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.

  • http://museandwords.com NinaG

    Being West African but born in the states, I can relate.
    In my last trip “home”, I literally decided not to give a fuck about other people’s ideas of who I am.
    People create arbitrary lists of what is/what ain’t so they can play a game of hierarchy and come out on top.

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    Excuse me?! You are going to generalize/judge a whole continent, based on your ONE South African experience. The tittle should have read, not African enough in South Africa!

    The lady that spoke to you with “disdain” only did so, because a lot of kids are now embracing the English language, foregoing their mother tongue. In essence, forgetting their culture and seemingly embracing the West. The roll of eyes was coming from a good place oo!———-> and no, I was not in her head to know exactly what she was thinking, BUT you will get a lot of those-

    I would roll my eyes too if I read this! It drips of uppitiness. When in Rome do as the Romans do-it ain’t that hard!

  • La

    This “aticle” is ridiculous. What was the point really? Did you expect to be made a queen mother? Maybe you were feeling ou of place and so FOUND a way to be made to feel out of place with her “disdain”. “my American-ness was announced long before I opened my mouth.” Uppity Syndrome. “the way I dressed” WHAT were you wearing tha they have never seen? ugh. I typically like your work but when it comes to foreign matters you end to act like “i’m so cultured” but really, going to brunch, essence festival and studying abroad isn’t culture. You may have stamps in your passport but far from cultured.

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    I just read your comment and started singing.

    *Jesus is the answer for the world today, above there is no other.*………..>random, I know!

  • rd

    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.

More in Africa, travel
Close