Embracing Black Womanhood from a Global Perspective

by Tracey Coleman

I love Black women. I really do. We are some passionate, sultry, hard-working, multi-tasking, tenacious, phenomenal women and we know it. However, we often forget that our greatness stems from roots that extend far beyond the borders of this great nation we live in. We are so hell-bent on defining our place as Black Women in America that we often fail to realize that the Black Woman existed long before America was “discovered”. The oldest bones on the face of the earth are of an African woman, so please believe we have been present and accounted for since the beginning of time. Yet for some reason once we arrived on the East coast on that involuntary cruise ship, we somehow lost our connection with sisters in the global community of Black womanhood.

This time last year I was tossing around the idea of visiting Africa for the first time. No, there wasn’t some ray of light that shone upon my forehead one morning, accompanied by a voice telling me to go forth and exile my spirit to the Motherland. My sister had just married into a Ghanaian family and since my parents decided to travel to Accra for the holidays, I figured I’d tag along too. We all had an open invitation from her in-laws, so it was the perfect opportunity to see the Africa that exists beyond my remote control.

I went to Ghana with an open mind, willing to learn whatever it had to teach me about my ancestral roots that I read about in my high school history class. But see, therein lies the crux of the media’s portrayal of African culture. They often make the entire continent appear as if nothing has changed since we were captured centuries ago. As if time has stood still over there and Black America has marched onward, carrying the torch of our primitive ancestors who are still struggling over there in the desert.

Oh, but wait. They aren’t all struggling. Quite the opposite, in fact. And the poor, emaciated African women who all carry baskets on their heads that we see on TV were surprisingly difficult to find. My first experience with Ghanaian women was a clothing line launch and auction held at the Coconut Grove Hotel in Accra. While the women in the room excitedly waved their bidding cards in the air to claim the designers’ inaugural pieces, guess who sat silently because she couldn’t afford them? The longer I sat in the room with these women, it felt less and less like I was thousands of miles away and more like I was at an event right here in New York with friends.

This sentiment continued throughout my trip. The women I met listened to the same music that I did and laughed about the same jokes on television. We chatted about the same stories in hip hop culture and shared the same issues managing the naturally kinky hair we all have in common.

To be brutally honest, while my trip to Ghana was nothing short of amazing, I expected everything to be more “foreign,” as ridiculous as that may sound. It took some time for me to appreciate that the global community of Black womanhood has far more similarities than differences and we should tap into that connection instead of succumbing to these artificial lines of division that have been created based on geography. I look forward to the days when we are able to genuinely connect with our sisters abroad without clinging to the notion of a new American Black woman, and  encourage those who haven’t done so, to take a trip to visit your sisters overseas. You’ll be surprised to see how much you both look just like your (great, great, grand) parents.

  • African Mami

    The one thing that made me smile at this article was the fact that you mingled with the rich folks. They NEVER ever highlight this group in Africa. We are all poor, starved, diseased and then some! Glad you went with an open-mind!!!!!! VIVA LA AFRIQUE!

  • Beautiful Mic

    Every country has it’s privileged, the few. If they stop showing images of the poor, rural, etc…they will become forgotten or ignored. This has been the case in the states.

  • Nelle

    I have been living in Accra for several months now and can 100% speak on the beauty of connecting with sisters on the continent. I have found so much joy, love and laughter with my Ghanaian and re-pat sisters here on the continent it has at times kept me from running on the next plane back to new york.
    But seriously, I don’t know where you were in Accra but clearly you didn’t take a taxi/spend much time on the roads. How can you say you didn’t see any poor women with baskets on their heads?? Seriously, seeing 7, 8, 9 year olds hawking “purrrrre waterrrr, yea its purrreee” and “plantainnnsss, yeaaaa they’re plantainnns” is an every day occurrence when living here.

  • Jami
  • lynette

    OMG!! This is so timely because I just recently got back from my trip to Europe!! It was absolutely the most refreshing trip I had taken in my entire life. I was so happy to see my beautiful European sistahs. I met one stunningly beautiful sistah from South Africa and I told her that I hope to visit South Africa real soon in the future. I loved being overseas so much I wanted to just move there! Being overseas is an eye opening experience because it allows you to understand other cultures and customs that can be drastically different from the ones we have here in the US (and that’s a good thing!). It made me even question some customs we have here that actually don’t make a lot of sense. Even dating (if we can call it that) seemed more simpler over there than here…*sigh*…I could talk about this for days but I won’t:)..

    Ladies if you get an opportunity to go overseas, I would encourage you to take it.

  • lynette

    Great article! I just got back from my trip to Europe. It was one of the most eye opening experiences of my life. I met this stunningly beautiful woman from South Africa and I told her that I hope to visit that country real soon. I felt like I got a good perspective on the world and how it compares to living here in America. There are different customs and cultures and just a different way of life. Even dating over there seems different than here in the states (and maybe that’s a good thing!). I could talk about this for days but I won’t. Ladies I would encourage you to take an opportunity to see what the world has to offer.

  • Jane

    Tracey, have you ever considered learning which tribe you are from, http://www.africanancestry.com. I am dumbfounded at how nervous I am to find out. I don’t know what the fear is.

  • http://nachalooman.wordpress.com Anna Renee

    Let us western black folks remember that what we know about Africa is mainly lies and half truths. We’ve been conditioned to think of Africa as a poverty stricken COUNTRY–which is how its portrayed in western media. You can’t learn Africa in one holiday vacation visit. You can’t even learn Africa in a lifetime.

    Africa is a vast CONTINENT, with innumerable cultures and and languages and politics and problems and triumphs and innovations. There are many peoples- “modern”, “traditional”, “poor”, “working class”, “highly educated” etc. etc., with numerous political viewpoints, cultures, religions, family dynamics, etc., etc. And these dynamics are changing all the time – the peoples of Africa are not a monolith of what you read in that old Nat Geo mag or even watched on the Discovery Channel.

    They are people, Just like all other people. Dont go expecting some kind of transformative experience-that’s so eurocentric. I’ve encountered many Africans who hate that about blacks born in the diaspora. They see you as ridiculously romantic about Africa.

    Please be realistic if you are blessed to go. You’ll be dealing with real people after all. It wont be a Royal Caribbean commercial where everybody is happy to see you. Some may expect you to answer for the west’s oppression. Some may wonder why you’re so ignorant about Africa. Some may see you even as they do the whites. Dont get your feelings hurt. You wont get brownie points just because you’re a Brit or American, etc.

    Just deal with African people as you do all other people, with a diversity of experiences. They are people after all.

  • Whatever

    Very true.

  • Whatever

    “And the poor, emaciated African women who all carry baskets on their heads that we see on TV were surprisingly difficult to find.”

    I love hearing the experience of African Americans that travel to African countries. However, statements like this annoy me. I really enjoyed reading the article and didn’t want to be a debbie downer… However, you were in Accra, Ghana, a specific city in a specific country. Why do people lump the entire continent that is so rich with all these different people, languages, cultures etc. into one? The women you saw on tv could have been from any number of nations (including Ghana) where Yes, women absolutely do carry baskets on their heads (and there is nothing wrong with that).

    To each their own…

  • http://www.angstandhumor.blogspot.com Angstandhumor

    Not just rich people,even middle class. We have a growing middle class here that no one talks about. Ofcourse there are poor people,but show me a place where there aren’t.

  • http://www.angstandhumor.blogspot.com Angstandhumor

    That oneness the author speaks of is something I stress to all my African American friends. Black people are suprisingly similar. Name any ‘black cultural experience’ and I can give you the equivalent here.

    It suprises people that we wear makeup,get perms,drink takeaway coffee and are well just like you. Don’t go telling me that I am the minority because I am not.

  • B

    @Beautiful Mic and Whatever: I agree! I really loved this article. I’m glad she mingled with the middle class Ghanians and thus had her initial stereotype of Africans de-stabilized. That’s important. But I also don’t appreciate statements like the one you, Whatever, quoted for the very same reasons that you and Beautiful Mic stated. Well said.

  • Nadell

    U-N-I-T-Y starts w/ you & I. We have to come together. There is more common-ness than we assume.
    LOVE your article!!

  • kaya

    Every race and culture have its stereotype that is fed to us by the media and my gawsh dont the media like to show the poorest of poor to represent the continent of Africa which people just naturally lump together, sometime that everywhere of Africa is poor. I met a white girl once who told me “i wasn’t at all loud and ghetto….um no offense”
    Offense taken, but the fact was she didn’t had a lot of if not any experience with black people besides the reality ones she saw on TV. I know the comment on the basket on the head may have been annoying to see but it was honest on how a lot of people view Africa and im glad too see that -that stereotype was shatter once she got there :) I would love to visit their myself one day , oohh can’t wait!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dj-Baker/698012064 D.j. Baker

    I appreciate these thoughts. Thanks Anna Renee!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dj-Baker/698012064 D.j. Baker

    Umoja!!!!

  • http://[email protected] ross

    Two black guys talking to each other; one is from Africa and the other from America… the first one said “why you never came to get us man?” and the second say ” why YOU never came and got us!?… guess which one is which…

  • B

    Man, I love that! I think that captures a lot of the conflict and sensibilities I’ve noticed among black American people and black folks from the continent.

  • E.M.S.

    I’m glad to hear they’re not much different than us. It shows that black people from other parts of the world have as many opportunities to live a pleasant lifestyle as we do here.

  • http://www.yellokatproductions.wordpress.com YelloKat

    It sounded like you mostly hung out with rich and/or Westernized folks. Believe me, if you had traveled to the rural areas, you would experience some sort of culture shock, no matter what kind of “education” you received about the country beforehand (even if it’s from natives of the country).

    Some Ghanaians are only proud of their Westernized, rich kinfolk (the first commenter already gave you props for highlighting the much overlooked 1% of the population) and it’s because deep down they are ashamed of what kind of “primitive” lifestyle or culture the masses lead because they are not accepted (at best PITIED) by white people.

    Newsflash: MANY African women DO walk around in the streets with baskets on their heads and they are just as beautiful as anyone else. Yes, MOST of them do it because they are poor (they are usually selling something) and because they need to feed their children but the only reason why it’s considered “bad” is because Americans said so.

    There is NOTHING wrong with “foreign” people. Africans ARE very different from African Americans. Black people ARE different from whites. But the problems arise when we begin to try to erase differences instead of respecting them, whether or not we can always relate to their experiences.

  • naadza

    i looooved this article! everything about it, africa is coming together Ghana is showing the world that africa can make it! thank you for this article

  • http://www.breuckelenandhoney.com Latoyia

    Wonderful article Tracey. I can’t wait for my travel to Nigeria next month.

  • Ghanaianbro

    I feel like a few of the commenters are missing the author’s point on balance. The point is that nearly ALL of the media you see coming from any part of Africa details how poverty-stricken the continent is. She is just saying that something else exists. I dare anyone to name me three movies that show any part of a thriving downtown in any African country, and I assure you that even when covering peaceful elections in an African country, the stock footage chosen by the networks will tend to be from the most poor village they can find (just as the reporters often the least informed brother or sister in the community when they are investigating a fire in the Hood), rather than conducting interviews in the capital city. She never said she didn’t see any women carrying objects on her head, just that there were also some people with their posessions in nice bags, riding in cars. That all said, I find this article refreshing. If you don’t know there are poor people in Africa, including Ghana, then you’ve never seen anything on Africa at all. But what the author provides is a new and necessary message – there is prosperity, there is wealth (both existing and yet to be realized) and while we appreciate any efforts to support our struggles, we are also proud to show how far we have come.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tracey-Coleman/622661380 Tracey Coleman

    Hi YelloKat,

    I actually did see women with the baskets on their heads as well as very poor sections of the country. Both extremes of the socio-economic spectrum exist there the same way they do does here in the US. However, the media shows Hollywood on TV and when you go overseas people think everyone here in America lives in a posh apartment overlooking Central Park and walks around in Manolos all day. That perspective is also incorrect. The point is, seeing a country for yourself will help dispel some of the myths perpetuated on television and at the end of the day we are all far more similar than we are different and understanding that will help us see ourselves more like global family and less like estranged cousins.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tracey-Coleman/622661380 Tracey Coleman

    Thanks so much! It’s really about embracing our differences and learning more about our similarities so we can receive each other as a global family of sisters!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tracey-Coleman/622661380 Tracey Coleman

    Hi YelloKat – I actually did see the women with the baskets on their heads and plenty of poverty stricken people in the poor sections of the country. However, I had seen that before. We all have, on television and in movies, in our school textbooks and in documentaries. However, I wanted to show that there is another side to the countries in this great continent and just like everybody in America isn’t rich with money to blow on fake weddings, everybody in Africa isn’t living naked on the streets. Especially among women, we have far more similarities than we do differences and we should embrace each other as a community of global sisterhood instead of allowing our differences to tear us apart.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tracey-Coleman/622661380 Tracey Coleman

    @Whatever I was actually being facetious :) I did see the ladies with the baskets but my point is that if you believe television you would think that everyone on the entire vast continent lives in poverty and that there are no businesswomen or entrepreneurs or wealth in general to be found. I wanted to highlight a different side of this one country to reinforce the fact that we share many similarities in our cultures. I was annoyed growing up when teachers would classify Africa as a country because it is not. It is a continent with many diverse nations and I feel that traveling to visit them clears up a lot of miseducation that we are fed in the American school system and media.

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