Sometimes it feels kind of nice to be mistaken for a local. It’s almost as if all the years I spent celebrating Kwanzaa, wearing kente cloth, and learning about African history have finally paid off. My longing for a sense of African identity is affirmed!
Until I open my mouth and my accent gives away the fact that I am clearly American. But yet there is some sense of insider privilege my black skin grants me that my non-black peers are not awarded. I am not assumed to be the ignorant tourist, allowing me to navigate the city of Kumasi without drawing particular attention to my phenotype or appearance. Especially when I wear African prints, the people I meet are typically surprised to find out I’m not Ghanaian.
I feel honored, yet at the same time confused. In W.E.B. DuBois’ The Souls of Black Folk, he describes the struggle for identity:
One ever feels his twoness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
I never anticipated feeling torn between my American and black identity in the continent where I am the most phenotypically represented. When I am in America, I point to Africa as the root of my heritage. Yet, now that I’m here in Ghana, I must point to America as an explanation of my cultural dissonance.
Rather than affirming my identity as African-American, being in Ghana has further complicated it.
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