Africa is a Continent, the United States of America is a Nation, but Blackness is My World
Every now and then I think of the day when I was in a beginning film editing class and sat next to another Black student who was from Africa.
He was very friendly and would occasionally show me pictures of where he grew up.
Smiling with pride, he told me stories of home and shared pictures from his village. The coastal views in almost every picture took my breath away.
He shared pictures of his family and many of his favorite spots as if displaying a showcase, a collection of people, places and things I’d never seen before.
One of our conversations has stayed with me. It involved a seemingly inconsequential invitation, a blip in the universe that most people would never think twice about.
Sitting side-by-side at our computers, he produced a wrapped chocolate bar and held it out to me.
“Would you like some chocolate?” he asked, his accent sounding as rich and smooth as the candy he was offering.
I replied, saying, “No thank you.” But then he smiled, still holding the chocolate out to me, and said, “Are you sure? It’s from Africa.”
I changed my mind and decided to accept his gift, but something felt wrong about it. It was as if he was dangling the only morsel, the only taste or sample of Africa that I would ever get. It felt more like pity than kindness, and I gobbled it.
It would be a lie to tell myself that I haven’t always hungered for what he had. I wake up most mornings almost writhing with a powerful appetite for a homeland to taste.
My lips sometimes quiver with the forgotten memory of words, a language that they have never be able to form.
He had Africa and I had a piece of chocolate, we just weren’t the same. He could rightly call himself African but I will not and cannot be an “African American” because Africa is not mine and America doesn’t want any kind of Black woman, especially one who descended from slaves.
Even as a child, being called African American never felt quite right. It confused me about me.
The words “African” and “American” seemed to be at war with one another.
When I became a teenager, I started referring to myself as Black. Not African American, not Black American, just Black.
Before I could understand why, it began to agitate me when I heard people refer to themselves and others as African Americans. Maybe I felt like they were doing the same thing as I had done and eaten the chocolate that was dangled in front of them, as if they’d never deserve to have more.
It’s as if being a Black descendant of slaves means only getting a taste of the person that you were meant to be and the home that was rightfully yours.
It makes me angry that, with the exception of some facts I’ve read in family reunion books, I don’t know anything about Africa or the tribe(s) that I descend from. Historical references to what was lost only make me emptier and hungrier.
While I don’t know my African culture, my soul feels its absence. It’s like a ghost that’s always lingering, never tangible, never real. I always wonder how something so beautiful can be so haunting.
It makes me angry that I don’t get to be a real American because of the African in me that I don’t even get to appreciate.
Africa still stands but I am so far removed from the homeland that it might as well be a folktale, a mythology. Like colonized Native land, African memory was stolen and we cannot raise corpses. We cannot bring back the dead to tell us who we are.
The truth is, many native Black Africans don’t want us though our ancestors were dragged here against their will. We were not “immigrants.” We were brought here as racial capital and to build this nation, not to construct our own lives and destinies.
Some native Black Africans come to the United States and don’t want to be aligned with Black people whose ancestors were forced to work as slaves. No one wants to be the loser. No one wants to be mistaken for a morsel of what they truly are.
“African” and “American” do not define me. Those two words exist in opposition to one another. They are forces that exist without true synergy, as it was Americans who captured and enslaved Africans, thus making me and other Black people exist in the distorted reality of in-betweenness, as mere morsels. But we are so much more than what’s been forced on us.
To be Black is to be my own creation. I doubt I’ll ever be African in the way I wish I could be, but Black people took what little they had and like wet clay, performed the labor of shaping and reshaping their lives into masterpieces with their bare and brittle hands. We are our own grand design that isn’t innate to Africa or America. We are resilience. We embody mercy, pain and evolution, all in our own way.
Sometimes I look in the mirror in horror and wonder what I am, but when I hold my grandma’s hand, I’m home. I don’t know where the love in her eyes or her mother’s eyes came from. I can’t trace it back to any homeland. Home becomes where we make it and I can taste love at home, in the sweetness of peach cobbler on a Sunday afternoon. That love surrounds me, telling me and every Black girl grasping for the morsels dangled before us, that we don’t need to scavenge for every piece of ourselves. Our souls are a continent that will never be colonized or stolen, and our bodies are vessels made with the same warmth, spirit and love as the Gumbos our grandmas make on a special occasion.
We can indulge in the sweet and savory thickness of our divine Blackness and all that it has waded through to be free.
Danielle Broadway is an English Literature MA student at California State University, Long Beach. She has been published in Black Girl Nerds, LA Weekly, Cosmopolitan, Byrdie and more, is an associate editor at Angels Flight • literary west and editor at just femme and dandy. She’s also a 2021 intern at The Los Angeles Times. She’s an activist and educator that is inspired by her family to make social change both in the classroom and beyond. Follow her on Twitter @daniellebroadw1 and Instagram: @broadwaynerdwrites