Pierre Gilson, Alumni of Full Sail University
In the sugarcane fields of New Orleans, I stood on the soil where my ancestors worked in hard labor in the brutal heat of the southern sun. It pains me that their only memory are names without faces engraved on the walls of a renovated slave cabin. There were so many names: Jean, Armantine, William, Tamer, Zephyr, Robert, Marie, Elick, Meanna, Pauline, Rosine, Ursin, Nicholas, Antoinette, Pierre…Pierre, that’s my name.
We go by many titles of the same meaning: Black, African-American, Afro-American, Negro, Colored, or POC (Person of Color). Despite which a person prefers, they all have one thing in common-Africa. I like to call it the “Motherland.” Yeah, I’m from Delaware and never been out of the country, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have African ancestry beating through my body, or as Kendrick Lamar once said in an infamous quote, “Loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA.” This year I discovered something amazing that no one has ever had the privilege to share with me, my heritage! All my life I was told that black history began with French, English, Portuguese, and Dutch saving Africans from the harsh jungles of “Mua-Mua” or the ever-watchful eye of Sauron.
Being youthful and ignorant I did not want to learn about being African because it seemed more of a disadvantage than a blessing. One thing I always noticed in my childhood was how people with my color were usually given the short end of the stick. I can recall asking God why didn’t he make me white so I could have a nice big house with all the video games I could ever want. Public perception of black people-my people- has been negative since the 15th century. Colonialism and the racist ideas it has spawned have made an impact on my people and the entire world still to this day. I’ve been referred to as a “Good Nigger” in one situation with a co-worker of mine, in which it did not anger me because I understood that he was only a product of his environment. The same goes for Black hair and how women and even men are told to cut it short because it is “nappy” or untamed. I find it shameful to tell someone that they aren’t good enough for being who they are.
I’ve chosen the life as a writer to share my thoughts about the world, the people who live here, the culture they produce, and mysteries that make up our unified experiences. Most recently I have been diving into African and African-American history and literature. I am ashamed to admit that I ignored and neglected some of the best parts of me; my peoples’ history in America has been lost throughout time. All most us know of our oldest relatives in America, is that they were slaves. I never received tales of my heritage. About how we existed before coming to America, or even the success of slaves during 1619-1865. Of our languages that we brought from Africa: Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Swahili, and that some could even speak Arabic. Our deeply held stories of our walk on earth were stripped from our elders. The enslavers split up groups that spoke the same dialect and scattered them abroad to quell any rebellion. I took it upon myself to immerse myself in iconic figures such as W.E.B Dubois, Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, Nelson Mandela, Harriet Tubman, Langston Hughes, and other fire starters that impacted Western society’s foundation. I fell in love with these heroes, and learning about their ideologies and beliefs pushed me further into learning how deep my roots go.
The name “Pierre” is French in origin, and though I’m not a Frenchman, my father comes from an island in the Caribbean called “Haiti”. In 1804, Haiti fought and won their independence from the French; a handful of the slaves were from Nigeria and Congo. This made Haitians the first black people ever to win their independence and claim a nation from European rule, something we are proud of to this day. The strength of a unified people is strong. Toussaint Louverture (1743-1803) was the leader of the Haitian Revolution and aided in securing something many African-Americans have lost. I believe we have lost our identity, and though we try to create a new one whether it is through music, fashion, art, or business, we miss the part that tells us we are connected to this world. As a man of faith, it is important to me that I tell everyone that I believe we are children of God, and we come from his first creations.
I know more about European history and heroic feats than that of my own peoples’ achievements. Media and entertainment have not been color friendly until recent changes and if you’ve ever watched a film or any source of entertainment that isn’t directly black-owned or sponsored, Black people were not usually given positive representation. In China, the poster for Star Wars Episode VII: A New Hope (2015) has lead character Finn (John Boyega) minimized to the extent that one would think he was a supporting character. This type of treatment in film is common and does no favors in changing the worldwide perception of the African diaspora. Even in Marvel’s upcoming film Black Panther (2018) Chadwick Boseman is unmasked on posters here in the States, but on Japanese posters he is veiled. This kind of marketing goes into the fear of, “dark skin won’t sell”. This thinking is rooted in generations of discrediting Black men and Black women. The public killings of black youths, the appropriation of our culture, and the lack of opportunities are but effects of a longstanding institution.
Today, I see a change in the tide. As Black people, we have control of the culture in such a way that we can help make positive impacts that hit crucial marks. The world is becoming more open to listening to people who have been silenced, but this does not mean that there is no opposition. Our stories are what help people see and understand who we are. Not everyone can relate to what we as Black people or even individuals go through, but expressing ourselves in creative ways will help build a bridge of empathy and comprehension. This fight may be a never-ending battle, but that’s the point of being Black, we became warriors once we were born.