Posted September 8th 2014 at 8:35 am by
in Who Am I? An African American's Quest to Discover Community Through Family History

Bridging the African Diaspora Divide

Ghana Sun Beach

I remember being on a beautiful beach on one of my visits to Ghana, West Africa. As I looked across the ocean, I could visualize the U.S. landmass sitting beyond the westward horizon on my right. To my left, along the shoreline in the distance, was one of the old castles used for holding slaves for transport to the Americas during the Transatlantic Slave Era.

Looking across the ocean and considering the Americas on the other side, I began to reflect on who I was as an African American. I can still recall my thoughts while standing on that Ghanaian shore:

I am an African American. I am an AFRICAN American. I am an African.

Many Ghanaians were captured from Ghana and taken to the Americas for a life of chattel slavery. Ripped from their families, what type of terror must have filled their hearts? What agony must have been felt by both those struggling against the chains that held them in bondage on the slave ship and the relatives left behind? As the ship traveled across the ocean and they began life in the Americas, how they must have cried out to the god that they knew, begging to be returned back to Ghana. Maybe despairing about their chances of returning home, they might have kept the faith by hoping and praying that perhaps their children might be fortunate enough to return to Africa.

I am that African child that they prayed would be able to return home. I am the child of men and women stolen or purchased from Africa. I am a manifestation of their prayer that their children would see freedom back home in Africa. I stand as an African American woman on this Ghanaian shore, free from chattel slavery, with the old slave castle on my left and the Americas on my right.

***
As I stood on the shores of Ghana, my place in history was not lost on me. As an African American born in the late 70s, I am four generations removed from American Chattel Slavery. My family rose through the journey from Africa to the Americas where many relatives died. We rose through the eras of Slavery, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights movement. We are rising through the legacies of habitual maltreatment of people of color worldwide. As Maya Angelou says, “Still I rise.” I am now pursuing a PhD at a top U.S. university and made my return home to Africa through my college and graduate studies.

Heartbreakingly, the majority of Ghanaians I encountered on that initial visit to Ghana did not embrace me as a returning relative who had found her way home after a long journey. I believe, that as Teresa Clarke says, there is a “Diaspora Divide,” a separation of the various African groups within and outside of Africa, including African Americans. It is my hope that I can contribute to the work of bridging that divide through community building research and practice.

There is a growing trend among the more affluent within the African American community to discover their genealogical family history and country of ancestral origin. Through DNA testing conducted by genealogy companies, people often find that these countries of origin are in West Africa. This is consistent with the history of African American arrival to the U.S. through the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Genealogical family history and ancestry discovery often creates within the discoverer a sense of community that transcends the borders of the nation-state to a country often never visited before and with a people never seen. Many who discover a West African country of origin by DNA testing express a desire to visit that country, some even make the trip. The West African country of Ghana embraces such tourism, for instance, by hosting tours of the former slave castles still located on its shores. I believe this phenomenon can be regarded as “transnationalism from below”.

There is a great amount of work to be done to bridge the African Diaspora divide, to include debunking stereotypes and refraining from romanticism. I believe this work begins with members of the diaspora developing genuine relationships of love, understanding, and mutual support. This type of relationship is the cornerstone of community building. From these relationships of caring and respect, lasting community development can spring forth.

***
The journey of discovering my genealogical family history has been a very emotional one. At times, it was a place of refuge. At other times, it was a source of great pain. At all times, it was a necessary journey. Despite the sometimes periods of great agony and confusion that this journey took me through, I found it to be one of the most invaluable paths I could have taken. It is through history, from the perspectives of all groups involved, that we can come to better understand the conditions of society today, better appreciate people’s perspectives and address resistance to positive social change moving forward.

Thank you for walking with me in this portion of my journey. I’m only at the beginning.

7 responses to “Bridging the African Diaspora Divide”

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. It is most interesting to read of people in action, giving answer to the question “What do African-Americans do with the void that is our identity beyond the american border?”.

  2. Mike Dobbs says:

    Keep pushing…I love you…and respect you for your effort.

  3. Mary Dobbins says:

    GREAT STORY… I can’t imagine the feeling you had standing on the shore! STILL I RISE!

  4. Leah says:

    The divide is real. The issue of identity has been muddled by, to borrow from bell hooks, imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Or in other words, the set of politics and beliefs used world wide to maintain an oppressive hierarchy. Part of the design is to divide and conquer; unity of the masses in the Diaspora is a direct threat to an ideology that has designated people of African descent as minorities.

    With enough propaganda, it’s fair to say there’s stereotypical views that Black Americans and Africans hold. In the US, the general exposure to Africa is the HIV talk, slums, starving children and sometimes the apartheid. A general view of Black Americans held by many foreigners is that they’re lazy, gangsters, and have the ridiculous belief of inequality and racism. At least that’s what any foreigners believe when they first get here.

    Relationship building is a great way to get beyond these ideas especially if we can do it without throwing our different types of pain in each other’s face. But then again, since it is imperialist white supremacy capitalist patriarchy, we will need a more aggressive systemic approach as a collective.

  5. Wylene Hameed says:

    What a wonderful story. I felt as if I was standing on the shore myself with the old castle for holding slaves to my left and the America on my right where I’m still rising upon the legacies of the habitual maltreatment. It’s like being at the crossroad deciding which road to take.

    I personally like to thank you LaKisha David for all the long hard hours and work you put into this project. I feel somewhat at ease, and looking forward to the middle to the end of this story.Please keep us posted of your next journey.

    I hate to see this come to an end and wondering when the next entry will be.

    This has been a great journey. Thank-you. : )

  6. mike hilton says:

    Hi LaKisha, I think it must have been exciting to stand by the shores of another sea, where the journey of your family began and troubling to realize that people were actually captured and sold, then taken onto a ship where there was no light, it was hot and I can’t bear to think of what it actually was like but the courage of those who survived the passage is remarkable, they came to what was supposed to be a land of new beginnings but was an American nightmare for centuries. Mothers were separated from their children many of whom they would never see again, it breaks my heart to think about how families were treated, no different than those who were their masters but who were blinded to the humanity of their brothers and sisters who they mistreated and sold. AND STILL YOU DO RISE LAKISHA AND OVERCOME. In my heart, I do believe there will be a day when people are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character, of that I am certain but cannot say when that distant day will happen. I would have hoped that the Ghanians would have embraced you, as their sister come home but many people are so divided all over this World, some may have seen you as their kin while others may have simply, thought of you as a “rich American”but I cannot say that, having not made the journey across the seas, to that distant shore where we all began, in the beginning and an glad you were able to stand by those shores, that beautiful beach.. . Mistreatment of others based on the color of their skin continues today, as in Ferguson, Missouri and Henry Louis Gates being arrested outside his own house and many other places. I would like to see, that day when all people do see that we really are all brothers and sisters, that is something my own quest for my ancestry helped me to see, along with a reading in the history of all humanity, there is no difference in our bodies but a shade or two of skin, which does not reveal the complexity of our souls, our hearts, our minds. I look forward to hearing more of your journey LaKisha.

  7. Wylene Hameed says:

    My Re-action Post

    Attn. Mel:

    After reading your response of your perspective, I like to share mine with you.

    I do not understand how one can dis-associate their feeling about one’s ancestor, unless he’s in denial. Living in different times with different expectations does not make t right to discriminate against any people because of their race.

    Slavery was not a mistake, someone made a decision, and because of that, the bias and the injustice still goes on today. Of all the things you listed that was before your time, “Are you saying there was no discrimination? If so, why do you feel there’s a need for more changes. Do you think slavery was right? You see, this is not about blaming, this is about facts and a healing process. People are still being hurt and suffering from racism. As for as having the same opportunity as you, well I beg your pardon. As you stated, “I know little of my family, they were not in denial, and they a zipped lip,” is an admission of shame.

    History is made up of good and bad. So, if you can put yourself in someone else shoes.

    Let say the role was reversed-you and your family members live the life of a slave, and while you are pondering, here’s some suggestions:

    Google-up/YouTube Roots (the movie)

    Willie Lynch Letter :Making of a Slave

    Lies My Teacher Told Me

    This is just a partial list, you’ll find more as you research.

    Myths Dies Hard

    Facts:

    Black people were brought here and were robbed of their religion, language, and their culture. They were torture and beaten down to become slaves. They was excluded from industrial employment altogether during the critical phases of industrialization and have been encumbered by discriminatory barriers for generations which s the chief reason for our current economic plight. We as black people are suffering from historically conditioned cultural defects that condemn us to lag behind in the economic competition, according to Thomas Sowell. Mind you, I’m not saying that all white people are like this, and this also applies to black people as well.

    You also stated from your perspective that you know very little of our plight and what’s going on in the world, and yet you can make a comment of black having the same opportunities as whites, and the saddest part about it that we all are been tricked and we don’t even know it, and so many whites actually believe that they are superior to other races–oh what a sad day when we all shall see the truth. As for the children paying the price of their ancestor’s sins, read Ex. 20:5…

    Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me… so say the bible. We all gonna have to pay a price.

    By the way, What’s your perspective on the Jewish Holocaust?