Race, Ethnicity and Culture Part III

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Presentation during Lutheran Church in Senegal churchwide assembly, Anne Langdji is translating into French.

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Members of the Lutheran Church in Senegal including president of the church Thomas Diouf.

I was in Senegal recently. I was there for the purpose of continuing to build relationships with Lutherans in the country and specifically working with the Senegal Lutheran Development Service (SLDS) and the Lutheran Church in Senegal (ELS). I was asked to speak for the assembly of ELS and I was given the topic of “mutual submission.” (see the beginning of that presentation in an earlier post)

Using the text for the occasion I wanted to make the point about how we treat each other. It is as though the writer of the text says, wait a minute, I thought you were followers of Christ … so act like it. God loves you…so treat each other in the same love that you have been given…..and stop using power and authority to lord it over one another.   I used my relationship with my colleague Anne as an example. I told them that technically I was her boss, but because of her knowledge and expertise in the region where we work, I often have to listen to her advice and sometimes she has to listen to me because it is my responsibility to make certain decisions.

So, I finished my presentation, which by the way was translated from English to French and then to Sere, and then I was asked questions. One of the members of the church said that it was easy for us, Anne and I, because we come from the same culture. How were they supposed to do this when some of them were Sere, some were Pulaar, some where Jola? Looking at them I would say, if I didn’t know anything about Senegal, they were all from the same culture. They are all Senegalese. And it was evident to me that Anne and I are not from the same culture. So I laughed, because we are and we are not from the same culture and they are and they are not from the same culture. So, I tried to explain.

Seeing us  standing side by side, what they saw — two Americans. Standing side by side anywhere in North America what would be seen is an African American and a European American. Our histories on North American soil is very different, our experiences on North American soil are very different, our access to resources, power….. you name it, on North American soil could not be more different. Yet when I tried to explain, many looked at me with surprise on their faces.

Race, ethnicity and culture are complicated issues and are seen differently depending on where you are standing. I have learned this much and much more as I am westafricabound.

I Came Back: Visit to Elmina Slave Castle

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I hadn’t thought of my Great Grandmother Essie Mae Parker in a long time. She died when my thirty-four year old son was about four or five years old. That’s about thirty years ago. She was in her eighties. I thought of her recently during my visit to Ghana in early July. Especially about her father who  she told me was a slave.

I was in Ghana to attend a conference of Womanist Theologians. The theme of this second conference of African and African Diaspora Women was “Text of Terror, Text of Empowerment: Reimaging Sacred Canon In Africana Womanhood.” Part of the conference was a visit to Elmina Slave Castle on the coast. This visit affected me in a powerful way and brought my Great grandmother and her father to the forefront of my mind.

Our tour of the Slave Castle began as twenty some women got out of two vans. I first noticed the beauty of the castle right there against the coast. The beautiful ocean set a contrast to the horror that this castle contained. The entrance was arches set against the bright blue sky, but the history we heard about that began with the construction of the castle in 1482, was anything but bright. The video below will give you a glimpse of what we saw and heard on our two-hour tour. The tour guide in the video is the same one who guided us through the castle. The way he told the story was riveting.

 

 

We stood listening and all of us women, those of us from the diaspora and from the continent,  had some sort of visceral reaction to what we heard and saw. As we heard the story, some of us could feel in our being that this was a place of immense pain. There was tears, weeping and even sobs as we  relived, through the guides words,  the history of our ancestors. Chills ran down my spine as I heard how the British had painted the walls to cover up the scratches of those who endured the inhumane conditions of dark, dank cells. I shivered as I heard of the sexual use and abuse of the women who were utterly helpless. The atrocities that humans committed against other humans was unspeakable. I wonder, “will we ever learn?”

I did not want to feel; I did not want to react, to what I was seeing and hearing, but I found myself saying to my fellow listeners through my tears, “I came back.” That was my overwhelming feeling. That I wanted all the ghost in that place, all the ancestors who had died, all those who looked and searched for loved ones captured and sold by the British and Portuguese, to know, “I came back.”

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I came back for Essie Mae Parker’s father, carrying with me the Vicks, the Baldwins and the Walkers, and all of my African Diaspora ancestors. I came back to the land from which you were stolen and stood in a place that you suffered immeasurably and yet survived. I saw the door that you may have passed through never to be seen by family and friends again. Looking through that door I could imagine you or more likely your mother, father, grandmother or grandfather chained and stuffed sardine like into a ship and transported so far away from home. I came back to signify and witness to your strength and the strength of a people. I came back to let you know we survived.

I came back so that I might truly understand who I am and be able to carry the story of unfathomable strength and endurance. I came back to say never again.

These are the sentiments of  a plaque on the wall of the castle that is noticeable as you leave; it reads: “In everlasting memory of the anguish of our ancestors. May those who died rest in peace. May those who return find their roots. May humanity never again perpetrate such injustice against humanity. We, the living vow to uphold this.”  May it be so…….Ashe and Amen

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I am westafricabound.

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