Prev1 of 2Next


When I was 10 or so, my father won an all-expense paid trip to Senegal. “We’re going to Africa!” my mother gleefully exclaimed. So we took the Amtrak train to New York to fly out of JFK and ignored the warnings of a pending Nor’easter, thinking the sheer and desperate determination of three Black Americans to make it to Africa would hold off the worst of the snow until we were airborne.

It didn’t. New York City was shut down for three days, and by the time the airports opened, it didn’t make sense to fly out. We pushed the trip back indefinitely, and never made it. And so began my obsession with Africa, the place my even-tempered mother spoke of like it was some sort of Disneyland for Black people.

Some Black Americans, and I’m referring mostly to those that call Mississippi, Georgia, and South Carolina their “Old Country,” tend to be awe-struck at the idea Africa, like Nas at the end of Belly. Once we get a full picture beyond what we’re taught in school, where the largest continent and birthplace of all mankind is reduced to being the starting point for the Atlantic Slave Trade, there becomes an eagerness to migrate back across the Atlantic. The yearning is not unlike some immigrants who seek entrance to American shores. Except we’re not seeking the opportunities and streets of gold that Fievel and his family expected; we’re seeking the “home” that the Middle Passage erased.

I get why. For many American Blacks, the overall American experience has never really felt like a place where you can kick up your feet and recline all the way back. You get moments where that happens, of course, but then you also get a startling awakening— like when people are surprised you don’t have any children out of wedlock, or you happen to be “so articulate,” or despite carrying a purse while you shop, you find yourself explaining “No, no, actually I don’t work here.” Those things remind you not to get too comfy. America is home in the sense of being the devil you know, a bit like a stereotypical step-child, the one you tolerate but don’t really love like your own.

In recent weeks those feelings have surfaced again for many who struggle to make sense of the injustice of Trayvon Martin’s killer walking around freely, the ignorance displayed in conservative columnist John Derbyshire’s piece for The National Review where he wrote of advising his children to avoid Black folk, and the obnoxiousness of those Twitter-racists who found outrage in a sympathetic book character being Black or Awkward Black Girl landing the Shorty Award for best web-series. I find, similar to Cinderella, we dream of an escape to a place where we fit, like a glass slipper on the correct foot. For me, that place was Africa, any country, any part.

Prev1 of 2Next

143 Comments

  1. this was so short-sighted and ignorant. 3 weeks in south africa of all places and you feel qualified to speak on not being “african” enough. seriously? so now dude from a spike lee movie has the final word? how about you travel extensively first? how about you focus on connecting to the place? africa is not panacea for those of us who are of the diaspora but you experience can be what you make it. adjust your attitude and your expectations. tell the women dishing out disdain not to assume you speak her language but ask if her she cares to share the name and to learn about black people from outside her world. geez.

    • ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^THHHHHHHHHHHHHISSSSS!!!!!

    • Gloray! People really think stepping on foreign soil for a monh gives them the authority to speak foolishly. She went and drank mimosas, took pictures and ate seafood but has so much o say about her “experience”. Try again, Miss Lucas.

    • Djuobah

      +1.

    • Yeahright2011

      I like Western Europe for traveling. You’re treated like an American. Well you have to say so in France, Greece, and Italy for they’ll think you’re a hooker. Once they realize you’re American its a good time though. Closet I’ve been to Africa is the Canaries and the only African country I want to see, if any, is Cape Verde. If you want a West African experience just go to DC or NY. Why fly half way around the world when you can get treated like crap by Africans right here in the US and for a lot less money.

  2. Tarupiwa Of Zimbabwe.

    Fortunately I am in Africa right now. Never come to Africa with an attitude. We have had enough attitudes from whites who came, colonised us and tried to treat us with disdain, with all their racist tendencies. We fought the white and everything that has to do with them. We stand very tall and equal to whites including their cultures. So, when one of our kind comes here with a whitish hangover – we take serious exception. Our kids, because of media and tv are franticaly trying to be more western cultured than the west. When next you visit Africa be human and humble, be friendly and accomodating. We are still in Africa here. We were robbed not only of our dignity, integrity and rights to self determination and actualisation. Yes, we have pleanty of work to do, building ourselves and countries in the face of a global economy and its dictates. Come to Zimbabwe, we will give you your own farm and probably a diamond mine. We simply lack capital but we are spirited enough to take our destiny into our own hands. And, we never apologise we are Africans; very proud and very capable. If you come next – we can take you hunting, sleeping in the bush with lions roaring – thats Africa. And, we are the people. Africa was partioned, shared amongst Europen countries. Sons and daughters taken as slaves to the Americas. So when you come back , you are one of us. But, never give us your erstwhile slavemasters’ attitude. [email protected]

    • Just Me

      Great comment. Very interesting perspective.

    • Socially Maladjusted

      Beautiful!

  3. apple

    Because you are American, only of African descendant,that’s why you don’t fit in. As much as I would love to live elsewhere I know I’m more American then my desire to leave for good. And you never realize how american you are, til you leave . However if you with go the expectation that you are going to become a native just because you have old roots or look like a group of people there ,you will be disappointed.

  4. steve

    very good job sister, you hit the nail on the head on why i dont believe in the term African-american. It not because mama africa is not your ancestral home or they hate on black american (please) , but because you have been in america over 200-400 years. I was raised in both america and the caribbean but to everybody back “home” im american, because of the way I talk, I dress, the little things I do and how i do it.

    Thats reality nothing wrong with it

  5. Anne, Steve, I hear you! Born in East Africa, have spent nearly all my life in the UK, I will always be seen as British whenever I travel back. Used to annoy me at first but just used to it now!

    Why on earth are people calling the author ‘uppity’? Urgh – horrible, horrible, language

Comments are moderated, please be respectful. View our policy.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

More in Africa
Close