Motorcycle Diaries / Ghana: "Somewhere there is a love"

Part One, White American Privilege: To Have or Not to Have

(1/5/05) “On the other hand it sometimes seems that the African people we have come in contact with really want to educate the white students on the trip and aren’t paying much attention to me at all.”

I learned very quickly that being white, even in Africa, was a free meal ticket. As I reflect back on the very first debriefing session that we had, I remember wanting to scream because everyone kept using the word “minority.” Everyone except Dr. Taylor and I were the “minority.” To make sure that I wasn’t going off on the deep end, I looked up what MerriamWebster had to say: Minority, the period before attainment of majority, the smaller in number of two groups constituting a whole, apart of a population differing from others in some characteristics and often subjected to differential treatment, a member of a minority group. For the most part our study tour group fit the definition very well. I struggled, however, with the part of the definition that said, “Often subjected to differential treatment.” This doesn’t specify what type of differential treatment. In America it is common knowledge that negativity is almost always associated with the word minority, in Africa this was not the case. While some students were uncomfortable being the minority, other students seemed to enjoy it. Regardless of how comfortable or uncomfortable the white students felt, the privileges that they had as a white American were extensive, even in the Motherland. After a while, the word “minority” became unfitting and inappropriate. I felt that the words exotic, exciting, and simply “not Black” were much more appropriate for the situation. I felt that some of the white students didn’t understand that they were given special treatment not because they were great people but simply because they were white people. Why was it like this? Was it because much of Africa was colonized by white people and Africans, much like African Americans, have been brainwashed to think that everything about the white world is what they should strive for? Could it be that there was possible acculturation occurring right before my eyes?

I honestly feel that Black and Brown people everywhere have been brainwashed to a certain extent to think that changing their own cultural patterns to mimic that of the white man is okay. This process of White people, group A, forcing certain interactions with Black people, group B, has been the norm for so long that group B has enveloped the idea of always working towards the “common goals” of White people. To a certain extent, Blacks everywhere have been conditioned this way.

As I think about it seems that the acculturation is no longer forced but is voluntary. Many Blacks everywhere are voluntarily striving to be like White people. I hate to admit that even though we are not physically enslaved, we are institutionally enslaved by White people and mentally enslaved by ourselves.

(1/8/05) “I don’t know if I forgot that we were all going to have different experiences and feelings on this trip but some people’s comments really bothered me. I guess reality was setting in that no student on this trip is feeling similar to me at all. Even in Africa they have privilege; the privilege of not knowing and not having to know.”

Each day, while in Ghana, I reminded myself of the last sentence in this quote from my journal. This was the only way to stay off edge. Honestly, I tried to be understanding to the fact that the other students were physically a “minority” and sensitive to the feelings of the people who felt like they were a “minority”, however, the truth of the matter is that Ghana didn’t force any of the White students to get a complete sense of being a “minority”. That was their privilege, the privilege of being a so-called “minority” that some of them boasted so proudly about. They were a “minority” in a foreign place; I am a “minority” in a place that I call home. The comparison is none.

Part Two, Black American Privilege: To Have or Not to Have

(1/10/05) “We are at the Hans Botel Cottage now and I have my own room. I have a feeling they did that so I could do some thinking/debriefing on my own as far as the slave castles that we will see tomorrow. I could be wrong. But if I’m right, I’m extremely grateful that they kept me in mind.”

I can easily admit that while in Africa I felt extremely proud to be Black. I felt privileged because I was able to view Africa as foreign
land as well as my home. It was clear to me that I was treated a certain way because I was African American and simply because I had Black skin. Though I had privileges in general, I felt that I had two different types of privilege. I had Black Privilege, which now does not even appear as a real concept, and I had Black American privilege. Though one may think that these privileges would be the same, there was quite a distinction between the two. Black privilege was revealed to me after being in Africa for only thirty minutes when I was not asked to show my passport while all the White students in front of me and a few behind me were stopped, even though we were walking together. As a Black person I had the privilege to know that the only thing that made me stand out in the streets of Osu was my accessories and possibly the group of white girls I was walking with, but definitely not the color of my skin. As a Black person I had the privilege of having a wonderful chill run up and down my spine when I went with a group of students to the mental hospital in Accra and the tour guide uttered the words “We love America, America was built on our backs”. For a second I wasn’t quite sure that I heard him correctly so I asked another student in the group if she had heard the same thing, she had. Such large connotations were associated with such a small statement. I had the privilege as a Black person to directly identify with the words “Our backs.” My ears heard him say “Our backs”, but every bone in my body felt him say “Our backs, your back, my mother and father’s back, the back’s of Africans and as time went on, the backs of African Americans. Within one minute, from the souls of my feet to the top of my head, I processed the words foundation and beginning. Also within that minute I felt powerful, like I was standing on top of America. I felt that America would be nothing without Black people and I felt proud to be Black. That was my privilege, my Black privilege.

As a Black person I had privilege, special treatment. Due to the fact that I was Black, I was the only student, with the exception of old John, to have the opportunity to meet Dr. Yao’s mother. And while it is true that all of the students were offered land in the Aduman village, I was the only student who was offered a specific room in a specific house. I also had the privilege as a Black person to share an internal smile and internal understanding with a child who watched all of us file off the big white bus to explore the huge lake. As he watched the White students get off the bus one by one, his eyes widened and lit up when it was my turn to step off. He smiled and made a gesture that I will never forget. He put his hand on his face and rubbed his cheek as he smiled at me. Without even opening up his mouth, I heard him say, “You are the same as me.” I simply smiled at him and nodded my head. With our eyes locked and without saying a thing, we just smiled at each other. Verbally, we exchanged nothing, but internally we exchanged everything. That was my privilege, my Black privilege.

The other type of privilege that I had in Ghana was Black American privilege. Some of the people made me feel as if I was exotic. Though I had Black skin, it was the culture that separated us. I noticed a few privileges during the day however my Black American privileges were really revealed at night, the nightlife specifically. I noticed that once the sun had gone down I began to be viewed by African men and women as a sex symbol. Though I didn’t always feel good about this privilege, there was nothing that I could do once I stepped into an African nightclub. The majority of the music being played was music by Black Americans and it quickly became clear to me that the thing to do was to dance with or dance like the Black American girl to the Black American songs. I had Black skin like them however I was from the same culture from which the music that is played in Africa 80 percent of the time. This made me different, exotic, and this also gave me a lot of attention from males and females. All the men wanted to dance with me all the time and many of the women watched my every move, and then immediately tried to duplicate them. I will admit that for along time knowing that this was taking place I felt privileged. I had the privilege of once again having a direct link with something that appeared positive about Black people. After the first few times of noticing this special attention, I began to feel bad about having it when a I caught a few dirty looks from some women who were not happy that all the men wanted to dance with me. I felt myself getting defensive and I could feel my Black American privilege rising as I continued to dance harder and harder. When I realized what I was doing, I realized what was occurring and I didn’t like it. That was my privilege, my Black American privilege.

From the positive treatment I received for simply being a Black person or being a Black American, I have concluded that even though some Black people strive to be like White people or treat themselves in an inferior manner, somewhere there is a love for Blackness so deep down inside that it couldn’t be stolen even by a chain and a whip.

Part Three, American Privilege: To Have or Not to Have

“What would your people in America have to say if we would have shot you?”
-Ghanaian Policeman

I can honestly say that while I was in Africa, there was an instance where I had never been happier to be an American in my entire life. In the past I have always been proud of who I am however I have not always agreed with everything that America stands for and after studying abroad in Spain I had no problem telling my fellow Americans how negatively the rest of the world sees us and that the validity of their reasons are immeasurable. All over the world when people hear the word American, they automatically think of privilege and after one of my experiences in Africa, I completely understand some of the privileges that we have.

In Accra, a few others and myself found us in a sticky situation with the Ghanaian police. The police told us that they were extremely close to shooting at the car that we were in. Once we told them that we were American they immediately yelled at us about how they would be handled if they had shot American students. This one statement said so much. I started to wonder what could have happened to them and why they were afraid. What did America stand for that pushed them to that statement? Why did they set us free even though we were in a semi-police chase? I ask these questions today but on the day of the incident I was overjoyed to say that I was from America. Was that because I have been socialized to think that Americans are powerful and better than anyone else who was not American? Whatever the case was at the time, I had the privilege, even through seeing a group a tall Black men holding machine guns, of knowing that everything was going to be fine in the end because we were Americans. I was completely content with this privilege in this situation.

Other times during the trip I would feel bad for being from America. It didn’t feel like a privilege to be from here when people looked at each and every one of us as if we were laced in gold. Many people thought that we all had a lot of money and often times would not believe us when we said we didn’t. I would try time after time to explain to the African men and women in the markets that I really didn’t have a lot of money and not everyone in America was rich. I also became frustrated sometimes when I would try to explain that there is homelessness and poverty in America. Many of the Africans would always shoot me a look of confusion because they had always been taught that America was the place to be, the place where money grew on trees and where everyone was successful. How do you explain to someone who has been socialized in a sense to think a certain way about an entire society, a society that I couldn’t even defend? As citizen of the United States, I held no privilege in this situation. American privileges in Africa, I had them, they came to my rescue, but they also led me into a deep pool of confusion.

Part Four, Body Kinesthetic Intelligence

“Do you think it’s possible that there is some sort of cosmic connection between Africans and African Americans, in the stars or something because, well you know how African Americans can dance really well too? That’s just so crazy to me, it’s really cool.”
-Cullen Haskins, a white student who went to Ghana too.

“When I saw you respond the way you did to the beat of the drum I just smiled. I can tell you what tribe you came from just by the way that you move.”
-Dr. Bredwa Mensa, a Ghanaian professor

The body kinesthetic intelligence that a person of African descent has is overwhelmingly amazing. I noticed that in Africa there was a very smooth rhythm to each thing that took place throughout everyday living, from working to cooking to dancing. Nothing appeared to be a difficult task. I found myself taking note of every little movement that I would see. I noticed the way the hips of the women moved back and forth as they walked, the way the arms of the men swung as they strolled along. This reminded me a lot of Blacks at home. As I watched I felt that my thoughts were in sync with their body movements. I connected with every movement that I saw, and I didn’t think twice about it.

During the dance demonstration I felt as if I wanted to get up and dance with the dancers. This demonstration was so amazing to me because every time the drums would start I would immediately feel the beat of the drums in my blood and in my veins, and all throughout my body. I couldn’t help it; I just could not stay still. As soon as the drummer’s hand would slightly touch the drum, something inside of me would instantly, yet naturally send a message to my brain which told me to move. After watching a few of the dance moves it was clear to me where our (African Americans) dance movements came from. Our dances have been modified/ African Americanized, however I was still able to see the base of the dances by watching the African dancers. Even in the nightclubs I felt that we were one. We were one because in theory we shared the same blood; the same blood that held the beat of the drums that sailed across the Trans Atlantic waters, and has continued, even through enslavement and the stripping of human rights, to keep the beat alive and flowing through the blood of the new Black people, African American people. Again, although my dances were a little different because they had that American twist, I was still able to notice that their dances were the base of mine. It was quite amazing.

Dancing and the movement of Black people is a part of our culture. I’m extremely proud that throughout our extensively tough history, we still did not lose that part of the traditions. Blacks in America dance in church, we dance for celebrations and much more. It is the same in Africa. We (Black people everywhere) utilize dancing and movement as a means of communication and as a release. And we do this ever so smoothly. From simply watching the movements of the people in Africa, I now know that we as African Americans are directly from them. We are them and they are us in so many ways.

{ exclusive feature}
by Camille Thomas {The Liberator Magazine 2005: 4.2 #10 (Pt. 1); 4.4 #12 (Pt. 2); Online Journal (Pts. 3-4, previously unpublished)}

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