Tuesday, April 14, 2015

African Americans. A tree with no roots

As I look across the headlines, it seems that racial hatred is rearing its ugly head with a vengeance. It appears that we are still unwanted in this country - these United States of America. It's not an unfamiliar feeling. In fact, there is a significant number of African Americans who would long to see Africa and reconcile their inner yearning for the Motherland.

I organize trips to South Africa. Along with my partner at African Angel Tours we have created a tour for music lovers known as the South African Jazz Tour. We strive to tap into the rich musical tapestry of South Africa while connecting African Americans with the essence of their long lost African Heritage. A heritage that's been denied through a distinct American historical legacy of slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, and second class citizenship. This legacy has left today's African American with a deep yearning in the soul for a connection with our African consciousness.

This consciousness is spiritual in nature. I can see a visible awakening in each of our travellers as they embark on their African dream experience. This consciousness is the single most significant impetus for their decision to participate and invest in the trip. They desire to reconcile a cultural yearning for heritage that has been heretofore defined by American standards. No. Even as slave holders tried through brutality, religion and murder to remove any hint of our African culture from us, Even through slavery, prejudice, reprogramming, severe discrimination, our African nature has survived. Yes, our African Consciousness has survived a legacy that would steal, kill or destroy any connection to the Motherland. No. We weren't born in Africa. We don't know the nations, the tribes, the languages, the customs, folkways and mores. We don't know our name. Yet, it is undeniable that our African tendencies are yet indelibly inscribed in our DNA to this present day. Musically our soulful rhythms know their origins from the Continent. Even as we were stolen away from the Motherland and brought into the Americas against our will, the soul of our Africanness survived.

My last group of African Americans were anxious and excited for the journey I was about to share with them. We were ready for an unmatched cultural experience. The trip started with great and profound introspect. Our visit to the Apartheid Museum was a sobering reality check into where we were... South Africa. Land of intense racial division. The journey of Nelson Mandela and other freedom fighters came alive. Our visit to the majestic Pilanesberg National Park showed us the incredible displays of nature. As we descended on Capetown, our musical appetite was satisfied as we visited the Capetown international Jazz Festival. Our cultural and historical consciousness is vastly stimulated as we visit Robben Island where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years. We see the vestiges of Apartheid... We can relate to the struggle. Yes. South Africa's struggle is much like our own. We are one. These are our brothers and sisters. We are home.....or not.

This is the part where we were rudely reminded that perhaps, our African brothers and sisters did not see us as we see them. Perhaps they don't even want us there. We have a tremendously exciting element of our tour called the Jazz Safari. Here we venture into the township and visit a Jazz musician's home. His wife cooks dinner and we are treated to an awesome display of music. Our African guide, who is supposed to set the stage by giving us a history of South African Jazz and music, started out ok, but then began tell us how Americans have stolen African rhythms and now claim them was our own. He said we call ourselves African Americans but we aren't African. We are just Americans. We should be proud of where we were born. He let us know that there is nothing African about us. We were shocked.. Hurt... Flabbergasted...

This guy wounded us deeply. One of our travellers had been on the front line at Ferguson and most of us were old enough to know the essence of the struggle in America. We were hurt and offended. This guide singlehandedly incinerated the euphoria that most felt during the entire trip.

We spent considerable time and energy trying to debate the young man however it was soon apparent that he wasn't going to get it. And in the end, he didn't want to get it. This brotha was going to have to read more deeply. He was going to have to take it upon himself to become more knowledgeable about the Diaspora. Maybe just maybe he would eventually become enlightened. Sadly it took the group a couple of days to recover from this revelation. That night we just refused to hear anymore from this guy and in fact executed an economic embargo on him, unanimously refusing to give him a gratuity. Yes. an economic embargo.

In the end, I believe that a lot of Africans hold this view. It's possible that while we are over here dressing in African clothes and filling our homes with African art, that our brothers and sisters are over there on the continent laughing at us. In America, our legacy has made us as unto a tree in the river of American history. Yet, we are a tree with no roots. Not welcome here in the land of the free and not wanted in the land of our ancestors. But then again, this is a case for the need to tell our story, control our images, be a steward of our cultures.. worldwide so that the young will know. Like my mother used to say... never forget..... Africa Unite!!!