Hi Nu life family, I’m here today offering a suggestion for anyone looking to understand themselves and ground themselves: go home.
Home for me is Marksville, Louisiana. Since growing up there, I’ve been blessed to live away from home and travel since high school. I first moved from home when I was 14, attending a residential high school called the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts. Next I moved to Richmond, Virginia for college. During college, I’ve been able to travel (and the school paid for it!) to France for a summer, to Belize for a week, and finally to Senegal and Ghana for 5 months each.
Visiting the Motherland
As much I as I romanticize my time in Senegal and Ghana, the truth is I wanted to forget part of myself when I was there –this “American” part. I’m a history nut, and being in the classes I take (and took) in school, I know the details about slavery and specifically my own ancestors’ enslavement. I know that my people never belonged to the country America, rather they were forced to be there. Going back to the Motherland, then, meant a lot for me spiritually and historically.
When I got there I wanted to fit in, while learning as much as possible about my “African” self. I tried my hardest to get ahold of both Wolof and Twi, picking up cultural cues and phrases. I limited how much “American” clothes I wore, getting clothes made with beautiful and meaningful fabrics. I got excited when people would mistake me for being native rather than foreign, and (whether I would admit it or not) I would be disappointed when the passerby called my foreignness out.
This is that double consciousness that W.E.B. Dubois was talking about. Here in a land that only my distant ancestors saw, I wanted badly to fit in and to claim the culture. Knowing and feeling the centuries of violence lashed out onto my people, I knew claiming “American” culture is the last thing I wanted to do. So here’s the place when I vouch for a healthy middle ground. No, we are not simply “American” we are Black Americans. It is important to recognize the raw connection we have to the Motherland; it is impossible to dismiss. At Cape Coast, I literally felt the weight of my ancestors. I could feel the screams and cries of my people as manifested in the raging ocean waters. I also felt, though, that they were proud of who we became. Yes, we were ripped away from our home, but then in the face of murder, rape, and other forms of torture we still managed to create a home for ourselves in America. We developed our own subset of a culture, influenced both my our African roots and European imposition. No matter, how much I wanted to dismiss the latter, I can’t. It’s equally a part of me, and I know that with this mixture of culture Black Americans have made something beautiful.
The culture that I grew up in means red beans & rice with cornbread and cabbage. It means the smell of a bubbling pot of gumbo on a frosty day. It means walking down the street with a dixie cup flipped upside down on a hot, humid day. I means helping my dad stir his pot of pecan candy until my wrist started hurting because it was so thick. It meant watching my aunties, uncles, and parents swing to the likes of Tucka and TK Soul until the sunlight turned to moonlight. It meant helping my grandpa record gospel concerts on his cameo and then helping him serve fish plates when the concert was over. It meant waking up early on Christmas Day and running to see what was under the tree for me. It meant going to my auntie’s on Thanksgiving Day and just hoping the food would be ready soon because my stomach was touching my back. It was piling my plate high with macaroni and cheese, cornbread dressing, rice dressing, mustard greens, and ham and eating until I had the itis. It meant walking around my backyard looking to find the little holes that I knew crawfish dug. It was bringing my dad a cold towel as he sweated bullets mowing the lawn. It was playing the Sims on our desktop in the kitchen until my eyes burned. It meant standing on my tippy-toes as the cashier at our family restaurant “Nanna’s”. It was going to my Papa’s church and being rewarding in cash because I got all A’s on my report card. It was going to my second mom’s house and talking about space, scary movies, suspenseful novels, vision boards, and playing with Bratz dolls until it was time for me to go back home.
A small town, with one high school and two grocery stores. It’s easy for me to say “Yea, I’m from Marksville, but there’s not much there.” But the Truth, as illustrated above, says the complete opposite. Marksville is also a place where slavery existed, like just about every place in the American South. With everything that happened to my ancestors (murder, rape, lynchings, employment & education discrimination) and the continued invisible and visible racial tensions that exist, my family still gets together to this day and continues to create memories like these.
Claim where you are from– in it’s entirety (the good, bad, ugly, and everything in between).