The flag of Ghana inverts Ethiopia’s green-yellow-red Lion of Judah flag and replaces the lion with a black star. Red symbolizes bloodshed; green stands for beauty, agriculture and abundance; yellow represents mineral wealth, and the Black Star represents African freedom. (Photo by Getty Images)
Ghana reiterated its welcome back home to African Americans after the brutal killing of George Floyd, a black man, by a Minneapolis police officer, on May 25.
“Racism in America continues to be a deadly pandemic, for which for more than 400 years now, our brothers and sisters in the United States of America have yearned for a cure,” Barbara Oteng-Gyasi, the Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture said at a June 5 memorial service at the W.E.B. DuBois Centre in Accra for Floyd, whose death sparked an international uprising for racial justice.
“We continue to open our arms and invite all our brothers and sisters home,” Oteng-Gyasi said, according to Newsweek. “Ghana is your home. We have our arms wide open ready to welcome you home. . . . Please take advantage, come home, build a life in Ghana. You do not have to stay where you are not wanted forever. You have a choice, and Africa is waiting for you.”
Last year, Ghana declared the Year of Return to appeal to Black Americans to visit Ghana and become acquainted with the land of their ancestors. The campaign commemorated the 400th anniversary of the first documented ship of enslaved Africans arriving in Jamestown, Virginia. Oteng-Gyasa said that the campaign was a boon to the economy.
Beyond the Return is a 10-year project with the theme of African Renaissance, according to the official Visit Ghana website. There are seven pillars, which include investing in Ghana and the issuing of special visas.
But can we go home again?
Thomas Wolfe said no.
The African American writer, dancer, and actor Maya Angelou, who lived in many countries, including Ghana for four years, said no . . . and yes:
“There’s something in the human spirit which longs for home. I think that it is inevitable that we search for home. I think that it is impossible to ever achieve it because it is true you can’t go home again.
“But the other truth, which is a contradiction almost, is that you can never leave home. You take it with you. It’s in your hair. It’s in your walk. It’s in the melody of your talk. It’s in your fingernails. It’s on the follicles of your scalp. And if life slams you against the wall, home will leap out of your mouth.”
Angelou’s second answer is poetically comforting, but I must agree with Wolfe. Leaving the country where we were raised means that we are constantly shifting perspectives of ourselves and our countries of birth and residence. I did it. Twenty-six years ago, I became an immigrant. I am living the life of a foreigner, which in the Romance languages, is the word for stranger, an outsider: estrangeira in Portuguese, straniera in Italian, extranjera in Spanish.
Even if we stay at home, we also shift our perspective, but of time. The old are at home in the world of their youth and their memories. The young are at home in the world of their future and their dreams. Time has robbed them both of total comfort.
Identity is like a pair of shoes. Everyone feels the pinch now and again.
In the past four years, many American friends and acquaintances have asked me about living abroad. They ask about specific countries: Portugal, where I now live; Belize, where my parents left for New York, and Sicily, where I lived for some time. It is good that those contemplating emigration also are considering the pull to leave, not only the push. We need both to be successful emigres.
Learning the language is important. But, most importantly, we need to learn how to translate cultural cues. Language will not help us here. We need cultural translators, and it is best if the facilitators know both cultures.
Sometimes I give rides to my son’s school-age friends. When we arrive at their home, I would wait until they were inside. I was ensuring that they were safe. Finally, one friend told my son that it was creepy and unnecessary. It is not what is done here. Who knew?
Ghana is holding out a promise of no racism to Black Americans. It can easily keep that vow. In the United States, being black is always salient. That would not be true in Ghana. Indeed, that is only true in the States. Yes, there are times when we might experience racism in other countries, but not as an integral fabric of society.
We can lay that burden down.
But for the African American, where is home?
We do not know where we came from, who we are. We pass our lost heritage on to our children. Calling ourselves African American is an attempt to give ourselves an identity: Africa. That huge continent is as close as we can get to identify the tribes of our great great grandparents. We often do not accept any other part of our heritage but the unknown one. If we are part native American, we acknowledge it. Another group stomped on. Anything but Scottish or French or Dutch . . . Anything but the enemy. Yet, we are the enemy.
As of 2015, the number of African Americans living in Ghana had been estimated at 3,000, the majority of whom live in Accra, according to Wikipedia.
Maya Angelou lived in the Ghanaian capital during a heady time of “burgeoning hope” in the early 1960s. In 1957, Ghana was the first of Britain’s African colonies to gain independence. Pan Africanist Kwame Nkrumah, who was hailed as the Osagyefo, or “redeemer” in the Akan language, was President and Prime Minister. Malcolm X passed through Accra and met with Shirley Graham DuBois, a musician and writer as well as the widow of W.E.B. DuBois, who arranged a meeting for him with Nkrumah.
In her autobiographical All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, Angelou wrote:
“We, the Revolutionists Returnees, danced the High Life at the Lido, throwing our hips from side to side as if we would have no further use for them, or we would sit together over Club beer discussing how we could better serve Ghana, its revolution and President Nkrumah. We lived hard and dizzyingly fast. Time was a clock being wound too tight, and we were furiously trying to be present in each giddy moment.”
W.E.B. DuBois, who lived in Ghana for two years until his death at age 95 in 1963, opened The Souls of Black Folk with the central thesis of his life’s work:
“The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.”
It is time to let go of the line. I am confident that we will do so. Why would we not want to rid ourselves of the shame of America?