Me in the Volta Region. Though I took this picture at a different time and place than what I focus on in this piece, it captures the pride I speak about.
As a Jamaican American and an African American, my racial and ethnic identities have always stemmed from ancestry and cultures beyond the United States while simultaneously being framed within United States borders. These aspects of my identity led me to become an Africana Studies major and to study abroad in Ghana to examine blackness in a more global context. Over the course of this past fall semester, aspects of studying abroad ranging from interpersonal interactions to historical excursions showed that there is a noteworthy misunderstanding of the African American experience and person both in the United States and abroad. It was in these moments of realization that I contemplated the particular position African Americans occupied in both time and space within the African Diaspora.
Unlike Jamaica and Ghana, a crucial part of the African American experience is our particular experience of racism as a minority group in the context of the United States. For the oppression we have experienced, there has been a lack of accountability on the United States’ part and the part of white Americans for not only causing, but maintaining that oppression. Additionally, a dominant narrative exists falsely arguing that African Americans do not have an identifiable culture because our cultural ties to Africa were completely severed, and this results in oppression overpowering our narrative. Furthermore, stereotypes, especially those depicting us as lazy, hide the fact that African Americans provided the physical, intellectual, and emotional labor required to create what the United States is today. We also continue to have exceptional perseverance despite the barriers placed before us. Yet, the ongoing challenges many of us face are constantly invalidated.
These sentiments heightened during an excursion to the Assin Manso Slave River and the Cape Coast Slave castle. At times, during tours and a program discussion at the end of the day, African American enslavement was discussed as a past issue. This contrasted the reality many of the black students in my program knew to be true because of current systems of oppression such as mass incarceration and our visceral connections to them. Also, our experiences, many black people’s experiences, and many of our loved ones’ experiences show how we have survived and continue to survive traumas. In thinking of all of this, I also thought of our cadences, mannerisms, dance styles, foods, complexions, vocabularies, instincts, and our claiming of life as well as our culture. I was reminded that I am always not only fighting against racism, but fighting for blackness, which causes a strong bodily response in these moments. This day consisted of emotionally gripping conversations during which my body temperature rose and my leg shook uncontrollably.
After this semester, I have strengthened and deepened my love and pride for my African American identity in particular. From the day we visited the slave castle, my most significant memories were not of the river where enslaved people took their last bath, the slave dungeons, or the door of no return. It was the aftermath. I stood and talked to other African Americans in my program about how we all felt while standing by the ocean, looking up at constellations. It was in those refreshing moments that we vented, built on one another’s comments, affirmed one another with nods, laughed, and sighed. We validated each other with a precious certainty I have yet to see matched, and for that, I have an unshakable gratitude.