This is a guest post from writer May Amoyaw
On Friday, January 12, I came to work mad. I didn’t know how I was going to function that day because I was infuriated. I couldn’t believe what the President of the United States — a country of immigrants — had said. Many people were upset, but living in an African house while relatives abroad ask why your president is racist via WhatsApp adds another level of realism. As I drove to work, I felt my face curling up, my thoughts becoming redder as they played in my mind. “The only true Americans are the ones who are native to this land, so who does he think he is?” This question was my only defense mechanism to level the playing field. I found myself retweeting accomplishments of Ghanaians and other Africans throughout the day to prove our worth.
But then it dawned on me: Why do Ghanaians — and other Africans — have to prove themselves when Norwegians don’t? Why do people of color have to constantly prove their humanity through accomplishments to be worthy? To be enough? My existence is enough. I became defensive not just of my own humanity, but of my people. Of the millions of people who did not choose their country of origin, but are still worthy. They are people, and as people they deserve respect, regardless of where they are from.
Prejudiced socialization has caused us to curate biased images in our heads of Africans. We see emaciated Black children, huts, and wild animals — just to be clear, I did not see a lion until I moved to America. Yet I and others live under this invisible and often internalized cloud of oppression that follows us no matter where we go or what we do. A lot of us have learned to deal with it, but again, if I was from Norway, a predominantly White country, would I have to? Society’s expectations of Africa have been set by people who perpetuate a cycle of power in which they alone are the beneficiaries. By no means am I saying that the continent of Africa is perfect. But if the social construct and currency of race does not work in our favor, what is enough to make us worthy?
I can only speak for Ghana, which is one of the most (but apparently still not enough) democratic nations in Africa. Ghana is the birthplace of Yaa Asantewaa, the warrior woman who rebelled against British colonization, essentially doing what America’s 13 colonies did by herself. Is that enough? Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois, and Malcolm X looked to Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of the first African country to gain independence from Great Britain, as a liberator and an example of Black determination and organization. Is that enough? Bozoma Saint John, the Chief Brand Officer at Uber and a Ghanaian-American, is a thought leader in one of America’s most influential spaces, setting culture and defying odds. Is that enough? It is exhausting to constantly prove that you belong in a space. We shouldn’t have to list accomplishments and accolades to prove that our countries — and our people — deserve respect when predominantly White countries do not.
On Friday, I wore my hair in a traditional afro style in resistance of the straight hair that is accepted by White dominant culture, a physical manifestation of my feelings. Because my afro, just as it stands, is enough. Being African is enough. Yes, we have accomplished a lot, but that doesn’t define us. The people of the United States, especially the president, have to understand that tolerance is not the same as competence. Ignorance in the age of information is no longer an excuse and cannot be used to dismiss blatant prejudice. If I was from Norway, I wouldn’t have to prove my existence because my whiteness would suffice as social currency. I and many African and Caribbean people are just as human as everyone else. When do I have to stop making a case for my existence?
When will enough finally be enough?
This piece is dedicated to Emmanuel Mensah, the Ghanaian-American soldier who lost his life rescuing others in New York City. Da yie.