A Man With No Land

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Today at work I sat discussing heritage with three of my coworkers: a Haitian African, a Jamaican and a Dominican. They all conversed about revolutions, events and people from their homelands who are stapled into their histories. They spoke with such pride because various people and situations have helped to shape their people’s identity and culture. Whatever happened on their land happened in their history. I sat a bit envious, for though they are like African Americans in which most of them were brought to their respected lands; they and their lands are one.  They are tied to their old-new homes. They love it, and it claims them. These thoughts led me to ponder what land do African Americans associate themselves with? And what land claims the African American? From my experience, it is clear that African Americans are not deeply connected to any land.

When I consider each of my coworkers land heritage, I am troubled with my lack thereof. In African American history we have many heroes who have, on American soil, fought for us, descendants of slaves, to attain many freedoms. In a land where we were brought to as slaves, we now have rights, liberties and representation in the highest office in the free world. But does America really claim the African American as his brother, or are we simply overstayed visitors? From slavery to lynching and the countless murders of minorities throughout the years among other things, I presume that the land of the free hasn’t truly accepted the free slave. When so many injustices are allowed against us, it’s hard to feel like America is really our home. Well, I know that’s how I feel. So, if America seems unsure of our kinship, where do we call home? Where are we connected to?

At times, it seems like nowhere.

Both my parents are from the south and came north to escape the tumultuous south of the 50’s. My mother was born in Savannah Georgia, and my dad was born in Lee South Carolina. Neither of them, nor I, have ever traveled outside of the country. We don’t go visit cousin so and so in Nigeria. When we go visit family, we go down south. When West Indians or Africans ask me where my family is from, I often say the south because I have no other point of reference. I was born and raised in the New York; I have no connection to the south or Africa. I tried reconnecting with my family from the south, and as pleasant it was it left more questions. Who are we really as a family? Where are we from? I learned that one of my great grandfathers was a musician and that excited me. I felt a sense of rootedness.

I realized that I wasn’t an island, but that men who came before me excelled in similar ways and shared similar pains. Still, questions like where certain relatives got specific strengths haunt me. Not having a home land that is filled with my people, my heritage and my culture leaves me a bit misguided about who I am. It also concerns me of who we are as black men and women. Does our legacy end with jazz and the civil rights and a certain black vernacular? Or is there more? Though my parents are from the south, we are so much more than southerners. My parents themselves do not claim to be from anywhere else but the south. They have, like many of our parents and people, no connection with who they really are and where they really from: Africans from Africa.

Many attempts have been and are being made to mend the lack of identity and culture that resulted from slavery. Kwanzaa, created by an activist and scholar named Maulana Karenga, was conceived to give Afro-Americans their own holiday: a sense spiritually individuality. The Pan-American Flag was crafted with a similar intent: to give us culture and identity. With all these attempts, the thirst for a home hasn’t been quenched within blacks. Recently, many celebrities have begun to participate in DNA analysis that traces back ones genealogy. African American Lives, hosted and narrated by Henry Louis Gates Jr that premiered on PBS in February of 2006, is an example of this. It is a documentary that explores the history of men like T D Jakes, Chris Tucker, and Dr. Ben Carson as well as women like Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, and Dr. Mae Jemison through genealogical research. It married these Africa Americans to various countries and tribes in Africa which us remarkable.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the norm. Most blacks, if not in financial constraints, are at least misinformed about their access to such options. Many black men like me live either in the state of creation or in a state of assimilation. We either try to create an identity and culture for ourselves or we simply put on the American self. We align ourselves with American values, belief systems and ambitions ignoring any connection or reflection to our damaged past. We are a people whose culture continuously changes, for we have no foundation. Land-heritage brings foundation.

Going back to live in Africa can prove to be problematic, for we have no trusted relatives there.  However, finding out where our families originate from, give each of us a better context than what many of us have as African Americans. We are able to associate with outstanding music, attire, and spiritual practices that outdate our Kwanzaa, jazz, hip-hop, pan African flag creations. It is not a matter of better or worse but context. I believe saying to be extremely true: “you don’t know where you’re going, unless you know where you come from.”

On February 6, 2008, African Ancestry posted a video on YouTube of Judge Hatchett discovering her roots and she told this story while speaking to a young man:

I went to Africa with my sons last summer. And there was a Massai warrior who’s a little bit older than you are. And he said ‘where are you from?” And I said, naively, I said I’m from the United States. He said ‘nah nah nah nah nah no! Where are you from my sister?” And I didn’t know. And so when you got tested I got tested, so you have my results which I have not said I have been dying for this to come back today so I can have my result because never ever do I want to say again I don’t know.

Ask African Americans where they are from, and they will tell you some state or county, but the truth is most of our answers are like Judge Hatchett’s: we don’t know.

For black history month, I want my African descendant brothers and sisters to consider going home. Consider investing in these DNA genealogical tests because with land-heritage comes a stable culture and identity and most importantly wholeness which our people so desperately lack. Imagine finding out that your people are from Morocco, Egypt, Kenya, Namibia, Cameroon or Liberia, not from Savannah Georgia or Boston or Mississippi but Africa. Wouldn’t that be something? One real way that we can begin to rid ourselves from the evils of slavery is by reconnecting. It is by going back home. With the new advancements in science we can at least know where to start. It’s better to be a man a long way from home than a man with no land.

corey-spencerC. Lionel Spencer is a New York resident and writer, who is devoted to using his talent of writing to move our world community forward.

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17 thoughts on “A Man With No Land

  1. Thanks for such an introspective commentary! I’ve considered doing the DNA test, maybe this year I’ll finally do it. The results may surprise me.

    • I hear this argument all the time and i have come to realize that 99% of African American have no idea our true connection to this land. My area of study has been mostly before Christopher Columbus for the past 15 years. i learned that African Americans are completely oblivious to true American history for one reason. We have continually relied on a history not told by us. American history is so flawed which is based from a eugenics prospective. African Americans have the greatest connection to this land more so than anybody or cultural group. i am Yamassee Native American and Kenyan and have tried to undo what slavery in America has conditioned us to believe, “That We Don’t Belong”. Our history here goes back at least 56,000 years that has been proven.

    • What i want people to understand with the whole DNA thing is this. It only points to a place of origin but, that information can be applied to any area. Africans are indigenous to the entire planet. The evidence has shown over and over that this is true.

      • I agree with you being that all of humanity comes from Africa, none of that information is new. However, finding a place of origin for some people is another enlightening experience that can add to self knowledge.

  2. Jamaicans don’t have a land either. Most Black Jamaicans are dirt poor and rejected by the elites in their country. Dominicans have severe colorism issues against dark skin and Haitians, so I don’t think we have anything to be jealous of.

  3. I want to take my DNA test but I’m afraid of the results. I’m lightskinned and I’ve heard of some Black people coming back with overwhelming European genes and I don’t think I’m ready for that.

  4. Now that my mouth can close I’m able to feel what the brother said. I know that my great-great grand father was Irish. Other then that I can only go back to slavery. Maybe it’s time for me to find out what tribe my Great-great-great grandmother came from. I know understand why I feel so much like an island. With my roots just hanging in the water. Thank you for enlightening me to a part of my life that I kept on my blindside.

  5. This is such a great post! It made me think about a KRS-One song where he kept saying “America ain’t your home.” As someone who came from a lighter-skinned family, I totally understand Veronica’s concerns. But I would love to find out, if possible, where in Africa my ancestors are from, if that’s remotely possible. How much do these tests cost and how accurate are they?

  6. Have you ever considered as much as America doesn’t claim Black Americans, Black Americans don ‘t claim America? Jamaicans claim Jamaica. We LOVE Jamaica despite the fact it has not sustained us so that we do not have to emigrate to countries like Canada, England or the US. To love America is to accept what it is and what it is not. Claim America. It is your birth right. This is your land: good, bad and ugly.

    • I agree with you whole heartedly W. Reid. I am proud to be an American. This statement is not based on ignorance, but upon the knowledge that my closes ancestors were the major contributors of America’s success both voluntary and involuntary.
      Many elements of C.L. Spencer’s article are continuations of our story. I too grew up in the North, my family also took part in the great migration from the South in the 50s-60s, I too have this discourse with West Indian friends of the convenience they have to claim some land, I have strong African features and constantly have to deal with questions of my heritage. Spencer and I are African Americans this along with countless similarities is what connect us. Even European Americans can claim some place other than America when it is convenient. We alone are charged with the responsibility of accepting the good, bad, and ugly of two continents, and creating a future brighter than our darkest days.

  7. If Jamaicans, Haitians and Dominicans took DNA tests it would all go back to Africa. If you were in their respective countries what land would you claim? Africa? Or USA? If their countries were so great they would not be in America. Every nation has good and bad .

  8. America is our home and I’m proud to say it…our history was taken from us on purpose…that was part of the deal in making us a slave. So weather white America likes it or not this is my home. I would not discourage anybody from trying to find out but most of our records were destroyed during slavery. We should not let white America define who we are anymore…STAND TALL AND BE PROUD! THEY BROUGHT US HERE SO DON’T GIVE THEM THE CHOICE TO DEFINE YOU…DEFINE YOURSELF!

  9. My identity as an afro american is mired in the history of slavery. A relative obtained the results from DNA testing and the extent of European influence gave me pause. I felt like what in the world as I supposed to do with THAT? This too is part of the legacy of being robbed of my history that I must process. It takes courage to be black and proud in america and an even greater fortitude to navigate this landscape without knowing whence I’ve truly come. I applaud this brother for asking the tough questions, sharing his thoughts and encouraging others to discover from whence they’ve come, whence-n-ever that might be. Power to the people.

  10. Thank you so much for your comments! I appreciate you all sharing your thoughts. I am an American; this I can not change nor desire to. The DNA test isn’t the answer. It is just a way to refine the context of my story. I am proud to be black. I enjoy the culture and history we have here in America. However, I believe most of our people are like adopted children who have made America their home since infancy. And this America that has adopted us blatantly treats us worse than the other adopted children. It’s not impossible to feel at home, but our predicament is a difficult one to embrace and enjoy.

    • I agree with you 100%…the reason we are the ugly duckling is because of slavery. To embrace us as an American means a serious discussion about slavery and the people they call hero’s. The faces on the money we use and many more…would have to be discussed in length about their status as such. To me they are kidnappers, rapist, murders but that’s just me…(smile) They don’t want to have that conversation…as far as reparations goes we can forget it…it’ll never happen.

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