Friday, February 19, 2010

No Rebellion?! The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth: Christianity, Colonialism, Slavery and Revolutions

Part One: Moses, Blackness and the Meaning of Meek

Maybe it’s in lieu of Black History Month and many of us are in the moment. Maybe it’s something else. But, recently (and in the not-so-distant past) I have had various conversations with professors and graduate students on the role of religion, specifically Christianity, in Africa and her descendants. There is the role of religious syncretism (the mixing West African religions and Christianity) as a method of spiritual, mental, and physical survival (if you are from the South, you know what happens at a “Home Goin’”). There is the role of the Black Church as a sanctuary and “safe place” for meeting and organizing during much of the Civil Rights Era. The more controversial side (the dark side of “Christians”) discusses how Christianity sanctioned colonialism in Africa and around the world. How it warranted the discrimination of Blacks grounded in religious enlightenment theory via the “Hamitic Curse” Myth. But a recent conversation, for some reason, really got me to thinking. The person(s) stated: “Isn’t God opposed to rebellion? He said ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’ and ‘turn the other cheek’? Doesn’t ‘meek’ mean ‘timid’? Sounds like God is in favor of slavery.” Hmm…So I began my study.

During the Civil Rights Era (and arguably throughout the Black Liberation Movement in general) pastors have been on opposing sides regarding how to deal with injustices in their communities. Some kept their distance from marches, sit-ins, boycotts, and other “radical” activities claiming that by sitting idly by, God will change the world before their very eyes. But, then we have our Shuttlesworths, MLKs and now Rev. Jeremiah Wrights and Rev. Lawrence Adams (and I acknowledge that the latter list cannot be easily grouped together). So I asked myself “what does ‘meek’ really mean? Was Christianity used as an accurate bible-based method of discrimination? Was there anyone in the bible whose plight compared to Blacks?” This is the beginning of a multi-part series.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5, NIV)

“…part of the problem with the concept of meekness is that it is grossly misunderstood. Let me put it this way. I’m sure you have all seen a rodeo where you have the cowboy, the bronco buster, trying to sit on a wild horse for 10 seconds. It’s one of the more popular events in a rodeo. Why? Well, because of the power, the brute force and the danger of the horse. A bucking bronco seems very powerful doesn’t it? But then, compare that horse with the mounts used in the Olympics for the 3-day endurance event. There a horse has to have the strength, not just to throw a rider in less than 10 seconds, but to carry a rider over rough ground for kilometer after kilometre for 3 days straight. If you think about it the power of these endurance horses has to be far greater than that of the bucking bronco at the rodeo. The difference between the two horses is that one has been tamed. One has learned to have a saddle on it, and allow a rider to sit on it. One has learned to respond to the bit in its mouth and been trained so it’s strong enough to survive the rigours of a 3-day event….A horse that is tamed and trained has not lost its strength, rather its power is enhanced and channelled in a usable direction. It has not become weak, but its strength is controlled.”

Much of the original text in the Bible was written in either Hebrew or Greek. Given that Jesus had disciples that were not Jewish and people like Paul traveled to Rome on missions, much of the New Testament was originally written in Greek. It’s a bit upsetting that the English language is still in its infancy stage and is often incapable of properly translating ancient dialects. Therefore if we want a better understanding of the text, we should go to the original words. The Greek word prautes is often translated as "gentleness" or “meekness." Galatians 5:23 says “gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Or it is stated as two different virtues entirely. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:1 “By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am ‘timid’ when face to face with you, but ‘bold’ when away!” But in the original Greek text, they are not conflated: Meekness (prautes) and gentleness (epieikeia).

“Prautes describes a condition of mind and heart—an internal attitude—whereas gentleness (mildness combined with tenderness) refers to actions—an external behavior.” Therefore prautes is how you think and epieikeia is the manner in which you carry out those thoughts. English does not have a direct translation for either, therefore "meekness" is as close as it gets. The problem with “meekness” is its stigma.

Meekness is defined as
“humbly patient or docile, as under provocation from others; overly submissive or compliant; spiritless; tame. “

With synonyms like
In a nut shell…a coward. However, the way meekness manifests itself in the Bible doesn’t seem to follow this definition.

Aristotle, great philosopher… not necessarily a Christian, defined prautes as
a. "the ability to bear reproaches and slights with
moderation, and not to embark on revenge quickly, and not
to be easily provoked to anger, but to be free from
bitterness and contentiousness, having tranquillity and
stability in the spirit." (On Virtues And Vices)
b. This does not imply that there is never a place for anger
in the gentle man
c. Indeed, the man who displays "prautes" is angry "on the
right grounds, and against the right persons, and in the
right manner, and at the right moment, and for the right
length of time." (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics)
d. "he will err on the side of forgiveness rather than on the
side of anger" (Barclay)

Paul and others used “prautes” for a reason. The Greeks and others at this time knew what he meant.

Also meekness has been substituted for the Hebrew word “anvah”. The next closest thing we have in English is “humility.”

The people who are said to be the meekest are Moses and Jesus.

Numbers 12:3 in the King James Version it says
“Now the man Moses was verymeel, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.”

Numbers 12:3 in the New International Version it says
“Now Moses was a very humbleman, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.”

Remembering that meekness means “controlled strength”, we can see that Moses was a “work in progress.” Not only did Moses, a Hebrew, have a temper, but he was also a fighter for justice and although he was adopted by the upper class Egyptians, ( he was a Prince!) he never forgot who he was and where he came from. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t met with opposition by the very people he was trying to liberate:

Exodus 2:11-13
One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. 12 Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, "Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?" 14 The man said, "Who made you ruler and judge over us?...”

I’m sure Moses was like “Fa real?! We enslaved and WE ON THE SAME TEAM!... my brotha…”

Moses experienced ridicule about everything from his work to liberate his people to his wife, a black woman…

Numbers 12:1
Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite.

Cushites are people from the empire of Cush or Ethiopia. I guess he couldn’t really help it. He was living among Egyptians and other Africans well over 40 years.

There isn’t a reason in the bible why Miriam (his sister) objected to his marriage. Interracial (or maybe “interethnic” in this case) dating? Probably wanted him to stay with “his kind.” Sound familiar? Sigh. I digress…

And he experienced ridicule regarding his leadership…God had to come straighten them.

Numbers 11:4-9
At once the LORD said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, "Come out to the Tent of Meeting, all three of you." So the three of them came out. 5 Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the Tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When both of them stepped forward, 6 he said, "Listen to my words:
"When a prophet of the LORD is among you,
I reveal myself to him in visions,
I speak to him in dreams.
7 But this is not true of my servant Moses;
he is faithful in all my house.
8 With him I speak face to face,
clearly and not in riddles;
he sees the form of the LORD.
Why then were you not afraid
to speak against my servant Moses?"
9 The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them.

Moses was unique and had a unique communication with God (He is the meekest). He didn’t tell the world of unique status and make a show of it. He was meek. He trusted God to defend him when necessary. He believed his power was under God’s control not his. But that doesn’t mean Moses sat idly by. Meek means not to argue but it doesn’t mean to not fight for justice.

Exodus 3:7
The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt."

God was talking to Moses. It was Moses’ task to free the Hebrews. Something he knew he needed to do already but got the “ok” from God.

Side Note: The “home of the Canaanites” was, appropriately called, Canaan. (Also where Ham, Noah’s son, was expelled to. That discussion and the “Hamitic Curse” shall be reserved for another post). Thus, the constant reference to Canaan either by Martin Luther King, Jr. or in reference to him (i.e. Taylor Branch’s “At Canaan's Edge”). The “land of milk and honey” is the promise land (where Canaan was). Also referred to by MLK and many other participants in the Civil Rights Movement:

In the words of King, “

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

MLK seems to be aligning himself with Moses especially with his “mountain” reference.

Exodus 19:23-24
23 Moses said to the LORD, "The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, 'Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.' " 24 The LORD replied, "Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the LORD, or he will break out against them."

King is saying he has a privileged position because he has “ been to the mountaintop…And He's allowed [him] to go up to the mountain. And [he has] looked over. And [has] seen the promised land. [He] may not get there with [them]...” Mount Sinai (or Mount Horeb) is still viewed as one of the most sacred places in Israel. This is where Moses received the Ten Commandments, Moses saw God in the burning bush, and where God made the covenant with Israel. King claims to be privileged not only because he claims he has seen what others cannot, or have not, but he also has done one of two other things: foreshadowed his death or compared the long fight for justice to that of freed Hebrews in the wilderness. Now, we know MLK was no perfect man, but, come on, Moses, who God said was the meekest man in the bible did kill someone…I’m just sayin’.

Due to the Hebrews not following directions, they stayed in the wilderness for so long Moses died before he could see the fruit of his labor…A story very similar to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Deuteronomy 34:1-4
1 Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the LORD showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, 2 all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, 3 the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. 4 Then the LORD said to him, "This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, 'I will give it to your descendants.' I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it." 5 And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said.

But, but , but…before Moses died he said this:

Exodus 14:13-14
Moses answered the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still."

Now this can be confusing for some if we don’t read the whole story or know how God works throughout the story (or the rest of the bible). The Lord said “be still.” But that simply means wait for the next command… then act.

Exodus 13:17
When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, "If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt." 18 So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt armed for battle.

So, as we know the story goes (thank you Charlton Heston…well not really), Moses battles the Pharaoh, parts the Red Sea, and they cross into the Desert of Shur (somewhere around present day Syria, Jordan and Saudia Arabia). But the people are free from slavery and what do they do? Complain.

Exodus 14:10-12
As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. 11 They said to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn't we say to you in Egypt, 'Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians'? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!"

Exodus 16:3 The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the LORD's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death."

You mean, yall aint wanna be free?! Ima give them a pass and say there were scared because the Pharaoh and his army were on their tales and they were between a rock and a hard place (well more like Egyptians with very sharp swords in very fast chariots and the Red Sea).

Exodus 32:19
19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.

Exodus 32:20
20 And he took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.

(Side Note: The calf is an idol they were worshiping and Moses was angry because they knew that God led them out of slavery… i.e. the whole parting of the Rea Sea gave it away, and Moses was angry that they weren’t worshiping God. Which is why they ran around the wilderness all that time.)

Temper, Temper Moses! Tsk tsk tsk. Guess people have always been…well, people. I might have left them and went about my business.

Psalm 25:9 (New International Version)
9 He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way.

Now going back to our “passive” vs “not-so-passive” Civil Rights preachers….So, hmm… the right way?

Isaiah 11:4 (New International Version)
4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.

Isaiah 11:4 (King James Version)
4But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth: with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.

Ok, ok. So one would argue that all preachers are working towards (or believe they already are) righteous (meaning acting in a morally correct manner and by divine declaration, i.e. doing what God said). So, if you limited to the English definition, you may be led to believe that to be meek means to be poor and timid and this is the way to be righteous. AND if you do it right (righteousness that is) all you have to is speak and the wicked will be slayed (or smited… smote… who doesn’t love Old English).
In the Bible, meekness is primarily emphasized as submissiveness toward God (rather than toward men).

Romans 13:1-6
1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Hmm… am I really supposed to be cool with…lets say the Dixiecrats or Bull O’Connor?
This is a tricky one. And after further research, it has been a “tricky one” for some time now.

“Are there times when we should not submit to the government? We should never allow government to force us to disobey God. Jesus and his apostles never disobeyed the government for personal reasons; when they disobeyed, it was in order to follow their higher loyalty to God. Their disobedience was not cheap: they were threatened, beaten, thrown in jail, tortured, and executed for their convictions. Like them, if we are compelled to disobey; we must be ready to accept the consequences.”

Sound familiar?
Martin Luther King Jr.
Malcolm X
Medgar Evers
Nat Turner
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi…

“Christians understand Romans 13 in different ways. All Christians agree that we are to live at peace with the state as long as the state allows us to live by our religious convictions. For hundreds of years, however, there have been at least three different interpretations of how we are to to do this:

1. Some Christians believe that the state is so corrupt that Christians should have little to do with it as possible. Although they should be good citizens as long as they can do so without compromising their beliefs, they should not work for the government, vote in elections, or serve in the military.”

Ah ha! This must have been the perspective of “passive” preachers. But that isn’t what Moses or Jesus did (Jesus’ rebelliousness is for another time).

2. “Others believe that God has given the state authority in certain areas and the church authority in others. Christians can be loyal to both and can work for either. They should not, however, confuse the two. In this view, church and state are concerned with two totally different spheres –the spiritual and the physical –and thus complement each other but not work together.” (i.e. separation of church and state in US law).

3. “Still others believe that Christians have the responsibility to make the state better.” That’s where our not-so-passive preachers come in. “They can do this politically…” (i.e. Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, (FDP); The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), Voting Rights Act of 1965 etc) “by electing Christians or other highly-principles leaders. They can also do this morally, by serving as an influence for good in society. In this view, church and state ideally work together for the good of all.”

So what are ways to follow God's will to be meek and gentle and follow the laws of the land, while changing the laws of the law and… hopefully not dying in the process (the latter being rare as we have seen in our concise and notable list of individuals).

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (better known as just “Gandhi”) was trained lawyer in Britain and a nonviolent advocate who claimed to have followed two principles: satyagraha and Ahima. Ahima, or nonviolence is “a comprehensive principle. We are helpless mortals caught in the conflagration of himsa.” To counter the notion of passivity in nonviolent resistance, he used the ideal of satyagraha, in which truth and love are considered the sources of forceful resistance to violence (himsa). “No internal force was stronger than Gandhi’s satyagraha in the decolonizing of his country.”

The Greek word epieikeia it often translated as “clemency,” “kindness” , “courtesy” and “gentleness” among others. (Hmm, truth and love?)

Acts 24:4 KJV
Notwithstanding, that I be not further tedious unto thee,I pray thee that thou wouldest hear us of thy clemency a few words.

Acts 24:4 NKJV
Nevertheless, not to be tedious to you any further, I beg you to hear, by your courtesy, a few words from us.

Acts 24:4 New International Version
4But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly.

“The Greek word (epieikçs) which we translate as moderation is one of the most untranslatable of all Greek words. It occurs five times in the Epistles and its noun, (epieikeia), gentleness, graciousness (in Acts 24:4, 2 Corinthians 10:1) twice.”

“In 1 Timothy 3:3 it's translated as ‘lenient"; in Titus 3:2 "conciliatory", in James 3:17 "forbearing"; and in 1 Peter 2:18, "reasonableness’”

“The apostle Paul is saying to his Phillippian friends: "Let your moderation, patient mind, softness, magnanimity, gentleness, graciousness, forbearing spirit be known to all. The Lord is at hand. Put differently, "Let all the world know that you will meet a person half-way.’”

I found this passage:

This reminds me of a story about a cobra that goes to a saint and says, "Please give me a rule of life so that I can be more spiritual and saintly like you. People love you but are totally terrified of me. When they see me, if they have a chance, they kill me at once."

The Saint says, "Well, first of all, don't bite people anymore."

So, the cobra goes back down the mountain happy that the saint has accepted him as a student, and he sits by the village path all day long, thinking over the saint's advice.
But after a couple of days, people begin to notice him, and since he's sitting so still and looks so happy, the people get curious. After a few more days, unafraid of the cobra by now, some of the children have started poking him with sticks and teasing him, throwing pebbles at him, kicking dirt on his head. A few cruel adults too, toss garbage on him and kick him when they walk by him. After about a week, the saint walks down the village path and sees the poor cobra sitting there all bruised and bloody and full of mud. The saint says, "My God, what's happened to you?" The cobra replies, "I was just following your instructions, master; I don't bite people anymore." Realising all that had happened, the saint looks down lovingly at the cobra and says, "But I didn't tell you not to hiss!"

Instead of words like “clemency,” “kindness” , “courtesy” and “gentleness” were used, Greeks
used the word gracious-magnanimity in New Testament. This word had a great record in Greek ethical writing. The meaning behind it is: “it expresses that ‘gracious magnanimity or moderation"’which recognizes the impossibility that cleaves to formal law. Is the word that recognizes that there are occasions when a "legal" right can become a "moral" wrong.

In the Archbishop of York’s Presidential address on July 10, 2006, he said this:
Aristotle discussed gracious-magnanimity (epieikeia) in the Nicomachean Ethics.
He says that gracious-magnanimity (epieikeia) is that which is just and sometimes that which is better than justice. (Eth. Nic V 10.6).

He says that gracious-magnanimity (epieikeia) is that which corrects the law when the law is deficient because of its generality. He compares the person who is graciously magnanimous (epieikes) with the person who is immoderate (akribodikaios).

The person who is immoderate (akribodikaios) is the person who stands up for the last title of their legal rights; but the person who is graciously magnanimous (epieikes) knows that there are times when a thing may be legally completely justified and yet morally completely wrong. The person who is forbearing (epieikes) knows when to relax the law under the compulsion of a force that is higher and greater than law. They know the time when to stand on their rights would unquestionably be legal, and would just as unquestionably be completely unchristian.

The Greeks themselves explained this word gracious-magnanimity (epieikes) as "justice and something better than justice". They said that gracious-magnanimity (epieikeia) ought to come in when strict justice became unjust because of its generality. There may be individual instances where a perfectly just law becomes unjust or where justice isn't the same thing as equity.

In “Universal Justice and Epieikeia in Aristotle” (2008) Anne Hewitt argues:
“As laws are written in 'universal terms' they offer inadequate guidance for those difficult cases that do not fall neatly under one general rule or another. While Aristotle is clear that written laws are essential to secure justice in a political community, he is quick to recognize that alone they are insufficient to achieve this aim. Bridging the gap between legal principle and concrete situation is Aristotle's concept of epieikeia: that virtue which 'corrects' the law where it falls short. Through an acute attentiveness to relevant mitigating factors, epieikeia allows the judge to discern what -- beyond rigid application the law -- a just decision entails. However, though triggered by and tied to particular circumstances, epieikeia does not sanction egregious deviation from established law. This is because it serves the ends of 'universal', or 'natural' justice (itself derived from the fixed nature of man) and so is guided, and therefore constrained by its fixed and unchanging principles. [There are] normative repercussions of incorporating epieikeia into legal decisions, specifically how it might work to transform justice into a virtue which promotes mercy, kindness, and forgiveness.”

Epieikeia or epieikes has a direct connection to Gandhi and King’s used on nonviolence AND Huey Newton and other Black Panther Party members’ tactics such as the use on unloaded guns during patrols (hissing like the cobra were they?)

Deuteronomy 16:18-20
18 Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the LORD your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly. 19 Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. 20 Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you.

Moses became angry at the sin of God's people. He told them they sinned, and he called for disciplinary action. Yet he was the meekest man on earth! This is the act of a meek man.

The meek will suffer but Moses and Jesus didn’t suffer by simply sitting around, they suffered while enforcing justice. Freeing slaves, condemning the elite etc. All of the people mention here were not necessarily Christian, however, a Christian might argue that these are universal principle that can be applicable to anyone. Its interesting to see how it is limited. Surely the meek shall inherit the earth because they are always working to change the state to make it a better place for all. We WANT them to inherit the earth. Please…soon.

Next installment will either focus on JESUS THE REBEL!!! Or THE CURSE OF HAM! THE REASON BLACK FOLKS COULDN’T GO TO SCHOOL AND SUCH THINGS. Titles may change…hmm…thanks for reading! See ya next time.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Westerville's Be a Slave/See a Slave for a day "Educational" Opportunities: Needing Some thoughts from my teachers out there

I was in Westerville’s Public Library to pick up some books last week. On some shelving located at the exit were flyers announcing upcoming events for the city. One of those events was called "Explore the Underground Railroad" which, of course, will focus on the Underground Railroad (a series of homes and hide-away places, special routes, and communication styles that assisted enslaved blacks in America to escape). Ohio is special in that many escaping bonded blacks headed to Ohio for freedom at went to various parts of northern United States and Canada. During these few days of activities, elementary aged children would have "hands-on" activities such as mailing themselves like Henry Box Brown (a true story of a man who mailed himself to Pennsylvania, a free state), complete "slave" chores, sing "slave" songs and dress of as escaping "slaves." This is possibly in the same vein as Westerville organizers who were in charge of the “Freedom Trail” event earlier this year which involved “actors leading groups by foot and horse-drawn wagon to simulate the experience of fleeing slaves,” along with some of the attendees being "sold" as an element of the program.

In the art education reading for my research class, the author discusses connecting the “head, heart, and hand” in order to “shape a kind of community that is responsive to many different communities in different places and in different times and one that open’s many ways forward”. Stringer states that one of the challenges for teachers is to “accommodate the diversity that exists in their classrooms”. More specifically “Pride: Feelings of personal growth”, “Dignity: Feelings of competence”, “Identity: Acknowledging the worth of social identities” and “Place: Feelings of having a legitimate place in the social context.”

I am wondering how those Westerville events can be executed with the “head, heart, and hand” in mind? I’m on the fence about it. Somewhere between curious of how the events could be executed, wondering the motivation, and being a bit disturbed. From my understanding Westerville in a majority white population. Therefore, that would be their target audience. How would or could these activities instill pride, dignity, identity, and place in white children? How can this have a negative effect? Again, what’s the intent behind the project? What are African American or African children supposed to feel when then leave these events? Pride? In what? How was this event going to instill pride in them? Dignity? How so? Identity? An identity grounded in oppression? Place? How does teaching children that they are simply the descendants of slaves help them become better people, critical thinkers? I think the most disappointing thing in American school system is how African American history is always being grounded in one aspect of slavery or the supposed black experience. The narrative is usually, Africans were forced to come to the US, they came, worked (it was sad), they escaped thanks to Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln officially free-ed the Negros, Martin Luther King Jr. helped them get their civil rights, now all is well in the US of A. But the narrative is much more “muddy,” if you will, and I have yet to see teachers trouble that narrative. If the organizers did this to promote relationships, communication, participation, and inclusion how can educators work to ask “what types of relationships are we trying to form and with whom?” “Who are we trying to communicate with and what are we trying to communicate?” “Who will be the participants and who will be excluded and why?” How can we create an arts-based curriculum that challenges notions of the standard African American narrative and challenge well-meaning teachers’ archaic approach?

How could we talk about the "slave" dress or redesign it? How could we dissect the "slave" songs? How could we discuss the feelings of Henry Box Brown and the politics behind the book written about his experience? How could we juxtapose the experiences of blacks who didn't come to the US as slaves but as indentured servants? Was freedom really free?

Now, I'm not opposed to or for any of the events. And I'm not saying we should avoid talking about slavery. But what about other perspectives? What were Africans (that remained in Africa) thinking? How does that/did that shape the way many Africans see African Americans?) Also, why do we keep using the word “slave”? The majority of captured Africans went to Brazil, then Caribbean and the least amount went to US. But most people don't associate those places with slavery. Often times people think (mostly or only) of the culture in the Caribbean and Brazil (music, food etc). Why is that? We don’t call Reggae “slave music”. We don’t call Afro-Brazilain music “slave music”, but we call songs like “Follow the Drinking Gourd” “slave songs”? Why not call it early African American gospel? Or simply an early African American music genre? Staples in Caribbean dishes are rice and beans. We then find that then are also in a variety of Latino/a - Hispanic dishes as well. That is directly connected to their living conditions during times of bondage and what they had access to. Is that “slave” food? The same for African Americans which we might call “soul food” (e.g. how my grandparents still eat chitlins’ (chitterlings or pig intestines) and pigs feet.) How can we discuss how history helped form a culture many embrace or people don’t even realize they embrace? Why does African Americans' history have to so tightly connected to slavery all reinforced by education and educational opportunities such as “be a slave for a day” activities? What happens when we start saying “displaced African” instead of slaves? What we do then, is show that they came from somewhere. And they are not labeled with an occupation forced upon them. That tells or implied to students that they not only came from somewhere but that they must have also brought something (knowledge/understandings/life perspectives etc) here with them.

For example, the French contained a number of their bonded people on the island of Haiti. It was because those enslaved came from a variety of nations and spoke a variety of languages thus they created what we know today as Haitian Creole (a hybrid of a variety of African languages and French also can be heard in the French quarter of Louisiana) in order to communicate behind the enslavers' backs. This created dialect so enabled them to conquer the French for their “freedom.” Where they speaking is calling Haitian Creole “slave language” really doing that history justice? There was nowhere to run. No Underground Railroad. They were on an island. It was France’s connection to Louisiana that brought that culture to the US. What we know now as Mardi Gras (a bit tainted by “Girls Gone Wild” series… an interesting feminist angle to possibly discuss) and Jazz Funerals. When many think of New Orleans most people don’t think of slavery yet it was the “slaves” that brought that culture. (A reason why Hurricane Katrina was historically and socially tragic, especially now with the gentrification that is happening) Can’t we do this differently? How can we blend the past and the present?
Since so many Black American runaways went to Canada, why not discuss how blacks influenced Canadian culture? What about comparing the communication styles between “displaced African’s" songs, “displaced African’s" quilts and Haitian Creole? Or talk about how the connection between West African oral tradition with stories and music created what we know today as hip hop?

Now, this proposed slave auction was a bit much for me to ponder. I see it similar to re-enacting the Holocaust. I don't think people would be too fond of that. People would find it highly problematic if children dressed up as if they were in concentration camps and instead of re-enacting a march to the auction block, re-enacted a march to gas chambers or the trains that led them to Auschwitz. I think the difference maybe, that we have video of concentration camps and personal testimonies on tape that has been widely dispersed and can give people a different understanding. Now there was the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) that collect narratives of formerly enslaved African Americans in the 1930s, but arguably those have not been widely dispersed and are not a part of the mainstream educational system. (I personally didn’t know about them until I was in graduate school). But regardless, those visuals are not available…. video of life on a plantation in the 1700s. But I'm wondering, if we compared the Holocaust and US slavery (even though arguably, they aren't equivalent) I wonder if making the Jewish discriminatory experience apart of US educational system gives US citizens a better understanding (presented with substantially more gravity) and a higher respect for Jewish tragedy than that of US slavery? For example, most students’ have to read Anne Frank's journal in middle school as opposed to Olaudah Equiano's narrative. What would happen if, instead of re-enacting Anne Frank in her cellar/basement hiding from the KGB (as many schools do as their school play), students re-enacted Equiano being forced in the hull of a slave ship? How would that work or not work? How would we teach that in a theater class and present it as a school play? Why or why not?

More thinking to do…. Your thoughts???

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ghanaology: Its so deep, in so many ways... working through frustration

I was told that I left on the 100th birthday of Kwame Nkrumah. It was stained with an airport employee cheating me and the other employees laughing about it as I was infuriated. Nkrumah would have shaken his head in disappointment I’m sure. I met a man who studied under him, a member of SNCC, a friend of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), and was given the name Seku, the name of the first African president of New Guinea Seku Ture. But my airport incident would have been just a small story in the list of stories me and others have about being in Ghana. I told them “You should care about how people see your country. You shouldn’t treat people like this.” I was so angry I almost cried out of frustration. It was a bit of a build up that I’m not sure I knew I had. When I went to the market the day before to get gifts for my family the store keeper said to me, “You must be leaving today or tomorrow.” I said, “Tomorrow, how did you know?” He replied, “I can tell you are ready to go home.” He was right.

I was told that it’s going to take me a while to process my experiences in Ghana. So I’m sure more posts will be coming soon. I wasn’t a tourist this time. I was living with Ghanaians. Interacting with people. Working to establish relationships. I didn’t want to think of people get scammed, hurt, violated, and/or taken advantage of. I didn’t want to believe it happened EVERYDAY. I continued to be told, “You are entering into a VERY complex society.” I’m still processing. “Your work has to be bigger than how they treat you,” I was told. I’m still working through that. Being a tourist with my study abroad group last year, you are disconnected in a way. You are living with other Americans. Living in hotels. Eating hotel food etc. But I didn’t want that this time. As I said in my last post. I wasn’t expecting some romanticized idea of Africa. To be embraced as some long lost child. But I did expect to be treated, by most people, with dignity and respect. This may be my most personal post. My feelings were hurt. I was blessed to have some really great conversations with people that understood what I was feeling. Why I was confused. And they shared their stories. I have too many things to process, but I will discuss a few.

I went to Ghana this summer to work for an organization. I met the executive director last year. We hung out briefly in the US, so I went to Ghana believing he, of all people, would be my ally. I worked to raise over 900 books for his school. Even though I am a student and single mother, somehow many Ghanaians I talk to feel like I have so much money. But it took a lot of people to help. I was planning a fundraiser and was talking to people that I know that ship 4x4’s to Ghana to find out how his organization could get one because he was having trouble gaining access to rural communities. I came to help where ever I was needed. This guy then begins to tell me how in love with me he was. It felt odd, because we didn’t know each other THAT well, but I didn’t want to be rude because he might have been being honest. No one had ever said that to me before out of the blue. And there was nothing, nothing prior to that statement that implied that he was interested in me. I came to work for him, I walked into his home, the volunteer house, as I did almost everyday, and he grabbed my face to kiss me. I backed away, was surprised and didn’t know where it was coming from. After numerous times of telling him, maybe we should be friends, he continued to say, “Don’t think like that, I really want this to work.” It was so odd. He said that we should work out a plan where he is able to come to the US to see me, but I would need to help him with his ticket. That gave me great pause. To be worried about a ticket before you spend a great deal of time with me. I continued to feel like something wasn’t right. Then I get an email from someone saying how he is dating someone else, saying that I am bothering him, and he doesn’t want anything to do with me. Now, this would have been really hurtful if I had been comfortable with the situation and decided to be something with him. What was hurtful is that he lied. And when I confronted him about it he didn’t want to talk about it and said he never wanted to talk to me again. I was dumb founded. I was like, “Damn what just happened?” Why did he even attempt this? Why lay it on so thick unnecessarily? In my last post I talked about how last summer I had a ton of marriage proposals and requests to go to America from Ghanaians. But only ones from a low-income class, and I usually played it off as a joke. I went to Ghana, by myself, thinking this is the person that I know; this is the person I can trust. I was wrong. Its not fun being in a foreign country by yourself and not feeling as if you have any allies. (that's worth re-reading)

The executive director asked me, “What if I get you pregnant?” Whoa. I took a HUGE pause. This was odd. I felt like if I was in the US I could have handled this with ease. Knew exactly how to act. But I was thinking, “Is he serious?” I told him we really need to talk about this and get on the same page. I didn’t think I did anything misleading. I wanted us to talk and agree. We never really did. It was as if, he saw that I wasn't really going for the “I love you, I miss you stuff”, so he turned to someone else. Which again, is not the really issue. Its about people being opportunists and me not being able to trust while I was there. Of his friends that I met, one of them propositioned me to marry him for money. He said he was paying $7,000 for a 5-year visa (which sounds really odd and probably illegal) but, instead, would give me the money if I would marry him and went on to inform me that it is a “big business.” Again uncomfortable. And I new this because a Ghanaian woman that I know said that I could make a lot of money by marrying and divorcing Ghanaians so they can get their papers. I politely told her not thanks. I don’t play with the US government. The US government and black people do not have a good history (I was reminded when I watched a special on J. Edgar Hoover that I had been wanting to see). Three of the director’s friends have married Americans they met over the internet and they never met until they got married. And I know of others. I have heard I way too many stories of the men requesting a divorce, interestingly, after his papers go through. When I said that it appears that he and his friends were opportunists, they were offended. Then I said maybe I was wrong. I thought maybe I shouldn’t have said that. I felt kinda bad about it. Then I found out the guy that proposition me and asked that I take some romantic rendezvous with him to another city, has a girlfriend of eight years. I didn’t go, but the fact that he asked. This was after he told me that he doesn’t like Ghanaian women.

My friend put me on to this US embassy website
“United States citizens should be alert to attempts at fraud by persons claiming to live in Ghana who profess friendship or romantic interest over the Internet. Correspondents who quickly move to discussion of intimate matters could well be the inventions of scammers. If they are after your money, eventually they will ask for it.

Before you send any money to Ghana, please take the time to be very well informed. Start by considering the fact that scams are common enough to warrant this warning. Next, look over this partial list of indicators. If any of them sound familiar, you are likely the victim of an internet scam.
• You met a friend/fiancé online
• You've never met face to face
• Your correspondent professed love at warp speed
• Your friend/fiancé is plagued with medical problems requiring loans from you
• You are promised repayment upon the inheritance of alluvial gold or gems
• You've sent large sums for visas or plane tickets but the person cannot seem to make it out of Ghana
• When your friend does try to leave the country, h/she is detained by immigration officials demanding payment or bribes
• Your correspondent consistently uses lower case "i's" and/or grammar not in-keeping with their supposed life station or education level
Cases bearing these and other hallmarks have all proven to be scams intended to separate sympathetic people from their money. We advise Americans not to send money to people they have never actually met. In the event you do lose money ,be warned that your chances of getting it back are almost nil. This type of crime is not a priority for local police, even if they had the resources to tackle it. The Embassy can offer a sympathetic ear but, often, little else.”

But I didn’t meet them over the internet. I was already there in their country. Sooo, you are falling in love with me now? It seems so obvious as I write it, but to be in the thick of it, its just… odd and uncomfortable. Its like a movie. I just got frustrated. I’m like, “This cant really be happening.” For the random men I met who asked me to marry them, it was obvious what their motives were. But this was weird. I wanted to trust this man. At least as a friend. So odd.

I left on an early flight when I left Ghana so I needed a hotel room. In the documents he gave me, it stated that the fee I paid included a hotel stay. He said there was no more money, so I had to sleep on the floor, at his friends house. In the US, I would have demanded that I get that room because I paid for it. But, this is Ghana. I thought it was very possible that money was running low. So I didn’t say anything. But it was odd. I was later told that what he said was, and I quote “a bunch of bullshit.”
After I got home cooled down after finding so much stuff about the director I traveled to work for, I talked to a few people. “Its going to take you a while to process this. It takes me at least six months after I come back,” I was told. I didn’t understand why was I treated this way. From the cab drivers that I got in shouting matches with because they double the price before I got to my destination and I refused to pay any other amount than the one we agreed upon, to wanting to build a working friendship with someone that I really wanted to help and so treated poorly. I didn’t understand. I’m thinking. “What did I do to you? Except come to help?” And not on some paternalistic, I’m American I have all the answers type deal. But really reading asking questions and saying “tell me what you need me to do, and I will do my best to do it. Both here and in the US.”

When talking about this, a smart woman told me, “Poverty makes you do things. People are evil out of necessity.” I never have, and I pray to never fully feel what it means to be hungry. Staying two months in the most impoverished region in the country. Seeing a lady one day and she being dead only a few weeks later. Its serious. But what I didn’t fully understand, was the depth at which people will go to try to ensure some form of economic stability. But wouldn’t I do the same? What people will do to eat… I was told, “You have to show people that your money is not theirs and that takes a much longer time especially if they are hungry.” And I would add, or when they are trying to feed someone else. Too often I felt as if relationships were insincere. Like something wasn’t right, but I didn’t want to believe that. I said since undergrad that I wanted duel citizenship: US and Ghana. First, I found out that you have to denounce your US citizenship if you want that (but if you are Ghanaian you can have both…interesting) and another great quote “I will not be a second class citizen in a third world country.” And that’s EXACTLY what I felt like. People not being honest, not doing what they say they were going to do, and people ready to take advantage of you and I felt bad at first for thinking this. Ghanaian women are already discriminated against, so to be a forgien women makes it complicated. But after talking to both African Americans AND Africans I am, by no means, the only person who feels that way. And I purposefully said African Americans. The whole time I was there, I said black Americans knowing many Africans see a disconnect between blacks in the US, Caribbean and South American and themselves. Even though so many mimick stereotypical African American mannerism, jargon, and music. But my ancestors DID come from Africa. The Africans that went through the “Doors of No Returns” of over 400 dungeons that are just in Ghana (not counting the ones along the West coast of Africa) were NOT supposed to return. And here we are coming back and expecting a warm welcome? The Cape Coast Castle is not a castle at all. Its an dungeon, and was built to be so. Unlike Elmina. People need to know that.

A Ghanaian volunteer went to the dungeon. And she told me. “You know slavery was bad in the US but it didn’t compare to what we had to deal with here. My mother can tell stories.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was thinking, but didn't say. “Do you really know what you are saying?” First of all no one’s mother can get a personal account of slavery. It ended in the 19th century. What your mother remembers in colonization which is the same thing at the post reconstruction, black codes, Jim Crow, US. I told her that is NOT talking about Brazil who received the MOST west Africans to be sold as slaves and who slavery lasted the longest out of anyone’s. And that’s not mentioning what happened in the Caribbean. I thought You want stories? Do you really want to compare stories? And even if we did, what will that do? Africans were caned, Africans in the US were whipped. Africans were hung on plantations in the Congo just like blacks in Alabama. As African arms were being chopped off, Africans in the US were begin burned alive. I didn't say that, but thought it. I simply said, "Its a little more complicated than that." I tell my students, there are two types of ignorance. There is an ignorance that you don’t know. And then there is the ignorance that you don’t care to know. I dealt with an ignorance in Ghana that I didn’t expect. And for her (and others) to say it was such certainty. To not even question it. I asked her, “Have you read anything about slavery?” Her response, “I don’t have to read anything, I have what my mother seen her herself.” Again, I thought, that’s not slavery. And even still, you have NO idea what the rest of the dispersed Africans had to deal with in their respective places. Its so disheartening. I’m thinking “Really? You really believe that?”

Independent Ghana is a little over 50 years old. We should wonder what African American was doing 50 years after their “liberation” in 1863. By 1912 the Klu Klux Klan is formed (and there have been plenty of active members in the contemporary government). W.E.B. Du Bois writes Souls of Black Folks (who interestingly repatriated to Ghana and has house that stands in Accra as a museum). Brown vs. Board of Education, which determined separate but equal racially divided facilities. NAACP is formed. Numerous race riots in Illinois, Texas, and Georgia. And over 700 African Americans were lynched… I can tell you the stories of my great grandmother who was a sharecropper. My great grandfather who could never read or write. I can talk about hangings in my family but that is not the point! We are more alike than they think. I am where I am because MY ancestors have fought against European/Eurocentric powers for over 400 years. And have been fighting for equal rights since emancipation. Technically African Americans were officially Americans in the 1965 civil rights act. So, by law, have only been full citizens for 49 years. It was/is a long a hard fight. Compare stories? For almost 150 years WE have been fighting. You want to believe we have it easy? And even if you believe that we do (and if you read you will find out that everything the glitters ain’t gold in the US) then it came with a VERY expensive price tag. I got in to a discussion with a Ghanaian who thought he could tell me what to and what not to say. I told him “I wasn’t raised to sit back in a corner. I can say what I want to say.” The pervasive patriarchy is another challenge there. Women have different experiences. Don’t think you can talk to me any kind of way because you are a man. It’s not going to happen. I don’t work like that. Never will. Too many Africans really don’t understand the courage of African Americans especially African American women. It was left to women fight for our families. Whether it was seeing your children sold away never to be seen again, sons and husbands getting drafted in the World Wars to fight for a country that treated them as second class citizens, being lynched by mobs or being denied the right to vote whether its in the 1960s of the 2000 election, or how the rapists of African American rape victims get little to no punishment in comparison to white women who are raped. Black women everywhere are strong for a reason. Whether its Yaa Asantewa or Harriet Tubman. We have to know this we have to believe this.

What I am seeing is what colonialism has done to the spirit of too many Africans. It’s serious. Cheating and bribery is a common and accepted way of life. Exploitation is not uncommon. And it not just exploitation of foreigners but of other Ghanaians, other Africans. And its not that American don’t exploit people. But this. Its on another level. Landownership is a HUGE issue. Once I told people I was buying land, the warnings came in. And not just of double selling. But people protecting their land from people building on it and being murdered in the process. Murdered. Too many stories. People loosing 100s of thousands of dollars to help build and it being taken and squandered by locals. So many stories. It made me rethink my desire to build a school. I have already purchased part of the land…

I was told numerous times by different people, “Your purpose has to be bigger than them. You have to believe in the dream of Nkrumah even when Ghanaians don’t.” It’s a hard road to take. Trying to help people who you worry will take advantage of you only when you are trying to help. I was told, “You have to be like Harriet Tubman. She led the underground railroad with a bible and I gun. She carried the bible for those who needed God to help them through and a gun for the others. You have to do the same. You have to build that school.” If we don’t build bridges. If we all don’t attempt to be citizens of the world, Africa will continue to remain in neo-colonization and will remain a developing country. My ancestors left in chains and have to back with guns. Weapons of cleverness, awareness, a keen mind, and discernment. They don’t want you here but you have to be. We have to work together. If they only understood our oppressor are the same people. Those who control the means of production. The director I worked with could have kept it simple and we could have formed a great friendship and business partnership. But instead, he chose to create an enemy unnecessarily. I was angry because he lied and scammed for no reason. I was angry, perplexed, and just annoyed. I was told “Even the people that abuse you, you have to love… The goal to uplift people around the globe, around Africa, it has to happen.” It’s a hard pill to swallow. But its Christian principle. As a Christian I believe it, but it doesn’t make it easy.

Christianity in Ghana is another thing that I have not figured out yet, outside of the white Jesus’ everywhere and people believing traditional religion is the antithesis of Christianity. I was eating with a Ghanaian. I said a prayer before I ate. He said “Is that something you picked up here?” I thought it was an odd question. “No, I was raised to say my prayer before I eat.” He looked surprised. He said, “Christianity in Ghana is more based in poverty. People don’t have much and have fewer opportunities so they seek something outside of themselves. They seek God. So when I see an American, some one who isn’t poor praying, I know they are a real Christian.” I didn’t know what to say to that… One time when a taxi driver got loud with me to tell me I needed to add more money after we decided on a price I was so angry. I said, “Are you serious! All this Christianity around here with your I Love Jesus Tire Shops and everything, you all still want to cheat people! You are playing gospel music as we speak! You know we decided this before I got in the car. If you didn’t want to take the offer you should have left.” I just didn’t get it. But, if the Ghanaian I talked to is correct, the need for opportunities, needing to eat can supersedes morals. The spirit of Africa, the continent where life began, universities were established, where Christianity was BEFORE European missionaries came and spoon-fed/force-fed Africans a disjointed belief system is troubled. It’s more than troubled. It’s a word that I don’t think is even in the English language. The indigenous spirit of Africa has been reduced to a hustle. Whether its government officials asking money for developing their country and taking money from it, the police asking for a bribes, to the irate taxi driver who thought he could rattle me by yelling at me (who clearly didn’t know who he was dealing with) to the director telling me I couldn’t get the hotel room I paid for, its all a hustle. And we have to do better. We have to hold people accountable. A place where the bribery system is stronger than the legality system, what do you do? How do you manage? There is an accepted level of corruption in order to survive that permeates every class level. There is corruption everywhere on some level. People are dying over land, looking at the news with people’s arms being chopped off because they followed the “wrong” political party, people acting as if they are embracing you and then stab you in the back. I have experienced enough and heard of too many stories. Even of Ghanaians who don’t ever want to go back to Ghana. I would love to form a sincere relationship with a Ghanaian. Not romantic just a true friendship were no one is expecting or asking for anything. And I hope I have done so with my host family. Dear God I hope so. Because I feel like they are so motivated by my project. And I have helped them with a business opportunity. My host father feels so sincere to me that I want to believe him. For now I do. I hope that doesn’t change. They have been the most straight up people I have met. They told me the things they wanted my help with, I told them things I could do, and they are helping me. Just being honest and direct. I didn’t think that was too much to ask for.

As for the director, maybe he is corrupt by necessity. But karma is real. And I don’t think people have to wait for karma to come around to get them, too many people in countries where corruption in normal, just continue to hurt themselves. Severing bridges that didn’t need to be. I said I am in revolutionary hesitation mode. I have dream to build my arts-based political activist schools in the US, Brazil in Ghana. Each place has its own set of challenges. I’m just realizing it may be a little more difficult than I imagined. But it will happen. My goals are bigger than this. So I’m not mad anymore. The African American repatriate told me its not something to get used to, it something you have learn how to react to. Dont be so reactionary he said. I know I can be...

African Americans are not who you think we are. My pride runs deep. Who can go through coffles, slave dungeons, the middle passage, auction blocks, rapes, children sold, escapes to freedom, slave rebellions, eugenics, science experiments, wars and survive? My ancestors. African Americans. And maybe. Just maybe, if you ask, I can tell you a story or two.

Some sites to look at:

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Day 37

August 20th

I pounded fufu today. Fufu is a staple carbohydrate in Ghana made from cassava (which is kind of like large oblong potatoes) and unripened plantains. I can’t eat too much of it. The diet here is heavily based in carbs, and it feels so heavy in my stomach. Good but whew, I need a salad, lol. After we cut the cassava and plantains, and boiled them we went to pound the items. My host family doesn’t have the tools to pound it so we had to walk to another neighborhood to pound it. First one woman came and said, “Aye! The oburoni is pounding fufu!” I got a small crowd of woman and children. The women kept telling the children to leave. But they didn’t. Just moved to a safe distance. They asked me how I was doing in Fante, I responded and asked the same in Twi. They were all surprise and laughed. It didn’t take as long as I thought. I have a war wound. A blister. And I need a nap, lol.

SIDE NOTE Random funny conversations:
1) Pastor’s wife, pastor, the house helps, and friends are in the living room. I enter and sit down. Everyone is laughing about something.
Pastor’s wife says to one of the house helps, “Aww fuck you!”
My eyes get really big. “Wow.”
Pastor laughing,“What? We heard it on the American movie.”
Me chuckling, “Oh. Well… in the US people would be very surprised to hear a pastor or a pastor’s wife say that word.”
Pastor’s wife, “Oh we don’t know what it means.” She walks over to me laughing, “Tell me what it means in my ear.”
Me, lost for words on how to define the “f” word. “I don’t know. Its like saying ‘your mother’ or something it’s a curse or something.”
Pastor’s wife no longer whispering, “So what should I say? ‘No fuck you.’ ‘Please no fuck you.’ ‘Don’t fuck you.’ ‘Don’t be a fuck.”
Me, feeling something weird between behind slightly offended and wanting to laugh “No, it’s the word it’s not how you say it.”
Pastor’s wife, “So, no fuck you?”
Me, “No, it’s the word, it not…ok.” LOL.

2) Me to one of the house helps, “Would you like some juice?”
House help, “Ohhhh noooo.” Shaking her head.
Me, “Oh, you don’t like juice?”
House help, “Yes.”
Me, “So you do like juice?”
“Ok you don’t like juice.”
“So…ok” LOL.

Day 36

August 19, 2009

Some more volunteers from the U.S. came on Tuesday. We all went to town to go to the market and the girls wanted to go to the Cape Coast slave dungeon which, oddly, people call “the castle.” I went there last summer. We walked inside and there is a little courtyard where people are selling items. My chest hurt. My heart started beating fast. I couldn’t walk inside the courtyard. Something happened in that place. I got that same heaviness in my chest. This feel was compounded by the fact that Ghanaians were selling items in building that was build to sell Ghanaians. In a dungeon, build, specifically, to tourcher, rape, and sell black bodies, the volunteers wanted to take a happy group picture. My chest still hurt. I didn’t join them. It like I wanted to say, “Don’t you know where you are? How can you be happy in this place?” It was weird and uncomfortable. We ended up leaving because the charge was too high. Even paying to enter into a place where people sold is just... so discomforting. We walked outside and there were vendors right outside the dungeon. They walked up to us, wanting to talk, sell things. The volunteers went over to buy things. I couldn’t stand there. I passed the vendors and walked towards the ocean. I felt this odd mixture of being solemnly stiff. Not sure how else to explain it. One of the Ghanaian volunteers asked what was wrong. I said, “This place makes me feel uncomfortable.”
“Why?” she said.
“Because it’s a dungeon.”
I felt like, maybe being the only black American in the group that what I was feeling wouldn’t make any sense to them. And who knows if I said something, it might be misinterpreted as some attack on Ghanaians, when it wouldn’t be, and I wasn’t in the mood for all of that.

I went to sit down to wait for the other volunteers a little ways down, away from the dungeon. One other volunteer and I started walking past the castle to wait for the others. As I walked by the right side of the castle to the left, my heart got heavy again. Something happened in the particular space. It the same area were the shops were located inside. I don’t know what.

I went to check what I wrote last year when I first entered the dungeon. Its interesting that I wrote this before reading “Ain’t I a Woman” by Deborah Gray White who discusses the various ways African women who were enslaved in the US, resisted slavery (in some ways through their children). Here is what I wrote:

Day 10: June 22nd 2008
The minute I looked at Cape Coast Castle two things happened simultaneously: Weight and noise. I felt the same heaviness I felt at Elmina. Like someone. Some people sat on me. Not on my external body but on my insides. Like a cannonball was placed inside of my rib cage. And there was a noise. Not audible though, but I heard it. It was like when you watch a scary movie and the camera turns to something that is suppose to incite fear in the viewer and there is a loud “boom” to accompany the jolt your body is suppose to perform. I watched the castle as we traveled the road towards it. It feels so weird that it is right in the middle of the city. When I stepped in the castle the heaviness got heavier. Not unbearable but noticeable. I got used to it. Somebody was trying to get my attention. Make me pay attention.

Cape Coast Castle felt more like a dungeon. It was made to be a slave dungeon where Elmina wasn’t. The men’s dungeon was so scary. Huge. Six or more of my apartments could fit in there. Dark. Even in the middle of the day with the couple of light bulbs in the dungeon it felt like night. The Cape Coast builders felt the need to make the space more accommodating but creating corners in the rooms so that the body fluids had a designated area. For the fluids that didn’t get in the corners areas for when they over-flooded the builders created a crevasse in the floor so that the fluids would flow down through the rooms and collect at the room at the end of the slight slope. I asked where the fluids went after it went into the room because there wasn’t a hole or opening that went outside. Apparently the fluids traveled through the now closed off tunnel that led to the women’s dungeon. That means the women had their own fecal matter, urine, blood, and vomit to sleep in as well as the men’s. The tour guide really looked over the living conditions. He didn’t really try to paint a picture for us. I didn’t care for him too much.

The women’s dungeon was significantly smaller. They had a little more ventilation but it was still very dark. Were the children scared? Yes, but did they eventually lose their fear of the dark with such limited chances to be in the day light? How did the lack of sunlight affect the captives? Black people must get their vitamin D from the sun. How did that affect living conditions? Lack of sunlight also means lack of serotonin. Serotonin combats depression. How many slaves committed suicide in the dark? How many died and others didn’t know because they could see? I know more slaves die in the coffles and in the dungeons than during the middle passage, but did less die in the coffles and more in the dungeons because of the mental effects of being held captive? How many babies were born here? How many women killed their babies in here? Did they hold the babies until a solider grabbed it from them and threw it in the ocean? How did she feel afterwards? Happy that the child wouldn’t have her same fate? Sad because the child that she was once happy to carry now meant something else? What did she say to herself?
They won’t make any money off of my son! The only way I can prevent my child from dying a mental death I must send him home, to ancestors, to Nyame. Nyame knows I have to do this. He has to know.

Did the other women try to convince her not to? Did they watch, turn their heads? Pray? Help? Was it easier because it was dark? Couldn’t watch your son die as you convince yourself it is in his best interest. Did she regret it after she had to hold his lifeless body for days?
I became emotional at the door of no return. The doors were huge. Not small like the one at Elmina. With the female dungeon to my right I could imagine standing there in a line with other women awaiting our fate. Wondering where our husbands, father, uncles, and nephews were.

We can’t see them enter or exit the death chamber because it was too far away from the female dungeon. Could only hear screams of those going in. They all began to sound the same. Didn’t know who they were. After some days, we could hear the door open again. Silence this time. Bodies being removed. Maybe, if I listened closely I could hear bodies being thrown into the ocean, but the crying children, mourning women, and the sounds of my own thoughts and fears drowned out most of those sounds. Sounds I didn’t want to hear anyway.

The tour guide began to open the “door of no return” where the captives would be led onto a slave ship. I started to breathe heavy. Needing to cry but not wanting to. Holding it in. Heaviness still there.
He opened the door.
I was snapped back into the present. I saw little children playing on the beach and people fishing. Anti-climatically. Not sure what I expected since I knew this was going to happen. Caught up in the moment. In the heaviness. Or whoever put the heaviness there.

Day 35

August 18, 2009

So many great and interesting responses to my facebook note. So many things to say…
Maybe I should begin with this. I am not having a bad time in Ghana LOL. I’m actually having a great time contrary to some beliefs. I have a couple of blogs and I have kept a journal since I was in the 2nd grade. Writing for me is cathartic and I usually only write when something is bothering me, I have some interesting thoughts that I don’t want to lose, or I need to think through something that I find complex. Usually good things or things that make me happy aren’t complex, aren’t intellectually stimulating, and don’t take much energy to think through. All my thoughts don’t get to make it to the computer or paper. Most things I simply contemplate them and they stay in the back (or front) of my mind. I can talk about how the house-helps and I at my host family’s house talk to each other like we are in the over dramatic soap opera-like African movies. How I have taught virtually every kid in the neighborhood I live in my name and its soo cute to hear them scream it at the top of their lungs when they see me. I can talk about how the kids in the orphanage learned some new English words and how to construct some new sentences because of a matching game them inspired me to create. Or how random locals quiz me on my Fante or how my host mother insists on talking to me in Twi so I can remember and the family listens to me pronounce the words incorrectly just so we can all laugh. I can talk about how the other volunteers and I went out to a quiet bar, requested dancehall and hip life and turned it into a club (and by accident turned a funeral into a club but the attendees didn’t seem to mind, lol.) Or how I wish I can take all of Ghana’s pineapples home with me that I love so much and eat every day. On the contrary, I could mention other no so great incidences that I just didn’t feel like writing about: issues with getting my phone fixed, sporadic phone network, food preparation, and power outages. But none of these are not that big of a deal. Not complex and don’t require much thought or contemplation. Sooo many things to write about, but my journals aren’t usually meant for those things. I would need to make special effort to remember to write about all the little anecdotes. Some do stick out in my mind but not all. The ones that do, I write about. But the question is, “Am I writing for me or for other people’s desires?” Or, even if I write about the funny things will I then get criticism about how the funny stories should outweigh the not so funny ones? Or will people get offended by what I thought was funny and what wasn’t? What I can’t promise is that everyone will always love what I write and that is each person’s prerogative. What I am always willing to do is listen. I am always interested in people’s thoughts and perspective. Everyone has something to learn from anyone. As a smart person once said, “nobody is a nobody.”

The one thing I would tell (and have cautioned) any black American or any black person in the Diaspora is be careful not to romanticize Africa. Don’t come here excepting to go back in time and experience some firsthand account of indigenous people who you see as some displaced ancestors you never met. You wouldn’t go to China, expecting the nation to stuck in time. Europe, the Caribbean, Australia or any other place. Come to listen, watch and learn. Not only learn from other people, but learn more about yourself. I thought I came to Ghana with absolutely no romanticization at all. But I was mistaken. I came to listen watch and learn but, unconsciously, came in the name of panafricanism and unknowingly, secretly assuming people would interact with me with the same interest. Assuming that bridges could be made and understanding from both sides could happen. Sigh, in this instance, I was sadly mistaken. There feelings, and interactions that I want to get off my chest. Especially when there is such an obvious interest in what is assumed to be the black American life style. But when some of my experiences are explained, whether verbally or written the miscommunication is still present. Even when it is clear and in print, my thoughts are still seen as if there is an attack on them. On Ghanaians. I’ve decided that for some people it’s a lost cause and a waste of energy. But what is still sooo interesting is that I can’t talk about my experience because they find what I say offensive, but they can judge and stereotype black Americans all day long and except me to be ok with it? Interesting. I had a long discussion with a Ghanaian who took offensive at what I wrote, but in the same conversation proceeded to talk about how black Americans are all about hip hop, sports and don’t care about school because of “the system” etc etc. As my grandma would say, “look at the pot calling the kettle black.” In my writing I talked about very specific incidences at specific times and even gave approximate percentages yet the Ghanaian openly generalized my people. I said, “you are doing exactly what you accused me of doing and I wasn’t even doing that.” They put words in my mouth and ASSUMED that I was talking about all Ghanaians and I wasn’t. How could I when I gave SPECIFIC examples about incidences that directly contradicted the bad ones? But, interestingly, those went unnoticed. Just like the example of my interaction with the South African consulate in the US. No questions about that. They didn’t address their bias and beliefs of black American stereotypes. Interesting. I am HERE in YOUR country, learning, asking, listening, reading, watching the news, pay attention, all to LEARN about where YOU come from, yet you come to me with stereotypes based on scant evidence that you have applied to an entire nation of people?! Yes, Americans do it all the time. PEOPLE, do it all the time. But we are supposed to be better than that. We are in the business of helping people. We are suppose to be more informed, more willing to understand, educate and be educated instead of erecting mental road blocks that hinder in trans-Atlantic, multicultural, even global progress. Someone said, on my facebook page, we have a lot of work to do. It makes me wonder who is the “us” that needs to do the work if some refuse to listen, read, and understand? Of all places, Ghana, where leaders and advocates of panafricanism resided (Nkrumah, Du Bois and others black American intellectual expatriates), some Ghanaians are still only worried about how they are perceived and choose not to concern themselves with others.

I think that was my romantization. I wonder if panafricanism is merely a dream for blacks in the diaspora. We shall see.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Day 33

A friend of mine (a black American who travels to Ghana frequently) wrote this to me:
“You know you are really in the TRUE Ghana now. It took time for me to realize the depth of disconnect between our cultures. And the absolutely fascinating means and measures some will go to ‘engage’ and endear themselves to you for their eventual ‘unfair’ gain. You are in a very complex society. We are much simpler in our traditions and social rules. One point, Ghanaians are for Ghanaians. And many are traditionally truly down for their ‘tribe’. You are not a part of that family. You are to be used for gain. That does not mean your work and purpose should cease. Like we say here… don’t hate the player hate the game, and that game over there is soul draining. So your purpose has to be that much bigger than that game. Can you develop real relationships? Or just arrangements? The jury is out on that for me. You can begin to see a very interesting thing maybe…being both desired and despised.”
This really got my head spinning in some interesting ways. So this post may be a bit disjointed at some points so bare with me.

It’s an odd feeling being here. Like the new kid on the block. The new kid in school that everyone looks at, points at, and wants to know more about. But the thing is, in school, the newness dies down after awhile. The new kid isn’t so new anymore. You become like everyone else at one point or at least not so noticeable. It’s not so odd anymore. But odd isn’t an all-encompassing word for how I feel here. It’s odd, fantastic, frustrating, intriguing, educational, and yes… odd. I had been wanting to come to Ghana since I took Akan Twi in undergrad. Then I became an African American and African Studies master’s student. Studied. Came last summer and now I’m here again. I came to learn, help, and immerse myself in ways that I wasn’t able to when I came last summer with my study abroad program. But this immersion has having its drawbacks. Rather, the things that I experienced before are intensified possibly because I’m here longer and I’m getting more and closer interactions. I knew, before I came last summer, that I will always get the, what I call, “oburini price” (spelling uncertain) anytime I want to purchase goods or services. Meaning, because I am an American (or a foreigner) my taxi fares and any other purchases will always be offered at a higher price. Although that may be normal here (meaning even if you are an African from another place you may get a higher price but I doubt not it’s as high as American or European prices), I can’t help but always wonder if I’m being cheated because of the way I look. Its like being black and being discriminated against by blacks in a land full of black people. As a black American and a Black Studies major, it’s so ironic and disheartening. It’s like some sort of neo/intra-racism or something. Blacks in the US were and still are discriminated against because of the way we look. Ideas that laid the foundation for colonization were based on racist enlightenment ideas that said all Africans and their descendants are and will always be subhuman and in need of white people’s guidance (white paternalism). US and Caribbean slavery and colonization were systems guided by phenotypic discrimination and monetary gain. Is not the “oburini price” system simply another form of exploitation on a smaller scale? Maybe so, but what happens when we look at the global picture. For hundreds of years African agricultural, human, and other resources have been used to fill the coffers and banks or Americans and Europeans: legitimate trade, market boards, structural adjustment programs, 48% and higher interest loans, illegal shipment of guns into war-torn countries, contamination of water and other resources etc. etc. etc. So, is “oburni price” a form of retribution or simply a hustle that helps people survive? Can either be justified? ….There is something to be said about ambiguity in the US. From very young you are taught, in a variety of ways (whether it be through school, media, family, what have you), that there are different people in the world. People who look different, sound different. And even if you aren’t formally taught that, you can see it on daily basis. (I would argue, for MOST Americans). So, if I am walking down the street in, let’s say D.C. or even my small hometown Ocala, everybody will not be staring at me. And if they do, they will at least speak. Say hi. There isn’t a day that goes by without someone staring me down or yelling oburni. In pockets I don’t have a problem with it. Its not like I have never be stared at in the US. But not by so many people so often. But I knew before I came that I would stick out like a sore thumb. I will always be looked at as the new kid on the block. I don’t have a problem with that. What I am having trouble with, is all that seems to come with that territory. Last summer about one-third of my conversations with Ghanaian men went something like this:
“Whats you name?”
“Where are you from?”
“Are you married?”
“Do you have any kids?”
“We should get married.”
This happened at least 20 times from the biggest city to the smallest. Every time I had fun with it and usually said something like, “I’m free tomorrow around 1.” We were told that they are only asking to marry you so they can get a green card. And, given many US norms, many Americans who argue that people don’t normally ask someone to marry them the same day they meet them. They are either joking or they want something from you. I took it as most of them were joking, but some continued to talk about how they need to go to US and how I should help them etc etc. Sometimes it stopped being fun and it became something else. A pleading of sorts. Desperation. It made me uncomfortable. But I found that only certain men approached me in those ways. I met a substantial amount of young rich Ghanaians driving Hummers, BMWs, Mercedes, etc. They took us out, showed us a good time, drove us around and didn’t ask anything from us. Not a number, email, nothing. No mention of US or any of those things. Just wanted to hang out and I had some great times. So it began to feel like only some low-income men consistently talked about marriage and getting to the US. But its wasn’t all. We had just as much fun with the waiters at the hotel and they didn’t worry us with hopes and dreams about the US and how they needed us to get them there. But it still feels odd. Regardless, it always felt like we were getting unnecessary attention. So that brings me to my friend’s statement. “…And the absolutely fascinating means and measures some will go to ‘engage’ and endear themselves to you for their eventual ‘unfair’ gain.” This sparked a thought. Could it be that we, Americans (maybe more so black Americans) already have a heightened sense of “otherness” in the US and that “otherness” feeling is ironically tripled when we are in Africa. The heightened concern of whether or not you are being taken advantage of on a daily basis (from the tro tro fare to fabric) could it be that those who obviously want something from us are also affecting our perception of those who don’t? I have realized that this heightened concern is mentally draining and I wondering in the back of my mind if I’m getting unfair treatment (whether someone is giving me an exorbitant price or treating me extra nice to the dismay of a Ghanaian in my same position). I wonder if that heightened sense will ever go away. I miss the land of set prices where if I get screwed that meant everyone else did too. Or if I got a good price everyone had the same opportunity to get the same.
The friend also said, “Ghanaians are for Ghanaians. And many are traditionally truly down for their ‘tribe’. You are not a part of that family. You are to be used for gain.” This stings a little. But I find truth in it in ways. For example, I have had discussions with Ghanaians and have done research on intra-racism/inter-ethnic biases in Ghana where some ethnic groups look down upon or are warned not to marry other ethnic groups. These biases don’t just happen in Ghana but also happen all over the world, but being entrenched in it and to possibly be affected by it is something else. I have a friend doing research in a rural city in India. We were discussing the progress of our trips the other day. He jokingly told me that there is a secret mission to get him married before he leaves since in their culture, to be 24 and not have a wife and kids is odd. But he told me that marriage where he is, is not so much about love but about strengthening families. You marry up or laterally. Not down. So marriage can be a great avenue for opportunist. But its not that different in the US. Women and men with little to no education or skills, marries someone with money. I don’t know if its just more obvious where my friend is, if we are paying more attention to it because we are foreigners or if it really is that different. It’s hard to not be ethnocentric. There is no such thing as a tabula rasa. I can’t NOT be who I am. And I can’t NOT see things from a perceptive informed by where I come from. It’s difficult.
Here comes the disjointed thoughts:
• So the heightened sense of concern for oburini treatment can make forming serious relationships a little difficult. It’s an odd feeling to walk around as if you have a spotlight on you and wondering if the person is paying attention to you because of the spotlight and the assumption that come with that spotlight or not. I just want to turn the spotlight off. In the Indian community where my friend is researching, virtually no one has seen a black person before. So they call him “gora cola” (spelling also uncertain) which means “black, white person.” Similarly here, Ghanaians call me “oburini”, a term often used for a white person. The difference here is that most Ghanaians have seen black Americans before, whether it is as visitors or on television and movies. Regardless, I am grouped with any and all Americans. (Which brings up and an interesting lack of understanding or care of race dynamics around the world but I digress until maybe another time.) All over the world, Americans are perceived as rich. I had a very long discussion with a black South African consulate and she said to me, “America is a great advertiser. I came here thinking the best of the best was here. Everyone lives comfortable lives, everything is clean… I was sadly mistaken.” But this grouping of black and white Americans and the idea of begin wealthy begins to clash with the stereotypes of black Americans seen through movies and hip hop. I continue to battle stereotypes of black Americans with whites and, unfortunately, with Africans from all over the continent. The South African also said, “I’m surprised at how much you know about Africa, given how ignorant most black Americans are.” I paused. Made an effort not to get angry and then I said, “Remember, America is a great advertiser. There are a lot of things America wants you to believe. You must remember who is giving you the information and what they have gain from you believing it.” She paused and gave a contemplative nod. What was most aggravating is that I met her at a movie premiere of a documentary on Hospice care of HIV/AIDS patients in South Africa. Since my research focuses on perceptions of blacks in media in an open forum, I had a discussion with the director and the producer about how the movie is not about upliftment, rather is perpetuates stereotypic ideas of Africa and does not successfully add a new body of knowledge to Americans lack understanding of the happenings in Africa. I am fighting against the stereotypes in her country yet she comes to me, an international figure, with stereotypes. So disheartening. I’m not just grouped with Americans. Its not just that I’m American. I’m a black American which carries a whole other set of beliefs and assumptions that become compounded when I travel abroad. Like the odd clash of cultures when I greet a Ghanaian with the local language “Maakye” and they greet me with “What’s up.” It’s as if we greet each other with what we think is appropriate. Or when people think I live and act a certain way because I’m a black American. But they get upset when Americans perceive them a certain way and want to get mad about it, while I attempt to make it a learning experience because I have to deal with it all the time. An interesting conundrum. Lack of/miscommunication.

I wonder if Africans think of how they think of us instead of being so focused on how we perceive them. There are perceptions on both sides but rarely do both get addressed.

• Hip hop and hiplife are vibrant here in Ghana. But how many listeners and artists here know and understand where hip hop came from? Do they understand how disenfranchisement, discrimination were the driving forces of so much black music? Thus, going back to the “n” word conversation (see previous posts).

• I have two favorite classes I love to teach as a graduate teaching assistant in African American and African Studies. First is Bebop to Hip hop is a class were students learn the direct connections between west African rhythm patterns and those in African American music from ragtime and blues to rock n roll (created by black Americans…little known fact, see Chuck Berry among others) and hip hop. It seems that, at times, black Americans want to find a deeper connection to Africa. Not all, but some. But so many Africans don’t identify in that way. I think many black Americans want a deeper connection because the history we are given about blacks in the US and Africans is wretched. It’s either grounded in slavery or the supposed backwardness of African civilizations. Many times black Americans go to Africa and expect to be embraced as some sort of long lost brother or sister (Ghana has began this Joseph Project which I have some serious mixed feelings about…maybe more thoughts on that later). But they aren’t. And I don’t see that as a problem on the side of the Africans, but I do think it is unfortunate that some black Americans don’t search to find or understand how identity is constructed in most of Africa. Identity is based on familial clans (your family name) and ethnicity/language (whether you are Ga, Ewe, Fante, Asante, Yoruba, Hausa, Ebo, Khoi Khoi, etc). Race doesn’t matter. Everyone is the same race. (Probably because race is a fictitious concept created by Europeans but I digress...)As black Americans, most of us can’t identify in those terms because the indigenous names of our ancestors were stripped from them and most of us don’t know where our ancestors originated from. Not to mention that since many areas like the Caribbean shipped Africans from various communities, even if we did know, we would still have ancestors from multiple ethnicities and families. But there are other black Americans, who find a great deal of pride in the US legacy black Americans have and simply find Africa to be an intriguing and educational place. For example, there is a phenomenon called African retentions. There is a belief that many black Americans psychologically retain various traits in West African culture that they may not know they have retained. Often times, these traits are retained in the Caribbean where many transported Africans had a greater deal of autonomy to retain many cultural traits and southern parts of the US were many black Americans live. For the US arguably, this is so, because in the Deep South, many Africans could not escape slavery because they were too far away from the closest Free State. So some of the West African norms stayed. One thing that I found interesting were the funerals Ghanaians call a “Home Call” and what my people back home say is a “Home Going”. A Home Going is a celebration. There is music, food, excitement and of course, sadness, but you are happy that the person lived their life and is now in a better place. I remember when I was in high school and I was on the dance team. My teammate’s father died. A white girl. The team went to the funeral to support her. I remember the atmosphere being so sad and quite. Very solemn. I didn’t understand why everyone was so sad. I remember asking my dance teacher why everyone was so sad and her reply was, “its a funeral.” I went to a funeral here in Ghana. Interestingly, it was just like a Home Going. People were dancing, shouting, crying, and praising. There was energy in the place. If this is an African retention, along with the musical traditions, then these are just a small examples of how black Americans are not so distant from west Africans, but there is still a disconnect. We are seen as Americans first.

The other class is African history colonial and post colonial. In this class, I really love to discuss neocolonialism, the issues with “world powers,” the UN, the World Bank, the World Court and underdevelopment of countries and how all of these entities assist in keeping “third world” countries in the third world and how developing countries somehow never get developed. It’s interesting to get students who have so many negative thoughts about Africa and then show them how US (and maybe even their individual actions) assist in maintaining those negative perceptions whether it’s through policy, media, consumerism or what have you.

• I never felt more American than I do here. And I was never particularly proud of being an American. To be black, yes. To be American… ummm. Kind of like the way James Baldwin put it, “But America is the house of bondage for the Negro, and no country can rescue him.” Or as Michelle Obama said, she, for once, was proud to be an America. Not too many Americans of color wondered why it took her so long. Hmm, maybe more thoughts to come.

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