“you know that isn’t going to do anything here, right?”
i stared down at the white letters on my black shirt that read “NO JUSTICE NO PEACE.” it was the day following the murder of Alston Sterling by police officers in Baton Rouge. when i heard the news the night before, i retreated into a state of silence. the usual question “again?” didn’t touch my lips. i was simply quiet. and i slept in hopes of escaping. i slept not because i was tired but because i felt the weight of a thousand pounds on my heart.
it was different this time. it felt different this time around that i wasn’t in the midst of the turmoil.
and when i woke up to get dressed in the morning, my hands naturally found their way to my funeral garment which was this black shirt with white letters that i would usually wear to marches and vigils. i didn’t wear it to make a statement this time. i didn’t wear it for any other reason than that i was sad and it connected me to my grieving brothers and sisters across the ocean.
so when i was asked why i was in Ghana wearing a shirt that protested the massacre of black bodies, i was quiet again because i didn’t know how to say that i was mourning the loss of a man i don’t know. i didn’t know how to ask why they too weren’t mourning.
the violence that was (that is) the separation of black bodies has bred a myth of having separate identities when really we are all connected by this violence which is the removal from our selves which has caused us not to recognize each other and not to recognize our selves in each other.
being almost a decade removed from my home and birthplace in Ghana, my identity has naturally been shaped by my experiences of being black in America. i’ve been the new African girl in class who didn’t talk much because her accent was ridiculed. i’ve been asked whether i had a pet lion and whether i lived in a tree. i’ve been friends with white people whom i later learned are from racist families and black people who denied my blackness for being unfamiliar with African-American culture. i’ve gone from one majority white school to another and it wasn’t until college that i found a home and comfort in the black community because now i was aware of the systems of oppression that glue us together.
and this identity shaping is a continuous process. i write this a person trying to extract the hate i have in my heart from being hyperaware about my race and what it means in the spaces i occupy. i write this somewhere inbetween i love myself and i wonder how much more i would love myself if the world loved me too. i write this as someone who identifies as both African and African American and someone who wants to throw away labels in general and just be.
while in Ghana, i attended a panel of a group of black males share their experience of coming to the African continent for the first time and what their experience means to them. one of the guys shared how he expected to see lions and giraffes and desert and how he was surprised to see how urban Accra is. another guy talked about how great it felt to connect to his roots and how he wants everyone to have the opportunity to have this experience he is having. as i sat in the audience i was a shaken up bottle of emotions bubbling up with a plethora of questions. my initial feelings were of annoyance because it seemed to me they were romanticizing ‘Africa’ and were speaking of it like a paradise rather than being honest about the complex place they have come to and thinking innovatively about how to improve the various issues such as poverty and the electricity problems. i wanted them to be honest about how they were really feeling and how they look at life differently now.
the following week, i happened to run into the same group of guys and had a spontaneous chat with one of them about their responses in the panel. he told me how traumatic of an experience it was to have their experiences invalidated and how he wishes more one on one conversations could be had because their individual stories are more than what can be shared in a short period of time. he told of how he was disappointed about his experience because he had expectations of feeling like he’d come home and what he rather felt was that he doesn’t really have a home because America doens’t want him and he found it more difficult to connect with ‘African’ people because he was often denied his Africanness because of his accent which made him foreign in a place he wanted to be home. i was silent. what he described felt a lot like how i’ve felt my whole life.
i realized that i need to do better with listening. that we all need to do better with listening. perhaps one on one conversations like these can help us understand eachother’s experiences and making connections that will unveil our eyes so we can recognize our selves in each other.