To talk about being Black in America and associating that with privilege (in a manner that benefits us), sounds like a paradox in itself. From our perspective, being Black and living in the U.S. means having lower wages and lower paths towards upward mobility, but higher paths towards diabetes! The chips have been stacked against us from 1619 on. However, identity can look different depending on the space.
One of my mother's major “trip bucket list” goals was to get a whole new wardrobe of ensembles made out of traditional Ghanaian cloth — outfits that she could use to flex on the residents of the greater NYC area. On our first full day in Accra, we spent the first four hours walking through Haatso marketplace trying to find the right patterns. They needed to be authentic. If it looked like it could have been bought on the corner of 116th and Lenox, it was not going to do. This four-hour period of holding my mom’s bags, and being told to walk faster, was also the first time I truly saw how my presence affected the space that I was in. I felt like an outsider.
The locals in the market were looking at me like I was an early gentrifier who was scouting new locations for my organic raspberry tea business. It probably did not help that I was wearing an all-white outfit in an area fully made up of brown dirt. (RIP to my white Reeboks.)
In retrospect, I probably deserve a read on how ignorant I sound, being born and raised in a western nation like the U.S. and visiting a nation where the white benefiting global conversion rate practically renders the local currency worthless, not realizing I had privilege. However, like everything, there are levels to this.
What Is Africa To Me?
Obviously, I know I’m from Ghana, but what does it mean to be a Black American and claim Africa as home? Even for my grandmother, born and raised in Ghana, you could see how 34 years of western society had caused a disconnect between her and her homeland. While driving through the countryside on a trip from Accra to Kumasi, my grandmother stated how she “felt like a stranger in her own country.” I think what hurt her more, was how we were viewed as strangers by what we believed to be our own people.
The entire trip really felt as though it should have been titled “we promise, we’re from here.” I spent so much time on the trip validating my Ghanian heritage by highlighting aspects of my identity that I often downplay in the U.S. for survival. I found myself going by my full name, and not the shortened nickname that was given to me in first grade by a teacher who could not be bothered to learn who I really was. I was making an active effort to speak in Twi, using slang words that I saved for family functions. I had unlocked a new function on my code switching remote, and honestly, I felt guilty as hell. I wondered why it was so hard for me to show this same pride back in my everyday life.
Does More Power Mean More Responsibility?
Ghana was a tourism hot spot this year. The nations tourism board had created a theme called “the year of the return.” The promotion was to commemorate the 400th year since the believed beginning of the Atlantic slave trade. The Black communities, some allies and others mobbed from across the globe to Ghana to celebrate melanin and all the good things that come with it. Most weren't even Ghanian. Cardi B posted up poolside in Kente cloth was a hot topic on most major African news sites.
Accra is a city experiencing rapid growth in infrastructure and population, and also a rising wealth gap. With a perfect tropical climate, beautiful beaches, historical landmarks and many bars and clubs, understanding the increase in tourism revenue is not much of a challenge. However, there are serious questions about where and what the money is being used for. The lack of transportation due to road conditions, daily blackouts, crime and overpopulation are just a few of the challenges the residents of Accra have to face — about 50% of whom are under the age of 25.
We fantasized the idea of Africa as “the motherland,” a haven for Black people filled with history, culture and pride. And while it certainly may be that, it also is a land filled with many long term issues. As members of the Black diaspora, it is our duty to stay aware of these issues and remember them, especially if we choose to enter the space of Africa. We can’t just see the nice parts, go to the beach, stay at the foreign owned resorts, buy tickets to expensive music festivals sponsored by European and American companies, and participate in an economic system — introduced and still controlled to be western favoring — while ignoring that we are participating in the system that oppresses our own people. If we claim Africa as our home, we have to treat it as such and work to make it better. That can be as much as Black Twitter vocalizing as much concern over issues like the mass poverty in western Africa, as we did when the Popeyes chicken sandwich came out. And we can never forget there is privilege in being able to come, and go.
Effects Still Felt
As Black Americans, we must avoid talking about colonialism as if it only affected us. African nations have also been suffering at the hands of western oppression since 1619. Ghana did not even get its independence from the United Kingdom until 1957. The resulting instability left Ghana in turmoil that it is finally now recovering from. That turmoil is what brought my family here in the first place. Our perseverance, like our love of cocoa butter and Afrobeats, is our bond as a diaspora. So, here’s to you, Mother Africa.