Why I Believe Black Americans Traveling to Africa is So Important
I’d like to first thank everyone that participated in my Africa questioning on Facebook over the last couple months. I asked a couple of simple questions with an unspoken purpose because I was looking for uninfluenced answers to test a theory I had been thinking about for years. I have always wondered why people choose to do the things they do and sometimes I make an assessment and then watch to see how right or wrong I was.
So, if you’re interested in the unofficial responses to my Facebook questions here they are.
I began by asking about 400 of my Facebook friends the question “Have you ever traveled to Africa?”
I got 155 total responses. 100 HAD NOT visited Africa and 55 HAD visited. Roughly 2/3 not visited. I asked the followup question to that 2/3’s (100 total people) that HAD NOT visited Africa “what countries HAVE you visited?” About half responded (48). 45 of that 48 HAD traveled to at least one foreign country NOT in Africa, 3 had not traveled abroad at all.
94% of people who have never visited Africa had traveled somewhere else abroad! I’m not sure what number I was expecting but 94% seemed pretty high.
I can say that from my questions I was hoping for more detailed and/or insightful answers but what I often got was short and sometimes confusing responses, which may be a story in its own right. Only a couple of people took the opportunity to elaborate on their answers and give me more in-depth responses. I appreciate everybody who participated though.
So, what theory was I secretly testing?
Jews have Israel, Muslims have Mecca, expats have their home countries, as do immigrants, and Black people have Africa. Right? Well, sort of.
While Black people will loudly and proudly claim Africa as the origin of their heritage, what exactly is it that they are claiming? Sure we’re melanated, but very few Black Americans have a known relative actually living in Africa. We don’t even have a known NON-living relative from Africa! So what exactly is it that we are connected to?
My theory is that we’re connected to the CONCEPT of Africa and not actually Africa itself.
Almost NONE of us can name a country of origin, a tribe and certainly not an elder waiting to feed us jolof rice and tell us family stories. We’re orphans. We know we have a parent but we don’t know who our parent is. So, we emulate. We imagine what it would be like to know where we’re from, but it’s an abstract knowing, it’s healthy (in my opinion), but so far, it’s only a contrived image in our mind. But for now it’s the best we’ve got. If there were only one person we knew from the motherland, ONE, we’d be able to comfortably identify a location, a country, a city, a neighborhood. We’d be directly connected to a history that had a story and a legacy. Things would be very different for us. We’d have grounding.
Some folks have broken through though. Whether it was as a tourist or business trip, 1 in 3 of my Facebook friends (55/155) have set foot on African soil. Not sure what percentage I was expecting when I asked the first question but I feel like 33% isn’t high enough. My friends are largely metropolitan, educated, upwardly mobile… so what does that say about the numbers of the larger Black population? Probably that 33% is an optimistic number.
Thanks to my late father who paid for my plane ticket, I traveled internationally for the first time in my 20’s to Jamaica (with a UMD crew #BlackTerps). And although I’ve traveled to Cambodia and the Caribbean many times, I didn’t travel to Africa until I was (48). My wife and I were fortunate enough to visit Kenya along with about 60 of her fellow FAMU Rattlers. Why it took me so long is kind of what started this whole concern.
My takeaway? Every single oneayall should make the pilgrimage at least once! And the ones that already have, y’all need to push the ones that haven’t.
So, why exactly don’t we prioritize the land that’s so integral to who we are? Is it the distance? Maybe it’s the expense? Maybe.
Or maybe those are just excuses.
Based solely on my limited life experience I think these are definitely factors, but distance and expense are not THE reasons because I see plenty of y’all going to the Caribbean multiple times or taking cruises and visiting the Mediterranean and such (that’s why I asked what “other” countries y’all had visited. I do know Africa isn’t a country BTW.)
So, in my opinion, the key thing that’s missing, the thing that would turn a generic African touristy idea into an actual home-going visit, is a relationship.
Y’all could really use someone who knows your name and would receive you with a pound or a hug on the other end. A relationship would make the thought of Africa into something real. A relationship would take a vision and turn it into an address. A relationship would be the first step in transforming a concept into an ACTION.
If you could know your destination and have assurity of safety and comfort, and a family member ready to RECEIVE you, would you feel differently about considering Africa as your next travel destination? Would it become important enough to make it a life and legacy priority?