The Black American In Africa

by Shermee Randolph (United States of America)

I didn't expect to find Ghana


One thing I would constantly hear as a Black-American growing up in the early 2000s was how Africa was the placeholder of my Blackness. My understanding of this sentiment was that I wouldn’t be able to fully call myself a Black person until I took a trip to Africa. At the time, I didn’t have dreams to visit Africa. My dream vacations consist of Disneyland, Disney World, and Universal Studios. I’ve always known I was Black. I knew because of my hair texture, skin tone, and my mother’s reminders, but I didn't understand what being Black meant. My family’s lineage can be traced back to Mississippi and Louisiana. Anything before that time is a distant memory because of American slavery. During family reunions in the South, we would learn about how our ancestors were slaves and worked in the field day in and day out trying to survive. This, plus the little Black history I would get from school was all I knew about Black-American. I didn’t become interested in learning about my African heritage until I went to college and began to hang around those who were 1st or 2nd generation immigrants from African. Their stories about their traditions, culture, food, and more made me question my Blackness. What if I don’t know where in Africa my family comes from? Was my Blackness valid? Did it really require a trip to Africa for me to fully be a Black person? When the opportunity to study abroad and visit three countries in Africa with Semester at Sea (SAS) came my way I couldn't say no. On April 24, 2017, I docked in Tema, Ghana. This was the moment I’ve been waiting for. The previous stops during the voyage were great in their own right, but this stop was meant for me and only me. I was ready to be embraced by the Ghanaian people, learn more about my heritage, get adopted into a family, and much more. This was the one time I would have something valuable to say during our reflection groups and the audience would have to respect what I said because I was a Black person in a Black country. This was my happiness. “Where’s my big celebration,” I thought to myself as I was leaving the ship. A crazy request to ask for but I was looking for something. “Hello! A small group of Black American are here. Come embrace us.” I forgave Ghana for my uneventful welcome party. One small hiccup wasn’t going to stop my shine. We only had 4 days in Ghana and there was a lot for me to explore. My friends and I visited markets, got our hair braided, toured slave castles, and more. During the entire experience I felt underwhelmed. I didn’t receive that butterfly feeling I was expecting. Although I had a great time, everything just felt normal. No one crowned me the Black Queen of America or gave me my rights of passage. When I returned to the ship, I wasn’t that excited about my reflection group. I was scared that the non-Black students would have stories about how they were connected with the country and I wouldn't have anything to match it. And I was right. Everyone’s stories but mine involved feeling a sense of belonging and I was pissed. What did I miss? This was supposed to be my moment. It took me some time to realise that Ghana is like every other country. My Blackness wasn’t in the hands of Ghana but inside myself. My Blackness is valid because I make it, not when I check West African countries off my list. I do plan to revisit Ghana again, but this time I'm going in with the same expectations I have with every country; just enjoy yourself!