In some ways, to be black American is to be in constant want to meet your extended family or to finally speak your own language uninterrupted. The Transatlantic Slave Trade severed the ability to know which is our mother tongue, ancestral food or origins outside of plantations. But travel throughout the diaspora during Obama’s presidency felt like the bond to “home” was that much stronger.
“You’re from America?” “Yes” “Obama? Obama is good”
This is the conversation that played out in nearly every interaction I had while visiting my first country in Africa — Morocco (2012). I had this exchange in Marrakech, in Essaouira and in Fes. Even though I stood out like a sore thumb — my complexion, my clothing and my large duffel at times — it was incredibly reassuring to travel abroad knowing that love for Obama meant I could safely and proudly say I was American. The same sentiment was echoed when I travelled through Western Europe, South America and other parts of Africa. Love for Obama felt like a unifying force — a shared experience that made me feel less foreign and my place as a visitor immediately less threatening.
In Tanzania (2016), the conversation took on an even more special tone. “Brother, brother” was a very common start to most conversations and often involved attempts to sell goods. BUT the warmth I felt being called brother — which has its own context in black America that is likely distinct from Tanzania — mattered. It was the feeling of going to a family reunion where you know no one and suddenly every looks like you or tells you how much you remind them of this cousin or that cousin. Even if it was to sell me something, it felt special. And when I declined the offer of trinkets, the conversation continued with their excitement that I was American and Barack Obama was the President.
Salvador do Bahia & Rio de Janeiro (2015) were special because I saw so many who looked like members of my own family. Sao Paulo was an interesting contrast and included a discussion on how differently race is perceived in Brazil and in the US. We specifically discussed how Barack Obama would be differently received and how his race is interpreted.
And to visit Haiti (2016) during its stretch of figuring their next President was moving. Haiti is the first black republic and the result of the only successful slave revolt leading to independence in modern time. To travel between a nation that elected their first black President in its 232nd year of existence and one with so much history is heavy.
Part of a 28-day series of reflections, stories and feelings for Black History Month 2017. Read all parts (here).