Me at the Manhyia Palace Museum.
Consistently in my life, I have grappled with finding and expressing individuality in the context of the communities I am apart of. As I learned more about my history, myself, and the world today, I distinguished between my personal self and my social self, accepting both in the end. I made a deliberate effort to know the importance of understanding both as well as how they connect and differ. One of the most powerful takeaways in Ghana was the significance of the country’s communalism. I compared and contrasted it to the social, political, and economic idea of individualism in the United States’ while also acknowledging the communalism still present in various cultures and communities within the U.S.
In Ghana, one memorable experience about the country’s communal culture happened in one of my history courses: The Black Diaspora. One of our classes focused on life and work in pre-colonial West Africa as well as in modern day Ghana. We discussed cultural values such as kinship, the importance of family, children as legacies, bride prices, and mutual support networks in communities. During that class, I learned that these values and customs served very practical purposes as sources of strength before, during, and after hardship. In learning this, I thought of specifically black people’s need to form community and our success in doing so to resist the United States’ constant assault on our lives. My personal experiences and the many stories I have heard demonstrated how black Americans have redefined family. Ghana and the black communities I know of in the U.S. were not complete opposites. Though there are definitely societal circumstances that have created drastic differences in the ways of life, there are some noteworthy similarities.
I also thought of the pressures and experiences of wanting to distance oneself from aspects of black communities. In another course, African American Theatre, we discussed theatre in the age of Obama and a movement of black artists who wanted to create work that was “post-black” and identified as such. While they argued that they did not want to forget their history and did not feel ashamed of their blackness, they wanted to abandon conventional and harmful ideas of blackness. More specifically, they wished to move beyond race and distance themselves from the link between black people and suffering due to racism. By claiming individuality as black people, they believed that would then lead to their creativity as black artists not limited to narratives focused on race. I thought this represented an unfortunate misconception of the depth of blackness that, undeniably rooted in race, is not limiting, but complex.
After learning about these decisions related to black communities in different places in the world, I identified with the conflict that arises when thinking about the joy and sustenance I find in community in addition to pressures to disassociate from blackness and black history due to the oppression black people face. In aiming to be both self-aware and socially conscious, I make an effort to celebrate my place in the black community as I learn about the larger black community. On a personal level, loved ones and acquaintances know what about blackness applies to me. On a larger social level, I know there are more generalizations, stereotypes, and characteristics that do not apply to me, but are still important to know about. Doing so allows me to connect with people in my life while also staying connected to people that are not in my life, but politically tied to me in various ways. Connections come in forms of solidarity, prejudice, ancestry, cultural influence, and societal systems. Overall, I constantly realize that it is not a question of if the connections exist, but how. Thus, I accept that I am not an isolated individual, nor would I want to be. I am indivisible from others as they are from me in various black communities.