When I told my friends “I recently traveled to Ghana” most of the responses I received were one of the following two: “Where is Ghana?” and “Why would you go there?” If I am completely honest with you, aside from meeting my partner’s family, I had never even considered travelling to any part of Africa.
I had traveled to London during the previous holiday season and could hardly contain my excitement. My grandmother even cried when I told her I was going to Europe. Her response was “I’m so proud of you!” and, oddly enough, I was quite proud of myself too. I spent a lot of my time in museums that contained artwork I had only dreamed of seeing in person. I marveled at them, awkwardly overjoyed and begging my partner to “Take my picture! Take my picture!” in front of every renaissance painting I saw.
When I returned to the states from the UK, I was egregiously proud . I walked everywhere with my nose in the air, secretly wishing someone would ask about my Christmas so that I could feign humility when I told them “I didn’t do much, just spent a few weeks in London“. London. As if saying it aloud produced some tangible form of prestige that I could cloak myself in. I was disgusted with my own pride but I couldn’t help feel as though I had achieved some social status had previously been out of my reach. I was finally ‘in’ on the secret of European culture and now all the travel references from shows like Friends would finally make sense.
I did not have the same reaction when I arrived to the Kotoka International Airport in Accra. I remember landing from my 14 hour flight, claiming our baggage, and exiting the terminal into what I could only describe as ‘Tijuana, but with Black people’. I was not in awe like I had been in London. I was in shock. Something sparked inside of me that I hadn’t anticipated feeling. Something I wasn’t actually aware I’d been missing.
Firstly, I had never seen this dense of a body count that ALL looked like mine; ‘black’. Ghana was not my California ‘melting pot’ of cultural variety and no other ethnicity surrounded me; Not Mexican or Filipino. Not even white. These faces were like reflections in a mirror and each one was like a piece to a puzzle that connected to me. I stood silently for a moment too long and my partner asked if I was alright. When I looked to him, he was different. A kind of different that I had noticed in myself after returning from London. His shoulders were back his head was high. He was proud.
My Ghana trip was very different from my previous journey, in so many ways and it is important that I point out a lesson I learned. Whether we are aware of it or not, being of African American heritage is to be inherently displaced. Generation after generation, African Americans have resiliently assimilated 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. Our experience cannot be compared to other ethnic communities. Where other communities can find cultural asylum in returning to their their homelands, it is often not the same for us. But it can be.
Whether we feel connected to it or not, Africa and all of it’s diverse countries, is our origin story. I encourage you to take some time and get to know her. She is beautiful.
To be Continued…