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