can you deny our full history? Acknowledging an amazing story of our people before slavery doesn’t make the experience of blacks in America post-slavery any less meaningful or significant. We don’t matter any less when we acknowledge that our ancestors were in fact free Africans, confidently ruling themselves long before the colonizers. Why wouldn’t you want to embrace that story?
So many people say that they don’t want to be called “African American” because they’ve never been to Africa, they don’t feel any connection to the continent and that they don’t know where they’re from there. But with modern technology, that can ALL be addressed. Any one of us can watch a Netflix documentary, or read a blog or news site from any part of Africa. We can take a DNA test to narrow down our heritage from Africa as a whole to a specific country and tribe. And we can get on a plane to go visit that country or any country. There are lots of incredible places all across Africa that would be both a fun vacation and a meaningful lesson in history.
You are black gold. And we come from a mighty people. In order to embrace our blackness in America, we have to embrace our blackness in Africa even if it feels distant. It’s our responsibility to close the distance and to reclaim our place in the African diaspora.
It’s a legacy of slavery to cut us off from our motherland. To strip us of language, culture and community, so we’d have nothing left to fight for, nothing left but to obey them. Don’t let them take away the fullness of our story.
In order to understand our story in America and why it’s so important to fight for black lives to matter here, we have to see the full picture of the black experience all around the world.
Many of my friends are African, and mostly Nigerian, so I understand that hearing the stories of your significant other’s experiences with Africa might feel far removed from your own sense of connection (or lack thereof) to the continent. But I’ve learned that, while their stories are different, they shed light onto what it’s like to live there now. I learn about the clothes, the food, the dances. They tell me about malls, blogs and schools. Though I might not ever have the depth of knowledge or insight about the continent like they do, I feel closer to a piece of me that was stolen when I spend time with them.
And I feel even closer when I’m actually in an African country. My first trip was to Ghana in West Africa. I’ll never forget what it was like to look around and see nothing but black people handling business — making money, raising families, serving their communities. And then going to the slave castles, wow! To see the crimes of slavery from the other side. To imagine being a slave awaiting an uncertain future in the inhumane conditions of the slave castles. And to wonder what it must’ve been like for families to lose loved ones, not knowing where’d they gone or if they’d ever come back. But then to see how our people recovered from such a tragedy and have built amazing countries even though so many of us were taken away, I’m reminded how strong and smart and resilient we are and have been for centuries.
You can call yourself black, I often do for myself, but not because I’ve forgotten that our incredible story as a people started long before the horror of slavery.
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