Melanin Without Roots

Maya Pete, Stanford University

“I believe in a pure black race just as how all self-respecting whites believe in a pure white race, as far as that can be. I am conscious of the fact that slavery brought upon us the curse of many colors within the Negro race, but that is no reason why we of ourselves should perpetuate the evil; hence instead of encouraging a wholesale bastardy in the race, we feel that we should now set out to create a race type and standard of our own which could not, in the future, be stigmatized by bastardy, but could be recognized and respected as the true race type anteceding even our own time.” ~Marcus Garvey

I think the first time I realized being Black and African weren’t synonymous, I was in the fourth grade.  My, then (and now), best friend told me to stop telling people that I was African American because my parents and grandparents weren’t even born in Africa. She’s Nigerian (one generation removed), you see, and didn’t want us to be assumed to be cut from the same fabric. “You’re a Black American, Maya, duh” she told me. My fourth-grade soul was crushed, my whole life had been a lie.  Kids can be so cruel.  However, to some extent, she was right and her words are still with me, over a decade later.  They have been instrumental to me finding strength and resilience in my Blackness -- but I’ll get to that in a bit.

Cape Coast Castles.jpg

Have you ever been getting drinks with your besties, talking about something light like, I don’t know...dismantling the patriarchy, and then become suddenly, and justifiably, angry at the white people that stole your ancestors from their homelands and effectively erased any semblance of history or origin that you ever could have had?  No? Bummer.  

A conversation that I have witnessed a lot since enrolling at Stanford is this one of cultural appropriation of African and Diasporic Cultures by Black Americans.  Black people are under the impression that they cannot appropriate cultures from which they inevitably came, like appreciation versus appropriation and stuff. Meanwhile, some from African cultures and backgrounds operate under the premise that this, so-called “appreciation” assumes that there is only one African culture and even if that’s not the assumption, it’s still appropriation if you have no concrete claims to a culture.  I have to admit, Freshman and Sophomore year I was like, “Dang, man! Can I catch a break?  It’s not my fault that my history was stolen.  I’m just trying to show some love to the Motherland!” It wasn’t until I studied abroad that I realized, despite having had the history of my origin snatched from me by the wypipo, I do have cultural roots.  I understood that Black America has an immense richness that makes it a culture of its own.  

Listen, we possess, while simultaneously being a part of, a melting pot of traditions, rituals, beliefs, languages, values, talents, and passions that can’t be bound simply by the term ethnicity. They arise from the rhythmic peoples of the Dominican Republic.  They shine from the sun-kissed people of Barbados and Trinidad.  They hail from the introspective artistry of France.  They come from the masterminds of Timbuktu. They emanate from rich music of Spanish Harlem. And they boil out of the pots of my late great-grandmothers’ collard greens and turkey necks. They come from all over, cannot be bound and will not be restricted.  The cultures from all of these places engage in conversations with each other and produce the diversification that is African American/Black/Negro America.

So I guess, I should get to the point.  What I AM NOT saying is that we should be thankful to wypipo that have disrupted, dismantled, disturbed and oppressed. However, what I am trying to articulate is that out of that adversity we have cultivated a culture that only adds to the richness that radiates from Black people worldwide.