STUCK III... In Identity Part (1)

Updated: Jan 21, 2019

In this article, Blacks (ambiguity) refer to descendants of African slaves brought into colonial America-- are also known as "darkie" or "akata" (meaning "gangster" in Akan Twi).

When I read the title of this article to my 15-year old cousin that I had not considered myself ”black” for a while, she was taken aback. "Wait! You didn't think you were black?" Of course, she and I had to take a step back to clarify things. As a first-generation American, what she thought of when she heard "Black" was a matter of skin color or race. But it was more than that for me, if not significantly different.

Prior to coming to the US, I would have had no vested interest in the discourse on race, and very little conversations about skin color. I could not conceptualize racism even though I had heard about it. But oh, I had heard about and seen the "Blacks". I had heard stories of how Blacks were treated: It was not very pleasant. I had also heard of how they treated each other. I had seen how Blacks behaved in movies and music videos. Based three thousand miles away from America, I could create a psychological tableau of the "Blacks": fraught with violence, broken homes, snitching, poverty, promiscuity and lawlessness. (That's probably why some locals distinctively refer to Blacks as "akata" (meaning gangster in Twi). I had read peer-reviewed articles discussing how Blacks felt we (African immigrants) threatened their job security (and or that we African immigrants perceived). Simply put, the Blacks were adversely different from my people, othering them from me.

Over and over again, I would emphasize that I was not Black in high school. Anytime I had to fill out a demographic profile, I looked pass the "Black/African-American" line and checked "Other". Next to other, I would write in "African" or "Ghanaian". It wasn't a sign of rebellion: I was legally not American and so I would not claim to be "African-American". Socially, culturally and psychologically, I assumed that I was not black. I didn't sound "black", never attended a "black" cookout or "black" church. I didn't celebrate "Kwanzaa". I also couldn't claim the struggles of being black in America or identify with the struggles of African slaves in colonial America. I sincerely agreed and thought that it would be wrong to claim blackness. I could only acknowledge blackness from afar, and sympathize when need be, but not pridefully or naively.

I sincerely agreed and thought that it would be wrong to claim blackness. I could only acknowledge blackness from afar, and sympathize when need be, but not pridefully or naively.

And as I battled with all these nuances internally in high school, I was willing to give the benefit of a doubt and challenge my assumptions, until... this Black girl told me she was surprised that "I spoke good English" and "had white teeth too”. (I would later find out that she was first-generation American born to Guinean parents). My point is, I naively, innocently and defensively (and I would come to find soon, pridefully) didn't want to be called or seen as black. College showed me that I had a great deal of ignorance and lived with significant naivety. But could you blame me? Socialization had influenced my outlook.

It was a research paper I did as a college sophomore that would begin to challenge my perspective. In my interviews with several sub-Saharan Africans, I would find that they (some first and second generation citizens) shared similar sentiments (the othering of Blacks) like I did. The research revealed that there was an apparent disconnect, where Africans who immigrated to the U.S. at the beginning of teen years were strongly inclined towards their Africanness and emphasized distinction of what blackness was. But that was about to change for me.

It took the little things. There was that time an interviewer found it interesting that I was black with a very white name. Gertrude Morgan did not sound very black. Maybe the Dadzie part? Then there was the time I was complimented (hopefully it was) for looking like a "Black Panther" activist because of my outfit and natural Afro hair.

Being one of two female minority students in one of my Honors classes is what broke my assumptions apart. For the first time, I realized that I had been put in a position where I represented all black people, whether I liked it or not. Talk about racism, and all eyes were towards our direction. Police brutality, same. The experiences themselves may have been superficial, but the lessons I derived from them weren't. And some these insights is what led me to accept that I was truly black — per complexion, race, culture, society — and intrinsically. And from here, I would begin to see through a very different lens...

How has differing dynamics in a new place affected how you see yourself? How do you navigate it?

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