THIS IS PART 1 OF A TWO-PART SERIES…
I recently took a DNA test.
While I have always been extremely proud of my Jamaican heritage, there is a whole other part of my history that was stolen from me and erased. I am in diaspora; part of a scattered population whose origin lies in a separate geographic locale. While I have always been aware of the fact my ancestors were trafficked from Africa and forced to labour under brutal conditions entirely for the benefit of the British Empire, who they were and where they came from has always been completely unknown to me. I, like so many other individuals of African descent, suffer from a disconnected sense of identity.
The DNA test was as much about finding out where my ancestors came from as it was an attempt to reclaim a connection to the hidden parts of my identity that were stolen away long before I was ever born.
Lewis Persaud recently penned an article titled, “Griots: The importance of documentation” (click here), where he writes about the crucial role they played in preserving the history of many West African societies. He argues that it was this very connection to their rich history which helped to maintain these ancient cultures, and as people of African descent, it is through “retaining a sense of self in a world designed to strip you of it…” that we begin the process of building a strong and stable community.
Lewis and I recorded this episode at the end of last summer in the wake of the global outrage which erupted following the death of George Floyd. Several other extrajudicial killings of black people and racially charged incidents prior had stoked the flames of discontent for many and kickstarted a wave of Black Lives Matter protests all over the world. One of those incidents was the slaying of Ahmaud Marquez Arbery who was hunted down and executed in the street of a suburban Georgia neighbourhood by three white men. It took 74 days for his killers’ arrest, and only after the video of his killing went viral.
It is now exactly one week shy of a year since Ahmaud was killed, and his family continue their wait for justice.
It also currently happens to be Black History Month in the United States. And with the recent news of one Utah school originally agreeing to parents’ demand to exempt their children from taking part in Black History Month learning before backtracking after a backlash on social media, the question I ask is, what happens now that the protests have ended? What do we need to do as a people to move this fight forward?
I think the beginnings of an answer lies in first grounding ourselves in a strong sense of identity, because as Marcus Garvey once exclaimed and as illustrated so beautifully by Lewis in his article, a “people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots”.
On this episode, Lewis and I talk about reclaiming our identities, the true nature of racism and what is required in dismantling the structures it has built.
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