Amazing Grace for the Stolen
Updated: Oct 14, 2019
Gullah Fam (and all those who love and seek to know about the Gullah/Geechee community), my apologies for this delayed entry. Truthfully, this one was very difficult for me to write. I pushed myself away from this topic for a couple of weeks, because I felt like I was walking a mental tightrope between the calm and the storm. In my opinion, there is a battle going on in this country right now between what is the truth and what is a lie. My Granddaddy always used to say to me, "If at work or if at play, always tell the truth." And since I was never one to disappoint Granddaddy, the truth is what I will tell.
While on our summer vacation, during the next to last weekend in August, my family and I visited Fort Monroe (formerly Fort Comfort) in Hampton, VA. That Saturday just happened to be the day when the official ceremony was held commemorating the arrival of the first Africans to this nation's shores 400 years ago, August 1619. Over the last few months, there have been a few notable moments like this one throughout the African diaspora, marking when the slave ships deposited stolen people to serve as free labor to clear stolen lands and build new nations. This year, there was even a successful campaign from Ghana calling out to the African diaspora to return to the Mother Continent.
The solemnity of the day weighed on me. Another day during our vacation brought us to a celebrated amusement park that had a cool blend of rides and cultural experiences. And although I had a great time enjoying everyone else's great time, there was a moment, when I paused to look at the list of attractions. The map included stops that featured food and legends from European countries, and I became a bit envious that my culture beyond these shores is not regarded in the same manner. Just as the world has seen the rise and fall of these nations, the world should see and come to know the rise and fall of the African nations and understand the truth behind these peaks and valleys.
Every day occurrences like these festivals and ceremonies have had my mind in overdrive for a few months now. The truth is, I don't rest easy. My thoughts keep returning to the same question: What did the explorers see when they came to Africa? I know they saw lush vegetation and wild, exotic animals. I know they found precious stones and gold beyond measure, but they no doubt saw a vibrant people with a rich culture. These visitors experienced the singing and dancing, felt the rhythm of the people vibrating through the soles of their feet and into their hearts and minds. They witnessed a whole culture of a mighty people, from kings, queens, teachers, griots, doctors, and council people to warriors, farmers, artists, musicians, dancers, singers, seers, architects and engineers, all the way down to mothers, fathers, and children. And so, looking at all of the African's beauty and strength, at their intelligence and majesty, these visitors came up with a plot to steal actual people from their continent and obliterate their histories/legacies so that they might labor build up another? Really?? Stunning... I am a gifted writer, but I still lack the imagination it takes to take a culture, one of many, and reshape it to fit a narrative that to this day makes the world see the stolen as inferior. And, let's be clear - we're talking about the destruction of economies, legacies of excellence, monarchies and tribes. Lately, more often than not, I find myself without words.
I am extremely grateful to be able to hold on to and call the Gullah culture my own. But there is a history that is mine that exists beyond this nation, and historically, my people have not been encouraged to embrace it. In fact, history (including the very recent history) has revealed that death is sometimes what happens when my people celebrate too loudly or protest in silence, worship in our churches or live in our own homes. Not just punishment for existing, but death. Death. There's no coming back from that.
This kind of truth makes some depressed, despondent, while others are outraged. James Baldwin once said, "To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time." And so, I have been existing in a silence between anger and shock. The air here is heavy, and I am exhausted. Black women are often referred to as angry. But, having been one as long as I have and having known many, I can say with confidence that most people have NEVER experienced the true anger of a Black woman. There are some who suggest that Black men are weak, and I know that, too, is a lie. It takes enormous strength for a man to speak so gently to his children in one moment; in another, by a single touch bring the uncertainty or anger of his partner to a smolder; then suddenly, and if necessary, cause a whole house to quake when he calls for order. To witness this force in one Black man is a mighty thing. To see it in a gathering of Black men is powerful! Hmmm... Coming full circle, did they see power yet feel fear?? Hmmm... Prayers and meditations of late have led me to understand that it is God's amazing Grace that has been placed on the African diaspora. While fans of American Gods will note it is our brother Mr. Nancy/Anansi who says, "Angry gets things done", I am inclined to believe that it is fortitude that keeps us going. God has kept us working, playing, living, worshiping, in spaces that aren't always safe or conducive for us to be our authentic selves. Literally from the way we wear our hair, to the shapes of our bodies, we are ridiculed, judged, denied, and yes again, killed for who and what we are - children of God, just like every other human on His green earth. May we never forget this truth, always walk in it, and never let another human diminish all that we are. And as the poet, theologian, and mystic Rumi said, "Wherever you are, be the soul of that place."