Growing up I remember hearing exciting stories about my parent’s upbringing. They told me all about how the nineties were for them. I always enjoyed hearing the stories and seeing the old photos. They loved to talk about it and I loved to listen. Most of the time they could give exact locations on where something was, who was at what event, and even how much something cost. I lived for the stories. As I got older I began to ask stories about their grandparents, but there were few stories there. Their grandparents either passed away or they barely knew them. I began wondering who my ancestors were. Where did our people come from? What are some great things that we accomplished? Who were we? There is a famous quote from Maya Angelou that says, “If you don’t know where you’ve come from, then you don’t know where you’re going.” My whole life I felt like I only had half of the story. The modern-day romance of my parents and the traditional groovy romance of my grandparents. But I needed more. I have felt saddened by the fact that there is no way I would ever trace my roots back far enough to know where I really came from. I decided to change that.
I spoke to a colleague who is African-American, about what it feels like to not know where we come from in Africa. He spoke about whether we should call ourselves “African-Americans”. His argument was that most African-Americans have never been to Africa and it is likely that they will never go. I agree with him, but I think we should call ourselves African-Americans. I believe the term Black American and African-American to be synonymous. The term African-American was created to describe Black people because there was no definite way to know which continent every Black person, who was descended from enslaved people, came from. This is not our fault and we shouldn’t act as if we have no connection to the continent. However, we also should not ignore Black culture. Black culture has assisted greatly in building American culture and history.
As we went back and forth we agreed on the void that is often felt by most Black Americans due to not knowing a full story of our heritage or history. Most Jamaicans, Haitians, Ghanian, etc can tell you where they come from. They can tell you elaborate stories about their homeland. There is a connection to the place and motherland. I have personally never felt that connection to America. Being in America is simply just a matter of circumstance. It has never felt like I absolutely belonged in America. It feels that way no matter how much we do, how much we contribute to the growth of the country, we will never be seen as if we actually belong here. This feeling creates a deep longing that will need to be filled.
For myself, I believe that I went through a process of ignoring this feeling, then trying to be something I am not, to finally accepting it and trying to move forward. We are African-Americans and Black Americans. We are apart of this country and belong here just like anyone else and when given the opportunity we should trace our roots back as far back as we can.