What are the first images or words that come to your mind when someone says the word Africa? You may think of what you see in the media, like poverty, huts, jungles and animals. Some people would think that Africans live in trees, a stereotype that I have heard from Americans, which Africans joked that they do and that their pets are lions. Growing up as a child and a teenager I would see these depictions on television, but I knew that they were false, based on things I have learned in high school and a family member’s experience moving to Ghana. Personally, and especially now as an adult, Africa is the home of my resilient ancestors who were captured, suffered in slave castles and transferred to a foreign land where they have struggled physically and mentally. If individuals either travel to an African nation or research online, The Motherland is opposite of what they would view through the media.
In November 2019 alone 58,000 Americans traveled to Africa.
Regardless of the negative stereotypes, there are statistics that show Americans have been traveling to the continent. In November 2019 alone 58,000 Americans traveled to Africa but it is unknown as to how many Black Americans have visited. In Ghana, where I regularly visit, the country saw more visitors from the United States and the United Kingdom in 2019, compared to 2018. As people travel to The Motherland, they will notice that some countries are as advanced as their Western counterparts with technology and infrastructure. Social media influencers like Wode Maya and Jessica Nabongo promote Africa in a positive light so that people can unlearn those negative views.
My first trip to Ghana left a lasting impression that made me want to return. There are a few things that were as life-changing for me as a Black American. First, my trips to slave castles were emotional. I almost cried in Elmina Castle as I saw a church placed in the middle of the building surrounded by slave dungeons. As I saw Psalm 132 above the church’s doorway, I wondered how someone could teach Christian values to slaves yet punish and take them away from their homeland.
When I entered the stores, no one immediately walked up to me to ask if I needed assistance or followed me around.
Shopping at the Accra Mall made me realize that I was in a Black-led nation. When I entered the stores, no one immediately walked up to me to ask if I needed assistance or followed me around. Employees of the stores did not assume I was a shoplifter in comparison to my experiences in American stores. Third, I felt peace because of the nature scenes outside of the city, beaches, and the sun. Most importantly, I appreciated the peace derived from not experiencing racism, as the locals view me as one of them.
Some individuals might believe that Africans and Black Americans are different due to our values and where we live. Visiting Ghana confirmed my beliefs that we are more alike than different. For example, both cultures have similar values in food, family and spirituality. In fact, some soul food is derived from Africa (I recommend watching High on the Hog to learn more). There is also a shared love for music—whether it’s R&B, rap, or gospel.
Another value we share is our sense of justice for our people. When I went to the Kwame Nkrumah—the first President of Ghana who sought for the country’s independence—Memorial Park and Mausoleum, I saw pictures of him with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. All were involved in fighting for the rights of Black people across the globe. In 2020, the Ghanaian government honored the life of George Floyd by conducting a memorial.
Finally, we share pride in our Blackness. As I was shopping in the streets of Osu one year, a district in the Accra area, a Ghanaian talked to me about how good it is to be Black. By that comment alone, I knew that there was a sense of unity between Black Americans and Africans.
In August 2019, my husband and I had a layover at the JFK airport before traveling to Accra and we noticed many Muslims waited to board planes to Mecca, Saudi Arabia for Hajj. Hajj is an annual pilgrimage in which Muslims are encouraged to travel at least once in their lifetime since Islam originated in Mecca.
Just like Muslims aiming to travel to Mecca at least once in their lifetime to honor their religion, I suggest that Black Americans should visit an African country at least once in their lifetime to discover and reclaim their ancestral roots.
Just like Muslims aiming to travel to Mecca at least once in their lifetime to honor their religion, I suggest that Black Americans should visit an African country at least once in their lifetime to discover and reclaim their ancestral roots. During the pilgrimage, Muslims walk counterclockwise around the Ka’bah seven times, a sacred building in the Great Mosque of Mecca. The walk—called Tawaf— around the Ka’bah symbolizes that all Muslims are equal. Similar to Muslims performing the Tawaf to show equality, Black Americans can visit Africa to realize that Africans and Black Americans are the same.
During Hajj, Muslims also visit the plain of Arafat—where the Prophet Muhammad gave his last sermon—to pray. Similar to this practice during Hajj, Black Americans can go to slave castles, slave trade routes or other historical sites to pay respects to their ancestors. I am hoping to do that by travelling to Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea in the future since I discovered—through a DNA test—my ancestors lived there. We can all gain some closure about our identity that has been erased hundreds of years ago due to slavery.
Disclaimer: This is my experience in one of the 54 African countries. My experience does not reflect the reality in all of the African nations as each has their own culture and systems.