I had a great conversation about identity with a Nigerian graduate student today. The conversation started because she had mentioned that the church she attends here in Seattle had been talking identity, and the significance and the importance of community. I told her that recently I had been thinking about my role in my community. How I am currently struggling to find a community to attach myself to as a young African American recent college graduate now living in Seattle. There is always the excuse of time, but nevertheless it’s personally something I am working on.
I told her that I had been reading Ronald Takaki’s: A Different Mirror lately and learning about the history of migration to America. Her next question to me was one that caught me off guard. Her question was, why are you reading this? And why do you think African Americans feel the need to always hold on and personalize past oppressions? She said she meant no disrespect by the question, but she had gotten in disagreements with friends when she asked them what good could come from it and why they could not just move forward. She felt like it was hurting African Americans more than it was helping them. Ironically I had discussed a similar conversation recently. I’ve been told that holding on to such oppression is a “slave mentality” and that thinking this way just proves furthermore that shackles have been placed on the brains of African Americans without us knowing it.
I am far from an expert in this subject and I can only speak from my opinions, my thoughts, my experiences, and my assumptions. I told her personally I was reading the book to learn more about the country I live in. Everything that I have read thus far have been events that I felt like I should have learned back in middle school. Yet truth is we were only taught surface level facts and white lies.
In my opinion African Americans as a race have been stripped of their connection and importance to this country and to the world through slavery. Slavery may have happened a little over a century ago but I explained to her for African American’s many of our families cannot trace our roots back further than the South.
Psychologically I feel as though this affects us in many different ways. There is a feeling from recent generations that they would rather be considered “black” and not “African” American because they do not consider themselves to actually be from Africa. While I am not one of the people who agrees with this sentiment, I am beginning to understand it. Stories of slavery were rarely passed down to African American families, furthermore the forced migration processes that took place from most of our ancestors was not discussed either. While we all know as a culture this was our contribution to America, most of us do not have specific details or know where our people migrated from before ending up in the south. Therefore, there is no direct connection. For many cultures who migrated to America, while there is still a loyalty to America as home; there is a since of cultural pride when it comes to their country of origin. African American’s are expected to be prideful to a continent they have no family connection too.
I hope I haven’t lost you, Digging even deeper into the subject we discussed travel and location. Things that many of us take for granted like thinking globally. What effect does having a family connection to an area outside of the United States have on a persons mindset. The urge to learn about these area’s, the urge to travel to these areas? Without this connection the bridge has been broken. Not every person has this urge, but I feel like as we get older and start to learn more about identity and discover, the information is a lot harder to come by for African Americans.
On a simpler note, how about the infatuation with “blocks” or hoods or geographical locations. While there is so much that plays into this, could this be a cry of wanting to feel a deeper belonging. Wanting to feel as though they are a part of something? Nevertheless this is their community. While there are China Towns, and Little Italy’s, and Little Japan’s or some sort of the same all around the United States that cultures take pride in, African American communities never get the credit deserved. They have been too often been reduced impoverished neighborhoods through illegal housing practices, corrupt business practices, and a drug infested communities. That’s a whole other conversation.
My conversation with this young lady was abruptly ended by an interruption. My last opinion was this, even as we strive everyday to be successful, for many African Americans it becomes a stressful journey when you look around and realize that the higher you climb up the latter in this country the less African Americans you see. That internalized oppression can be scary when you are treated like the exception to your race.
In writing this I have more questions than ever. Maybe looking to deeply into oppression is a bad thing. It can easily consume who you are as a person. Personally, I guess I am still in search of truth, and history. I feel a since of social responsibility to know things, and to be educated and speak from factual opinions. I don’t know everything there is to know about anything, but as long as there is information, and books readily available I feel that we have the opportunity to learn and educate ourselves.