“Return to Africa” they say. Proud of their heritage and sure of their connectedness to a continent and a peoples, an ocean and generations removed, they remain certain that they have a motherland, a place – perhaps the only place – on this lonely planet where they belong.
They write about it in song and poem. They dance and rejoice at the thought of connecting with long lost relatives from Ethiopia, Sudan, and the Congo. Where they exist in the present is not their home, they say, and they are undoubtedly justified in feeling so. For reasons innumerable and ineffably complex, they forge an uncomfortable bond with Africa, calling it their true home. They need this connection to feel complete, to feel human, yet buried deep within their hearts lies a faint whisper informing them that they are no longer of “their” people.
Cognizant of the vast cultural distance between their African “brothers and sisters” and themselves, they turn to other means to create unity within. While they are aware of many painful truths about their ancestors’ suffering, they do not understand the indignity they continuously, willingly heap upon their own backs by adopting a culture and following a faith that is not of their blood, not of their spirit. They embrace the god of their masters and damn their own kind for rising up against the evil they have endured. They joyfully drink the “blood of redemption” that their mothers and fathers were compelled to consume, singing praises to a lord that continues to condemn them to a life of bondage.
While they happily inhale the smoke of Western, capitalist sin, they concurrently yearn to connect with their “true” home – a place in their minds and hearts that I cannot envision. They continue to suffer – not as their ancestors suffered – but they suffer nonetheless. Through it all, they sing songs searching for comfort and acceptance in the motherland. They believe in the diaspora. They have faith in the connectedness of all who have African blood coursing through their veins – in the power of their people to find unity in the motherland.
Why do I not share their beliefs? Where are my faiths?
If I was less master and more slave, would I be better able to embrace their faiths?
Evidence of the unseen holds no sway over me, yet it appears to be the engine behind nearly everything they are and yearn to be. What verification exists to show that Africa would accept me? What substantiates the claim that half of my god would listen to me?
Where they suffer, I still suffer. Where they have pain, I also have pain. Yet where they find peace, I find no solace. Where they find community, I find none.
I am a multi-racial human being, but of only one quarter African ancestry. One quarter will always be more than one drop, however. African will always be what Americans other than them see when they view me. No world is my home, yet in my feckless, lonely journey, in some ways I believe I am more free than they will ever be.
Professionally, Ariel Joseph is lawyer and educator. Ethnically, he is a mix of European, African, Indian, and Native American. Politically, he is a fighter for fair opportunities for all.