Pride & Privilege

It’s been nearly two months since I moved to Accra. If you’re following me on social media, you know that I started my sabbatical by joining a curated trip around Ghana, hosted by Katelynn & Adwoa. This is the same trip I attended in 2019 that made me fall in love with the country. I’d been telling anyone who would listen about my experience while strongly encouraging them to visit. Two of my friends finally gave in booked the trip for December 2021. We met up with 18 other women and for seven days we ate at the best restaurants, partied at the best clubs, stayed in a luxury hotel and truly had one of the best experiences a large travel group could have. We toured monuments and did a good amount of shopping, too, but just like with the first trip, the visit to Cape Coast Castle is always the most important part of the journey for me.

Cape Coast Castle is magical, but not in the Disney type of way. More like the Children of Blood & Bone type of way. It’s dark and murky, yet illuminating. It is where many of our ancestors spent anywhere from three weeks to three months in bondage. Actually, bondage is putting it lightly. I wouldn’t have lasted three minutes. It’s something I really can’t put into words, but it changed me.

On the tour, you are walking the same grounds your ancestors did. But you’re free. You learn how they got there. You see, first hand, the conditions they were forced to bear. You walk into the dungeons were they were held captive, in spaces three times too small for their capacity. You look up into the ceiling to see a looking hole where the European generals would check on the enslaved during church. Yes, one of dungeons is directly below where white men used to praise and worship in the name of Jesus Christ. This European-built fortress, built in the early 1650s and operated for more than 300 years, trafficked an estimated 12 million people from Africa. Twelve. Million.

The first time I visited Cape Coast Castle was during the Year of the Return, commemorating the 400-year anniversary of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. When I walked back through the Door of No Return, I sobbed. I caught my breath long enough to whisper, “We came back home.”

My second trip, just recently, I did not expect to be as emotional. But I was. I heard more of the story than I did the first time. I asked more questions. And I gained even more pride. See, I used to be jealous of my first-generation, African-American friends. They knew their history, their lineage, and it didn’t cost them a $300 African ancestry test (I’m of the Mbundu tribe in Angola on my daddy’s side, btw). There’s a certain privilege you carry when you know who you are and from where you came. And that same privilege is what I’m noticing among Ghanaians as I live among them. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it does create a bit of a disconnect.

I hate to say this, but this blog is an online journal and accurate account of my experience, so I won’t sugar coat it. I feel welcomed here, but I don’t feel a connection to the people (yet). I can probably count on one hand the number of women with whom I genuinely vibe. Three of them, while full-blooded Ghanaian, have foreign accents, like me. They could relate to feeling like a foreigner here, but again, their Ghanaian blood and cultural upbringing (albeit in a different country), gave them a pass. Several times, I’ve been asked within the first few minutes of conversation, “Are you Ghanaian at all?” And there appears to be a subtle disappointment, disinterest or assumption that sets in when I tell them that I’m not. I’ve been given a few theories on why this may be the case.

There’s a lot we could be doing to bridge the gap and build genuine relationships between Africans and Diasporans. For one, I don’t think they learn about our experience with slavery and the impact it still has on us in school. That type of knowledge could create some sort of empathy and understanding. I’m looking forward to exploring this intersection of pride and privilege, but let the record show that I am proud to be a descendant of enslaved people. I’m part of a lineage of resilient people; people that, despite everything, survived and succeeded.

Happy Black History Month.

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One Comment

  • Vachele Lewis

    May 21, 2022 at 10:33 pm

    Love this Natalie! I am so happy that you are having this experience. You are an awesome young woman!


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