How does one define culture? Does it start with the stories of the middle passage our parents teach us when were too young to care? Or is it the red, black and green flags that hang in our living room along with the pictures of Malcolm and black Jesus. Maybe it's the summers we spend going to museums, while our parents try to explain to us why Ancient Egyptians could not have had fair skin and pointy noses.
For some of us, this story might be familiar, but for others, black Jesus and the colors of red, black and green might be as foreign as black-eyed peas and smoked neck bones. That was, and will remain my experience as an African living in the Americas. I was never born a native African and I was never on the continent, so that would make me African American. I consider myself an Afrikan, which is a state of mind for black Americans who have connected with his or her mother country through reading and extensive knowledge of Africa and its people. I hold on to a certain type of pride knowing how I've arrived at my present state of self-awareness. It's very difficult making a transition from African American (your ancestors are off the slave ship to the docks of American harbors) to Afrikan (A state of mind thats a result of education which is followed by assimilation). Ive been raised to appreciate the mother-land, to reach out to those ancestors who have protected their spirits so that I could have one.
Like other African Americans, my family has made it a necessity to intercept all that Ive learned about my culture and the cultures of others in the public school systems. School, unfortunately, is the place where a lot of young black children start to learn about Africa. When you are in school, the stories of Africa do not start with profound explanations of kings and queens and the beginning of existence. The stories begin with Hannibal the savage who rode his elephant over the Alps into Italy. Or they start with Europeans civilizing the African tribes because they could not read, write or speak civilized languages. That's why some black Americans reject any ideas of Africa and its people. The next part of African history taught to young black children is that slaves were shipped out of their homeland to various foreign countries and islands to pick cotton and sugar cane. So not only are those people slaves and savages, but you are the descendant of those same people. How does that make you feel? It made me feel horrible and worthless. Not only was I different, but I was also the worst kind of different: disgusting, and worthless.
With the knowledge and guidance of my father, my confusion and doubt about being an Afrikan woman was short but extremely difficult to get through. I listened to his talks of great civilizations and the idea of black beauty, but I could not understand how and why I had to connect to a place that was so far away. It felt good that I did not come directly from Africa because that meant people were not pointing at me, they were pointing to the person with the exotic black features and short hair. Thank God it's not me, I thought, my hair is not that nappy, my lips are not that big, and my skin is definitely not that black, so how are we the same? Until I fully understood, I could never be a friend to an African person and I would never identify with Africa. My parents and my elders fixed my conditioned ideas of Africa being the dark continent, they made me realize that the only real differences we possessed were geographical.
The author is currently a student at The City University of New York