In part one, I compared the experiences of my travels to Bedford, UK in 2017 and Ghana in 2018 by their value in social capital. I realized I had been measuring the value of travel by asking which place could afford me a greater opportunity to align myself with my white counterparts. I know, this sounds ridiculous, right? Well, it’s actually more common than we would like to admit.
What would our lives be if we had never encountered the hand of colonization? This is the question I was left pondering in part I. Before traveling to Ghana, I am almost certain I would have answered this by conjuring memories from National Geographic documentaries of yellow ochre safaris, nude tribesmen jumping, cheetahs mercilessly hunting antelope, and mud-brick huts in locations that only a military-grade GPS could find. Now, having traveled to only one of the continent’s many diverse countries, I am embarrassed to admit that I had ever thought this way; even worse to know that I thought this of my own people. I was given a flattened, two-dimensional restriction of what life outside of white culture is like and I actually believed it to be a reasonable answer to that question.
“Show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.”Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
Culture plays a key role in establishing a person’s identity. Culture is the place that our hearts return to when our feet struggle to find their way. The most violent form of terrorism is the erasure of one’s culture. I believe that stripping a person’s culture strips them of their identity and creates a psychological imbalance, a loss of their foothold in the world. It leaves a person vulnerable and creates opportunities for manipulation, abuse, and exploitation. It’s a mind-fuck. Unfortunately, this is the act of terror that colonialism inflicted upon every nation and person of color across this Earth.
In my experience, to be African American is experience inherited displacement. It is difficult to reconnect with our African identity because of how far removed we are from it. I understand how present-day African Americans can have no desire for reconnecting. Even so, I believe it is crucial to obtain knowledge of our history that existed before the transatlantic slave trade. It is a disadvantage to us as a people to begin our storyline with how we were seen and not with how we saw ourselves. To only tell stories of Europeans is to tell all other ethnicities that their space in this world is insignificant. Even in the present day, African Americans continue to occupy space in a reality that was and still is, explicit in its attempt to discharge them. Thus, African American culture has evolved into a beautiful collage of cultures. It is the amalgamation of our collective attempt to assimilate into the more powerful British, French, and Spanish cultures that wrestled over the Americas, as well as our efforts to maintain a connection to our Homeland identity through cultural traditions of language, food, music, and more.
Colonialism was so effective that nearly 530 years after it’s inception I struggled to grasp the idea of a place existing where I, and those that look like me, would not be a minority; A place where Africa was the greatest economy in the world with kings and queens, kingdoms and empires. It feels somewhat pretentious of me to utter these things, but it shouldn’t. It’s the truth. Nigerian Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche made a statement once that often comes to mind when I consider my identity as an African American. She recalled her experiences as a child feeding her curiosity with books, noting that most if not all of the stories were of characters that did not look like her from places that were not where she was from. British novels. American novels. She connects this to her concept of the creation of single narratives, that “to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.” I too had been convinced of a single narrative. But I am coming to realize that it is within my ability as an artist to create a more truthful narrative. I can rewrite our story.
“Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.”Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
So, how did I spend my time in Ghana? Blissfully. I shopped. I ate. I played in the rain. I went to an art fair. I visited a castle. I chatted with locals. I sang songs. I danced. I visited friends and made new ones. I stayed in hotels. I stayed with family. I caught a glimpse of what life would be like had we not encountered the hand of colonialism. And I’ll tell you all about it, in part III of the Ghana 2018 series.
Read part I of the Ghana 2018 series here. Let me know in the comments below, What part of your culture is most important to you?
All the best,