When you return from studying abroad, you are inevitably showered with questions. While some ask about the food, and others ask about the weather, the most common questions are about what you learned and how your time outside the U.S. affected you. When I, an African-American person, returned from four months in Ghana, many people asked me if I felt my time there changed me in any way. My response was yes, but often not in the way people expect. I wasn’t ready to rave about how much I loved Ghanaian culture and how soon I wanted to return to the motherland. Rather, I approached my experience with a critical eye. After returning to the states, I found I had an increased sense of respect and pride for my distinctly African-American culture. It makes sense: As an American in Ghana, I felt, well, American – a fact of which I was constantly reminded.
I never noticed just how much of an emphasis we, as Americans, put on race until I visited Ghana, where nationality trumps race. There, it isn’t necessarily about Black, White, or Latino, but rather Ghanaian, Nigerian, or American. Once I was able to separate race and nationality, I began to more clearly understand the effects of the construction of race in America. It was these realizations that made me fall more deeply in love with my African-American culture.
I go back to a teaching of my favorite professor, Elijah Anderson. He teaches a class at Yale called “Norms and Deviance,” in which I learned about the subjective view of deviance. That is, groups who are in power can determine and enforce what society views as deviant behavior. In the United States, African-American culture has traditionally been labeled deviant by the powerful White majority. Because of this, African Americans have often turned to traditional African culture, where Black people are the majority, to find cultural value. But you can’t make up for 400 years of isolation from your mother country and continent simply by living an Afro-centric lifestyle. The culture runs much deeper than knowing your history and traditional greatness, or wearing dashikis and traditional garb.
After going to Ghana, I get that. I have always loved being Black. I love my African-American culture, but I was often weary of how our actions are perceived by the rest of America. Now, I refuse to be apologetic. Counterintuitive as it may sound, coming home to Trump's America has made me even more proud to be an African-American. The more oppression that I and people around me face, the more likely I am to gain the strength to persevere. We don't need to assimilate to anyone else's norm. The truer we are to ourselves and our vast culture, the more solidarity we will have within our community. For so long the African-American community has been fragmented over a wide range of issues. I see this most acutely in the divide between generations; the older generation is critical of the new age and culture that have arisen, whereas the younger one stands firm in its means of self-expression. If and when we can come together to acknowledge how valuable we are in our current state, it will be easier for us to agree upon how to continuously progress in the United States and abroad.
For me, being unapologetically Black means I’m proud of all things in our culture — the street style, the hip-hop and jazz music, the gold chains and gold grills, the soul food, the hyphy movement, the dreadlocks, the slang language. There’s something about the way African Americans put a flare on everything. It’s magic.
Images courtesy of Akintunde Ahmad