I, Too, Am Africa: Finding My Place in the Diaspora as a Black Woman9/16/2015
By Jaimee A. Swift When I read Ms. Zipporah Gene’s article on how she felt that Black Americans need to stop culturally appropriating Afri...
By Jaimee A. Swift
When I read Ms. Zipporah Gene’s article on how she felt that Black Americans need to stop culturally appropriating African culture, it struck more than a nerve – it actually brought me back to an interesting time where I battled with what seemed to be a missing part of myself.
You see, just like many African Americans, I have battled with trying to find my proverbial and existential place in Africa as a Black woman. As a self-described Pan-Africanist and Africana womanist, I have questioned myself countless times about how I fit in the paradigm of the Diaspora, my lineage to it, and if I, too, would be welcomed as a daughter to the continent. Thus far, I have been met with mixed reviews from both Black Americans and African continentals – and based on Ms. Gene’s article, I would not be welcomed as such.
Ever since I was a child, I knew I was a part of something greater. Thanks to my mother forcing me to read her beloved Ebony encyclopedias, I knew I was greater than the slavery that my middle school teachers taught me. I knew I was more than just the “little Black girl” that my white peers called me. I knew I was a part of something so rich and powerful, that the melanin that blesses my skin was ridiculed for it. And as I ventured off into undergrad, I took that sense of consciousness and pro-Blackness with me.
However, I was met with harsh criticism from some of my extended family members, who dubbed my quest to become enlightened about Africa as unnecessary and quite frankly, primitive. Another family member even told me that I should not entertain Africans or African history because of how removed Black Americans are from it.
I refused to let their words take root in my journey.
In graduate school, I was surrounded by enlightened African Americans and Africans who also shared a Pan-Africanist perspective. When engaging some African continentals, I was met with a similar response to Ms. Gene’s article but even further more so, citing that Black Americans are “lazy,” “lack a sense of culture or have “no culture at all.” Here, this goes to show that although ignorance about Africa is pervasive, there is also widespread callowness about the African American.
I have met several Africans who have dismissed Black culture and talk horribly about African Americans while also "appropriating" some of the multifarious layers of Black culture including hip-hop: the music, the colloquialisms, the aesthetics and even the n-word. I had a young fellow from Liberia tell me that I, as a Black woman, lack cultural value as a Pan-Africanist – while he blasted J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar and dubbed himself a self-proclaimed "real nigga.”
I found these exhibits of insensitivity by Africans to be quite bewildering including the words of Ms. Gene, who seemingly talk poorly about Black Americans but forget it was the African American who made it possible for racial equality and liberty in the United States, lest they have forgotten that people of color, including those of the Diaspora, are enjoying certain amenities to American life because of the Black American, who died for them.
Unfortunately, on my journey to find my “African-ness” or “Africanity,” I was caught between these divisive paradigms of the African and African descendants as well as the racist space of some of my white counterparts. And when I read Ms. Gene’s article, I remember that feeling of being lost, unsure and in exodus just like many African Americans who have been trying to find their “African selves” most of their lives.
However, on my pilgrimage in finding my place as a Black woman in the Diaspora, I found out who I was. Although I cannot trace my roots to a certain ethnic background or readily share cultural values, aesthetics, dress or food, I know that I am connected to something greater. Though some of my family members and other Black Americans may hold negative imagery and feelings about Africa, they, too, cannot help that they are somehow, some way connected to Africa via the Diaspora.
We cannot deny or appropriate something that is inherently in us. We cannot deny or appropriate something that was stolen from us. We cannot deny or appropriate that intrinsically we come from somewhere greater because we are from Africa, which is the cradle of civilization.
Overall, my so-called journey in finding my place as a Black woman in the Diaspora is about reclamation – reclamation of what was deemed inferior, what was denied, and what was deemed to be unworthy. And now I stand, knowing that my African lineage is worthy of praise – irrespective of whether the white, Black American, and/or African claim otherwise.
So, just like when Langston Hughes in his renowned poem wrote "I, Too, am America" in submitting that he as a Black man had a rightful place and presence in American society, I proudly stand by the sentiment and say that "I, Too, am Africa" as the darker sister, knowing that the other part of me that I thought was missing and needed validation is no longer lost nor seeking affirmation.
Jaimee A. Swift is a graduate of Howard University and Temple University with a Master of Arts in Political Science and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, respectively. A writer and truth-seeker at heart, Swift is contributing writer at For Harriet. You can follow her on Twitter @jaimeeswift.