I saw the ocean, the black star. I walked with (hand in hand with some) so many people that looked just like me. I saw the statue of Kwame Nkrumah. I also saw the classism, poverty and corruption. I got quite emotional after the Elmina slave castle tour. We saw the small rooms where hundreds of slaves were held in darkness for months at a time in their own feces, that was noted to us by the lines on the wall. We saw the hall of broken glass they had to go through to get to the Door of No Return. There were some Ghanaians on the tour as well. I remember being confused by their shock as to what took place there, in their own country, to create the "African American", me.
Ghana, as a whole, is a beautiful country. The people are lively and friendly. But I waited to feel that thing, that connection to the land, the people. It never came. I could have been in India or South America. It was foreign. In the end I was more than ready to come home.
When I did get home I had questions regarding my identity. What am I? What do I believe? What is my purpose? Deep shit. I slowly detached from some normal activities, people, places. I moved to Los Angeles. I started writing regularly again. And I began to refuse to apologize for my opinion, something I had been brought up believing I was supposed to do. Only now when I look back do I see the pattern. At the time it was just me 'making moves' in my life.
The one conscious affect of my trip was that I had to find a love for my country, so to speak. A reason, besides the election of Barack Obama, to be proud to recite the National Anthem.
I've never been called a nigger to my face in a derogatory way. Well, not that I can remember. Maybe back in the 70's, in elementary school, if I think hard. But I've never had to experience anything quite like what my mother and father experienced in the early 60's when they came to this country. Definitely nothing like what Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison and a host of other experienced. And I can only imagine the hell that the triangular trade might have been.
Early on in my poetry career I was a labeled a revolutionary poet and then an angry poet because I wrote mostly from the "Invisible Man" perspective. I thought, with poetry, I could avenge the wrongs of the past, Emmett Till, the four little girls and everyone on a news reel sprayed with a hose.
"... purple mountain majesties? sounds like strange fruit/ blood on the leaves, blood on the root..."To quote Public Enemy, I had "a right to be angry", probably still do. But on the other hand, I have no real respect for white guilt, in any form. Most black people don't. I don't need pity. But my anger over my second class citizenry sometimes can't be contained. I really just want respect. And boom there was an answer to one of my many questions coming back from Ghana. Respect. For what I do. For who I am. And NOT in terms of myself in others eyes as much as my own respect for myself.
It started with my acting. Rather than getting upset about the racism that exists in Hollywood, how could I show these casting directors that I was more than just a black actor? Be better. Be the very best. haha... changing Hollywood's perception of black actors single-handedly proved to be a daunting task but I did start to truly improve my auditioning to the point that I was up for a number of roles not intended for a black man. But that was just it. I didn't want to be a black actor or a black writer, or even a black man anymore. How about being an actor, a writer, a man? That color adjective has been the box I'd been trying to break out of. I have all the respect in the world for the struggle of my ancestors to create a better life for someone like me in this country. I am reminded of it every morning I look in the mirror, every time a cab speeds past me to pick up a lighter shaded fare, every time I watch TV. There is no doubt, I will never forget where I came from. I respect Jewish people for reminding themselves of their struggles every year and holding on to their past with strong convictions. But what is good for some isn't good for all. I am done with the anger and hate. The more I hold on to what I once was, I block myself from truly becoming who I am meant to be.
I love you Africa but I let you go. I once was African but I was born in The Bronx, raised on a breakbeat. I became who I am when the needle hit the record of Rapper Delight. It might be trivial to some. It is everything to me. I am a Hip-Hop American. That is the glasses through which I see. I shorten it to give it it's broadest meaning. I am Hip to the smoke screen that color is in the grand scheme of things. I am Hip to my own power and resolve. I am a Hip-American. Even if I am the only one.
check out my play, Paradox of the Urban Cliché at The Cherry Pit Theater May 14th-30th.