Amazing article about the value in knowing your history. It is important to have self-value and recognize that there are things beyond your day to day life that matter, that impact, that change who you are.
The below is written by Ernest Owens.
5 Lessons Traveling to Africa Taught Me About Being Black in America
Recently, I had the pleasure of traveling to Ghana for 10 days to explore the history and culture of the region. And contrary to America’s heightened fear that traveling to West Africa would give me Ebola, I am fortunate to reassure you that I am happy and healthy.
Now that your potential conditioned hysteria is reduced, here is something you should be concerned about:
Black America, we have so much to actually learn about Africa — and yes, it does matter.
For far too long, our perceptions have been negatively impacted by white dominated narratives that have plagued our grade school text books and public discourse about the Motherland. The separation between our people across the diaspora is not just geographic, but philosophic. And while both sides can assess blame on boasting superiority against the other — Black America’s constant dismissal of the continent in our identity makes us the bigger culprit.
I, too, was once guilty of this — but sometimes it takes one to go back and re-direct the masses. Consider this my form of “Sankofa.”
These were my five major takeaways during what has now become my restored relationship to the ancestral homeland:
1) Privilege is real.
During my stay in Ghana, for the first time in my life I felt what it was like to be in the majority. Most of the population is black and the experience of seeing my skin color on nearly every television station, public arena, and facet of society gave me a psychological gratification and confidence. A sense of pride that allowed me to walk in the street without feeling targeted. A level of high self-esteem when I told people my professional aspirations and was sincerely heard and not interrogated. My time in Africa gave me a first-hand look at what it feels like to not be a second-class citizen in society. It showed me how much America has tried to ignore the existence of white privilege when it is actually engrained. On a lighter note, please don’t believe American companies when they say they cannot produce quality black television commercials and programs… I saw tons that would put ours to shame.
2) Understanding slavery in the past explains the current struggles of today.
“Get over it,” they tell us back home in the United States. There is absolutely no way we can and should when it paints a larger picture of the current systematic obstructions that are relevant to our present. In Africa, slavery is discussed and they actually have renowned museums and tourist attractions that cater specifically to the topic… I’m still waiting America. When visiting the former Elmina slave castles near the coast of Ghana, I felt a sudden sense of immediate anger, emotion, and frustration in how much of the manipulation and strategic disenfranchisements blacks faced then are still prevalent. Same crap, just a different day.
3)Sorry, Raven-Symoné — but we are indeed African-Americans.
Just because you cannot find your exact roots on a continent, doesn’t mean they aren’t apart of your ethnic make-up. That would be just as dumb as assuming that not knowing your father means you weren’t conceived by one. Coming to the realization of what it means to be an African-American rather than simply “American” gives me a more honest rationale as to why I face the current obstacles in a nation that speaks of “equality and justice for all.” Furthermore, it re-teaches me that my legacy didn’t start when my ancestors entered the West from slave ships (that’s only the second half of my identity), but that there was an enriched culture before America — and that was in Africa.
4) Oppression of black people is an international concern.
Just as we fight for justice in Ferguson here in America, our brothers and sisters across the Atlantic are dealing with the discrimination and mistreatment of mass hysteria related to Ebola. Across the diaspora, blacks are feeling ostracized from the global discourse of how to protect their own communities. Such lack of representation of Africans being able to address how to eradicate their own problems reflects a worldwide stigma of having black leadership. Although our issues at surface level are distinct, fundamentally we are tackling the same mission: making black lives matter.
5) There needs to be more cross-continental discourse of connecting blacks across the diaspora.
Enough with just having cultural food and music fairs… let’s have a discussion about universally helping one another socially. When I attended college, it often aggravated me how black Americans felt Africans were another foreign group of people they could not identify with. And it was also troubling to see some native Africans look down on blacks in the country for not feeling as self-confident and culturally strong about their heritage. At this very moment in our present history, we now more than ever need to put down our media-driven stereotypes about one another and have real conversations about it. I am tired of seeing too many people of color help one another among regional affiliations and not the diaspora as a whole. Because the truth of the matter is that the rest of the world do not see us any differently and by strengthening our connections we can better combat these problems.
In closing, my travels to the continent gave me a fresh perspective on how I relate to blacks across the diaspora and how their burdens shape my work here in America. A lot of what the black community is trying to look for in themselves in our media, education, and economy can be found in the legacy and teachings that come from our brothers and sisters across the Atlantic.
This is not to say that I am entirely dismissive of American values and opportunities, I have been privileged on a technological and industrial level. However, I do believe that now is the time to expect more than just survival, and begin to thrive.
It is going to take more than just a village… but an entire continental shift in unifying self-value for all people of color.
As an educated black woman, I often have this comment thrown in my face. “You speak so well.” At one point, I was even asked if I had gone to school to speak the way that I do. Yes, I did go to school, but that is not a question you would ask a white person.
Ernestine Johnson, a Spoken Word artist, showcased her piece on The Arsenio Hall Show, and it resonated deeply with me. Take a look below and see what she has to say.
Part of me is with you
You who I’ve opened up to
You who I’ve let in
You who I’ve shared experiences with
And thought that it was true
I open up too easily too soon
They leave just as quickly as they’ve arrived
Part of me always leaves with them
The cycle starts again before I’m able to replenish
Warning signs flashing
I’m running on E
Not sure how to change
Being this way comes naturally
But it’s not good for me
Can’t you see
I’m running on E
Please help me change
Become a better me
A me that is overflowing with love, light, and confidence
A me not attached to the detached
A me who walks the talk
For them to be here with me
Perhaps this is my destiny
Always wanting and never having
They say the best things in life are free.
I’m on E.
Sunshine spilled in through the small spaces o f the blinds, finding its way over her body struggling to sleep. As her eyes twitch, fighting off the images beneath her lids, the sun’s invasions intensified whatever was happening in her subconscious mind. Instinctively, she lifted the knitted teal and orange throw above her head, in an attempt to shield away the torturous moment between her mind and mind’s eye. The vibrating sound of her cell phone alarms startled her, but only slightly as she pressed snoozed, eyes still closed. She wiped her eyes as to erase the dream’s journey. Finally, she forced open her eyes, perhaps too full to endure anymore. Routinely, she reached over to her handcrafted nightstand, which held her journal and favorite pen. She sat up, letting her wild locs fall freely, and did what she has been doing since the arrival of these images.
She wrote, tears forming, trapped in the corner of her eyes. She wiped them prematurely as she always did. Afraid the falling tears would bring the written words beneath them to life. She was oblivious, or perhaps in denial, to the fact that reality already occurred. That she has been a living result of a motherless child. Not that her mother was deceased or even absent, not physically at least.
She wrote away at this nagging dream, needing to put the pieces together, where she is running from danger into the arms of her mother. Towards her mother she runs. To safety she needed. To safety she thought.
To Be Continued….
I took a writing workshop class over the summer and while it was helpful hearing other people’s critique of and reading each others’ work, it was most difficult for me to write during the prompts. My mind would just shut down. Perhaps it was me thinking too much and/or comparing myself to the other writers in the workshop, all who are SOOOO brilliant. Any who, this was the first (and perhaps the only) piece that came freely to me during a writing prompt session. I said I’d come back to this and when I do, I will share its growth…
Me in a nutshell…well hamster wheel. Happy Friday Everyone!
It makes me angry sometimes when I think of the pain, loneliness, sadness, and frustration that come with closeted depression. I am a 28-year-old Caribbean-American female from a deeply-religious family. Depression, therapy, and help are not topics of discussion. My family did the best they could, but like in many Caribbean and African-American families, the symptoms and afflictions of depression were never addressed. At best, you get prayed over or, in my case, you get offered the option of an exorcism.
As I look back on my life, I realize that I began to show signs of depression at an early age. At school, I was failing nearly every subject. Outside of school, I would spend days and weekends in my darkened room playing with matches while lying on my bed. Things reached their worst when I began taking classroom chalk home so that I could draw on my bedroom walls. I remember this now as a clear indication of a nervous breakdown. Why was I feeling this way? I do not know, but it was real, raw, and dark. It was a step beyond pain; I had become numb.
I look back and ask: “Why was no one there for me? Why did no one reach out to me and say something, anything?” Simple: In my experience, in Caribbean and African-American cultures, depression does not exist. There is no space for this difficult conversation, and this attitude persists.
I recently shared with my father that my therapist wanted me to go on anti-depressants. His response: That I needed to be more active, to get out more. On another occasion, I revealed that I sometimes felt like I was losing my mind. His response: “Go ahead.” Yes, these comments were insensitive and ignorant, but they were not his fault. They are symptoms of a culture that continues to overlook the reality of mental illness. That, at worst, chooses to ignore the issue or, at best, chooses to pray it away. What we do not realize is that by continuing to do this, by continuing to remain silent and uninformed on the issues of depression and mental illness, we make it worse.
I wish there had been someone in my life to notice that I needed help, guidance, direction and support. I wish there had been someone there to see that I was struggling and drowning. If so, I might have gotten help much sooner. My life could have been much different.
I do not resent how my life has worked out. I do not write this to assign blame. I write this in hope that someone will read it. Someone with a child, sibling, or spouse will read it and think it is time for a very difficult conversation. Trust me: You want to have this compassionate conversation sooner rather than later, because if I had not gotten help when I did, I might not have been writing this now.
Originally posted on The Huffington Post. Yeah!!! Me on The Huffington Post…awesome. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/giovannah-philippeaux/my-story-of-depression-cu_b_5742466.html
I recently dedicated a day’s work to cleaning my apartment. It’s something anybody who can’t afford a maid has to do every now and then. I don’t mean a simple tidying up, either. I mean a full day’s work of cleaning like my mother used to do. I got up around 9 am (early for a day off from work) and started with laundry. I started tackling the bathroom while the first load was in the wash. I scrubbed down most of the tile and the tub then it was time to transfer the wet clothes into the dryer. Now, the dryer in my place isn’t too efficient so I set it to run for about an hour and a half and finished in the bathroom. I took mine and my girlfriend’s toiletries off the shelf, cleaned the shelf, and put them all back neatly, I cleaned the window and mirror. I cleaned the sink, toilet, emptied the litter box and cleaned the floor. I moved onto the living room next.
In the living room, I tidied up, wiped down surfaces, and vacuumed. I recovered some broken chess pieces on a set I keep in the living room for decoration. The pieces were scattered because cats can be jerks sometimes. After things looked neat and tidy in the living room, I took the laundry out of the dryer. I bagged up another load and threw it in to wash, then came back in to fold the clean clothes I had just taken out. Once the clothes were put away, I hit the kitchen. I wiped down all the surfaces, including the top of the refrigerator where we keep our appliances, and washed all the dishes. I transferred the clothes from the washer to the dryer and came back into the kitchen to organize all the shelves and clean the cats’ food and water bowls. I cleaned the floor and moved onto the bedroom. I made the bed, tidied up and organized our belongings and vacuumed. I took the laundry out of the dryer and started another load. There was a lot to do.
It felt great to do a detailed cleaning of the house. When you clean your living space and go through all of your belongings you get to know your space better. In getting to know your living space, you get to know yourself, the “you” that you’ve been lately. It helps to assess where you are and what you’ve been up to. I moved into this apartment with my girlfriend in January and in the amount of time we’ve been here, we’ve taken small steps towards making the place ours. Neither of us plan on living here forever but it’s good to personalize and make your place really feel like home. Doing a detailed cleaning has helped me out with this a great deal. I compare it to a farmer’s attachment to his plot of land.
A few months ago, I finished reading Steinbeck’s famous work The Grapes of Wrath in which an Oklahoman family is forced to leave their land and move west to California in search of work. I was struck by how difficult it was for the family to leave their home. It must be difficult for anyone to leave their home but it was particularly hard for the Joad family in Grapes of Wrath because that was land that they worked on. It was held by their family for several generations and they all worked hard on it. I’m not trying to say that anyone can have this sort of attachment to a place they rent for a few years but it is worth thinking about. When you put the work into moving your belongings around and cleaning small spaces you normally don’t pay any attention to, you start to develop a vested interest in that space because now you’re actively concerned with its upkeep. Some people spend a lot of time in their apartments and I bet it’s just like it was for the Joad family for anyone forced to leave their place of residence for whatever reason. Living in Brooklyn, I hear a lot of stories about people being bullied by landlords or being bought out or forced out to make room for tenants who will pay more money for the space that they occupy. It’s sad to hear about and it reveals how important a work Grapes of Wrath is. Steinbeck really understood something about the way the world works. It can be harsh and unsettling but it’s the world we live in and everyone has to find their way through it.
My main point is that cleaning your apartment is a good way to connect with your living space and better understand who you are today. We express ourselves in everything we do, especially in how we choose to decorate and maintain our homes and what we surround ourselves with. It seems obvious but these are things we don’t pay attention to on a daily basis and isn’t it nice to have a sense of who you are and where you stand? It’s such a fragile thing that is easy to lose track of. Take a day to get to know your living space and go through all your stuff. Don’t be afraid to throw stuff away if you have to. It’s important to understand who you are now. If your belongings don’t reflect that, get rid of them. Most things aren’t worth hoarding.
I sometimes think that I was “given” the struggle of depression so that I could understand where darkness and wickedness come from. When people intentionally hurt others it is because they too have been hurt, it comes from a dark place of unresolved pain. This explanation in no way excuses the behavior it just adds some perspective. When people unintentionally hurt others it is due to ignorance. In my life I have been exposed to both on a deeply personal level.
My Aunt is the pillar of unresolved pain, in my experience the more devastating of the two. Throughout her childhood she felt bullied, unworthy, and never good enough. She was left with a desperate need to prove herself, to have everyone know that she too was of significance, important, and worthy. How she went about proving her significance was devastating… she sought to claim familial power and control through bullying and manipulation. Now I will not discuss what she has done to others, but I will share what she has done to me. For a very long time I was one of her targets. As the eldest daughter to the eldest sister and the closest granddaughter to her mother, I represented something to be conquered, controlled, and broken. If she could break me, she could break what to her I symbolized.
As the second oldest she was always compared to my Mother. And in her eyes she thought my Grandmother,her Mother, never really liked her. She didn’t perform well in school and would get caught lying about class assignments; which at the time and in the culture was a no no. She grew up feeling small and hurt, and she used that pain to fuel what she would later become as an adult.
So she took her anger out on me, but I was only one of her targets. She manipulated and bullied others as well. She even manipulated my Father against me. As a child, I distinctly remember the feeling of getting double teamed, being constantly bullied by two key figures in my life. The bullying didn’t begin to desist until I knew how to placate, until I learned to be the small quite one, until I understood where I belonged. She could not break my Mother or her Mother, so she went after me. By winning over me she had conquered over something…
The second pillar of suffering is ignorance. My Father is a good man but gullible and he has had to fight is own demons. As the eldest of seven children my Father was often the man of the house. His Father was a trucker driver, never really home, and ended up leaving the family when my Father was in his late teens. So he has had his own struggles, his own battles to fight. And when it came to raising a precocious and rebellious young girl he was lost so he relied on what he knew…heavy discipline and conformity. There was no room for my personal and individualistic growth…there was no space to grow in and nowhere to grow to.
It has been a struggle and continues to be a struggle. Did you ever get the feeling as a child that there was no one at your side, no one in your corner? Not only did my relationships with my Aunt and Father make for a toxic environment I would often get bullied at school by both students and teachers. All of this, I believe, is what led me to begin experiencing depression as a teen. I think I had finally had enough, had finally begun the process of giving up. I remember very long days of lying on my bed in my darkened bedroom playing with matches, fire, and rubbing alcohol. As I look back at it, I imagine that the fire must have seemed a live to me at a time when I didn’t feel so; at a time when I thought that my life would have served a greater purpose if given to someone else.
Although I am a work in progress, and working at the project of me, I still remember those feelings and sometimes they find space to reemerge. And I bring up this struggle because within in me has lived the pillars of pain and ignorance, the pillars of suffering. Pillars I inherited but was not born with. But instead of bullying others I chose to self-destruct. I bullied myself. I was/am a walking open wound exposed to salty wind and hard rain. I have OCD, Anxiety, and Depression. I am overweight, make poor eating choices, and mark my skin. But beyond that my mind is on repeat with continued messages of self-hate, disgust, and disdain.
As I enter my mid-twenties, tons of milestones are happening all around me. Not to me, but around me. Co-workers, acquaintances, random people on the street and friends are getting engaged, married, pregnant, dream career promotions and buying houses. While I am chugging along at turtle speed. Summer is almost upon us, seasonally and is here socially for my mid-twenty year olds out there. I feel like I am spending all my time “working” on me, meditating and being open to revelations, and reading the tea leaves in the mug that is my life.
While the past year has brought me much growth and awareness, I am still striving for the inner peace. I still feel gut pangs and ego bruises with every other milestone happening to people around me. Maybe this is the plight of the self involved product of my generation. My one consolation is that I am not jealous or envious. I am truly happy for the recipients of these grand events. They are embarking on a new exciting adventure. I am just puzzled as to WHY I am not on the adventure train too! I know I will get there, but I just want to know the time, date, year and place as to when.
I remember being younger and hearing older people say “your twenties will be the time of your life”. And now most twenty year olds I know, myself included, can’t wait for it to be over. The wandering, the thinking, and the stride making towards the (future) life you want to have. Then again I am a part of an interesting sect of young people who are plagued with notions of forward thinking. In my mind I need to figure out who I am now and fast. I don’t want to be 35 and then just realizing, holy sh**t, my life currently sucks! But in the words of Bikram Choudhury “ You’re never too old, too late, and never to sick, to start from scratch once again“