My husband cringes every time that I say that I am an African American because he is worried that I am being disrespectful to an entire culture. I’m really not. I was born in Monrovia, Liberia. The first people who touched me, air that I breathed, soil that I walked on, food that I ate, culture that shaped me…was/were African. As long as I can remember, I knew that I could not be a citizen of Liberia because I was white. From their constitution:”The great object of forming these Colonies, being to provide a home for the dispersed and oppressed children of Africa, and to regenerate and enlighten this benighted continent, none but persons of colour shall be eligible to citizenship in this Republic.” I always felt a connection to this place where my baby pictures were taken and the people who helped to shape my infant and toddler self. My husband swiped this picture he found of me with the woman, Martha, who cared for me as a baby.
I have been so graced by this beginning, by this connection to another culture. My mother talked about racism when I very young. She encouraged us to ‘smile at black men’ as a small action that we could take to heal some of the wounds of our neighbors as we passed them on the street. I can only imagine how odd my little blonde self must have looked with a big grin stretching across my face whenever I encountered a black man. I remember wondering if they could tell that I was from Africa. You know when you pass by someone who has a T-shirt from a place you visited, you sometimes have a little nod of acknowledgement between you because you have something in common….a bond of sorts. I fantasied that the black folks I smiled at would feel that commonality-vibe coming from me..that they would see that we had a bond.
I still smile at black men. I still feel that a part of me is African.