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214 EPILOGUE MEMORY IN THE DIASPORA Africa is the birth of mankind. Africa is the land of my ancestors. But Africa is not my home. I hardly know this place at all. —Eddy L. Harris, Native Stranger I tried to picture in my mind a chief, decked out in cowrie shells, leopard skin, golden bracelets, leading a string of black prisoners of war to the castle to be sold. . . . My mind refused to function. —Richard Wright, Black Power My people are from North Carolina and Virginia. Why, then, do I find myself many thousands of miles from my roots, waiting for my tour guide to take me to Elmina Castle, the largest slave fort on the Ghanaian coast? Why am I sitting here at a beach resort five minutes from a major axis in the historic triangle slave trade, about to visit my second such castle in as many days? I’ve come to Ghana because sorting out the nuances and complications of the remembered black past requires returning to The Beginning—or at least one of the places that is now recognized by an ever-growing tourist trade as a beginning of sorts.1 For many African American tourists, coming to Ghana and, more specifically, coming to Elmina or Cape Coast slave castle is about returning. Before this trip, I had never been to Africa. More importantly, I had never imagined myself as being from Africa in any psychologically purposeful way. In traveling to Ghana, I told myself that I have come to observe others return. And others do return. Beginning in earnest in the wake of Roots and the subsequent commodification of the discovery that blacks had a traceable past, African Epilogue / 215 Americans have journeyed to Africa’s west coast in search of something.2 As literary scholar Saidiya Hartman shows us in her graceful travel narrative–memoir–critical history Lose Your Mother, African Americans have reversed course across the Atlantic Ocean for the most mundane reasons (a love of adventure), for the most romantic (a search for a place they feel is their ancestral home), and for the most heartbreaking (an escape from the hell of their birth country). During her research trips to Ghana and then a subsequent yearlong stay in the country, Hartman found that these last two groups—the romantics and the brokenhearted—were wrestling with different aspects of memory in the diaspora. The romantics sought a collective, figurative memory that connected them to ancestors they would never know. The brokenhearted simply suffered from too much memory, “unable,” Hartman writes, “to erase the image of a fourteen-year-old boy’s bloated corpse dredged from the Mississippi, or four dead little girls buried in the rubble of a church in Birmingham, or Malcolm’s slumped figure on the floor of the Audubon Ballroom, or Martin’s body on a hotel balcony in Memphis, or the bulletshattered bodies of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.”3 I’m not entirely sure in which category I belong. I know I love the adventure of travel, but this was a business trip. I also know that I’m not a diasporic romantic. I am a citizen of the United States and am determined to embrace it despite all the reasons its history can offer to break my heart. And speaking of my heart, it’s mainly agitated and bewildered, not broken. Knowing this much about myself and determined as I was to cast an unblinking scholarly eye on how the story of My People’s past (not my people’s past) was told, I still have to admit feeling a thrill the first time I looked at my in-flight monitor and discovered that my comfortable British Airways flight—bumped up to Premier Economy, thank goodness; it was almost a seven-hour flight, after all—was now in African airspace. Was the electricity that traveled down and back up my spine my body’s way of acknowledging the true adventurer in me, or was it telling me that, yes, I actually was getting close to home? My everyday, logical self said that it was the former. Part of me, however, was left wondering. Perhaps I am no different from Eddy L. Harris, who spent a year traveling by himself throughout the African continent, searching for answers to his own subconscious curiosity about what Africa meant to a black American . In Harris’s childhood, Africa was the stuff of fairy tales, a “magnificent faraway world . . . a motherland.” As...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781469612546
Related ISBN
9781469610702
MARC Record
OCLC
856021380
Pages
288
Launched on MUSE
2013-10-21
Language
English
Open Access
No
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