Monday, August 1, 2011

African or American? I Know.

Last night I had a conversation with someone - a childhood friend it took me weeks to remember - that made me want to write this short piece about identity.

In one of our conversations I mentioned that I was part American, which didn't seem to sit very well with him as though I were denouncing my Ghanaian heritage. His response was, "Just because you've lived somewhere for some time doesn't mean you're no longer Ghanaian. Linda, you are a Ghanaian ok. You were born in Ghana and lived here for quite some time." Ha! Of course, his response didn't sit very well with me either because anyone who really knows me can attest to the fact that I WEAR my Ghanaian heritage as though it were my lifeline and I flaunt my African-ness because I AM proud! I tried to explain to him that by saying I was part American had nothing to do with identifying one's self by way of birth or legal right, though those are valid, but instead based on values, perspectives and way of life. Obviously he didn't get it at all and still somehow believed that I was denying my Ghanaian heritage just because I had lived in America for the amount of time I did, how sad.

Sad because of the narrow-mindedness I have witnessed in some Africans, myself included sometimes. For years, I never identified myself as American when I lived in the United States. I was always the Ghanaian or African. I even created a special slot for myself on last year's (2010) census forms: For the part that asked about "race" I added "African" to the categories (since we're always included in the African American slot) and checked the new addition. I always made it a point to state that I was African, although I must add that I had assimilated very well into the American culture: my work ethics, the way I related to people, my choices in food, the activities I enjoyed and preferred to do, my speech/accent, my views on social and even political issues, the list goes on.

The interesting thing about this is, it wasn't until I relocated to Ghana that I realized how much of an American I was, although I could've fought anyone who "accused" (note I placed "accused" in quotes) me of such a thing four months ago, as though being American or claiming to be American were a filthy thing.

Which brings me back to an area I diverted from earlier. There seems to be this notion held by some Africans, or perhaps I should say some immigrants, that a person can only be one thing, in my case Ghanaian because I was born in Ghana and any strong identification with another culture is some sort of "sin" or abomination. Heck no! It will be a tragedy for me to deny that parts of what make me "Linda" or "Abena" is American. I grew into the woman I am today in America and this woman was formed by life events shaped by the American experience. Important decisions I've made in my life as a result of these experiences were influenced by Ghanaian and American values, not just one.

So yes, I refuse to deny that I'm part American just to get "my people" off my case.  I'm not embarrassed to say that I embrace parts of the American culture that I have grown to identify with. I didn't migrate to America when I was a full grown adult at age 25 or 30. I was a teenager whose identity hadn't fully been formed yet and definitely had room to grow. Am I happy that were the case? Heck yeah! Because I believe that I possess a very rich perspective by being able to merge my Ghanaian and American values.

So how will I feel anytime I hear the American national anthem? My heart will continue to swell and tears will cloud my eyes in the same way they do when I hear the Ghanaian national anthem. And I'm very proud of that.


  1. Interesting post, Linda. I'm wondering if your differences in interpreting your statement emanate from that aspect of putting countries on a hierarchy, and the psychological condition of wanting to associate ourselves with countries that are supposed to be on the higher end of the hierarchy? A kind of inferiority complex that makes some of us from African countries want to identify with Western countries because it makes us feel better about ourselves; it makes us see ourselves as better than other Africans. It exists, doesn't it? I'm wondering if your friend misunderstood your statement to be about this complex, even when you were merely making an accurate observation about your identity and how America is an undeniable part of your upbringing. Does this make sense?

  2. Ditto! Steve. There was a total misunderstanding of my statement. The thought of anyone even assuming that I'm a victim of colonial mentality makes me want to puke! But I've always believed that sometimes we project our insecurities onto others. Because someone might feel inferior, for whatever reason, they read it in messages that aren't meant to communicate that particular message.

  3. This post makes me feel comfortable.
    The same thing is happening with me.
    I´m living for almost 21 years in Brazil,but my heart is in Suriname.
    Everytime I visit my country I have to kill two birds with one stone.

    P.S.There are Ghananians living in Suriname