Mwatabu S Okantah
Ghana Time, or, Fools' Frontier? (Part Two)
Updated: Jan 28, 2020
Too often, encounters with Africans from the Continent are trapped in a vortex of mutual ignorance. We harbor false notions and misconceptions about each other. The legacies of slavery/domestic apartheid in the USA and colonialism/neo-colonialism in Africa have poisoned our perceptions in Africa and throughout the Diaspora. This historic Year of the Return in Ghana, finally, and, formally acknowledges, that peoples of African descent have the right to return to ancestral lands. But there are so many things we do not know about each other. We are caught in a perilous space between worlds. We are like two large passenger ships, dangerously close yet passing each other in the night through thick fog, navigating in treacherous waters.
Africans in Africa struggle to fully grasp what it means to be totally cut off from mother tongues and proper names. They do not understand the troubled nature of our wandering. Ghanaians, who have Obruni names like Francis or Abigail or Johnson or Evelyn or Samuel, who struggle to speak English, who worship at the Altar of the Obruni Jesus, who go to Obruni mission schools, who wear wigs and weaves, who bleach their skin, who mimic Western styles, do not see the contradictions when they call those of us that return from the Diaspora, “Obibini-Obruni.” We are not “black foreigners.” We are not “black skinned white people.” We are Africa’s long lost, strange but familiar children who have managed to find our way back home.
Many of us have repatriated but we also bring curious, and, sometimes toxic, brands of “America crazy” with us. Kwa David Whitaker, an African American Enstooled as Tufohene [Adviser], Nana Kra Kwamina II in the village of Atonkwa says, “On the list of things to not bring with us are our ‘Niggerish’ ways. Niggers and flies, the more I see Niggers, the more I like flies.” We cannot truly come home, if we delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped from all the US represents. Being in the Belly of the Beast often obscures just how much we think like Americans. American thought-patterns are embedded in us in ways you don’t recognize until the reality of being in Africa pushes you to confront the personal demons you thought you escaped. Yes, we are New World Afreekans from the other side. Being in Africa presses you to face the real America that has been so thoroughly conditioned into us.
"Nigger business" is a plague on all our houses, at home in Africa and abroad throughout the Diaspora. It is a combustible mix when Africans, who can be more European than the Europeans, grapple with those of us who can be more American than the Americans. Being contaminated by radioactive Western thought-patterns is a serious accelerant. The real challenge for African people is learning how to come to know and to trust each other across a virtual mine field of cross-cultural confusion. Being in Ghana has also taught me; our time is better served getting through to the other side of "Nigger business," than it is trying to teach even the good white people that the time has come for them to deal with each other about ending white privilege.
There is no idealized romantic Africa to be found when we return. The Africa struggling to recover from a more than five-hundred-year legacy of slavery and colonialism is often overwhelming. It is simultaneously gut wrenching and spiritually healing. It is both ugly and beautiful. We will, and, do meet Africans that do not like us. However, my experiences have taught me it is not a question of “not liking” African Americans, so much as it is a dislike for a too often haughty or superior “American” attitude that some of us possess. On this most recent visit, for example, I was told a story about an elder African American couple that have repatriated to Ghana but claim they “hate Ghanaians” because they think “Ghanaians hate us.” Twisted logic and real “Nigger business” exist on both sides of the Atlantic. We cannot allow either the ignorant or the foolish to get in the way of actual progress.
We cannot return with the mindset that we are somehow needed as “saviors.” Such arrogance renders us no more or less than the Obruni Pete or “vulture foreigners”—the white missionaries we so detest each time we see them walking the streets of Elmina or through villages like Atonkwa. We are disheartened when we see images of the white Jesus everywhere. To fall into the “trick bag” of seeing Africa and of seeing Africans through American eyes, is to become a dreaded “Obibini-Obruni” for real. At the same time, coming from the Diaspora provides a particular perspective on this battle to reclaim Black hearts and minds that can shock Africans into seeing Africa in the 21st century in a new light.
I have been told that many Ghanaians fear the skills we bring, because they think we are coming to somehow take control. They see us through the warped lenses of both the European and the American media. Their perceptions of us are filtered through seductive pop culture imaginings. At the University of Cape Coast, I even had a student ask, “Why do you not like it when the whites say Nigger?” I had to remind her to reread Kwame Nkrumah’s, “African Society under Colonialism.” Like so many of our youth here in the US, Ghanaian youth are often disconnected from their history—a time when the British called their Ancestors “Nigger” in Ghana. They have no context to fully comprehend the assertiveness or the hard, nappy edges we needed, and need, to survive in the land of the American white man.