Then and Now: Whips, Chains, and Brands.

I had to take a few days to process my 3 weeks in Ghana before I could write a proper reflection.

I came home to a country that is in political and racial unrest. Not that this hasn’t been happening for years, but the closer we get to November and the longer it takes for African-Americans to get the equal rights that we have been seeking for too many years to count, the greater the tension of the political and racial climate grows.

On race in America:

I can say without hesitation that my melanin got richer while I was in Ghana. Even though it is definitely hotter now that I am back home, the African sun gave my skin the perfect kiss. I used to avoid the sun in the summer time for fear or me become darker than I already was. In more recent years I take pride in my melanin, and I wear my blackness as a badge of honor.

While in Ghana I was told more times than I could count that I look Ghanaian until I open my mouth to speak. So basically I look black until I open my mouth to speak. That statement felt all too familiar, but the biggest difference was the motivation behind it.

In America ever since I was a little do I was told that I ‘talk white’. Ive been called an oreo among other terms to make me feel bad for being the way I am, or what some would view as me trying to act superior, or white. It’s so interesting how the idea of white supremacy is so engrained into the minds of the global society that we (those of the African diaspora) have been conditioned to believe that ‘white is right’ so much so that we demean and belittle our own for exhibiting ‘good qualities.

White supremacy fuels the idea that an individual that enunciates and knows how to articulate thoughts and opinions is a ‘white’ thing. So is being intelligent and hungry for knowledge. Only white people want to present themselves in the best light possible dressing appropriately and looking the part of someone in power.

The images of black people that are perpetuated and even celebrated are those that depict black people are being loud, ignorant, stubborn, and unwilling to better themselves. That is the image of black people that society will tolerate as a ploy to continue to keep a clear separation of power. Black people have yet to realize control and power that they possess politically, and even the power of our dollar.

While I was away Miss USA 2016, Deshauna Barber was crowned. Race was an aspect of the conversation that was downplayed. Deshauna Barber is the 7th African-American woman in history to win such a prestigious title, the last one being in 2008 (from my understanding). She is a face of color that reigned supreme in the pageant world that is built on a foundation of European beauty standards.

The BET Awards happened this past Sunday, and if that whole celebration wasn’t a reflection of where my head and heart is right now then I don’t know what is. More specifically the performances of artists like Usher, Beyoncé, Kenderick Lamar, etc were especially ‘woke’. However, there was one moment that takes the cake: Jesse Williams’ Humanitarian Award acceptance speech.

I have seen Jesse Williams’ speech too many times to count, and I am beyond proud everytime I watch it. He is urging black America to wake up, and take back our country, to stop being victimized by people that ultimately we empower. To realize that they run a country that wouldn’t even be standing if it wasn’t for our blood, sweat, and tears.

I have also seen posts by people like Stacey Dash and Tomi Lahren, that remind me that we have come a long way but we still have a ways to go.

Conversations can be game changers but it is important to create boundaries and remember the overall purpose especially when these conversations are being had with the majority. I can be afraid to have intelligent debates and conversations to enlighten others and myself through knowledge, tolerance, and respect. Each party must also understand the place that perspective plays in the individual reality that each human being is entitled to. However, facts are facts and that fact is indisputable.

Since being back I had to take a moment to thank the white people in my life that are ‘woke’. For the majority of my life I have been in situations where I find myself the minority.. classrooms, choral music classes/gatherings, the musical the musical theatre community… very few around me look like I do in the world that I live in. So, to encounter and individual who is not blind to their supremacy and privilege is a slowly decreasing rarity. There are some white people out there who are constantly advocating for equality and an even playing field, and want to see people of the African diaspora flourish. They are there celebrating when we win, and providing empathy and a desire to learn and know more when tragedies and injustices occur.

The root of everything can be summed up in one term: Sankofa.

sankofa2

You really have to know where you came from to know where you have the potential to go. Question everything. Do not take crumbs from the table, get in the kitchen and make your own meal. Always have strength and pride, stay informed, and don’t complain about issues that you aren’t willing to get up to do the work to rectify. Be grateful for the progress, but don’t become complacent. When you reach back don’t just reach back for the technicalities of history, there is more that can be gained from the past. The stories, traditions, practices, etc. those are all things that we can draw on as African-Americans to stay connected to what enriches, and break away from what is depleting us as a race.

~Kristen Phantazia

“Perception is reality, and reality is in my world there is no black and white, only shades of K…”

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Cash is Queen, So Play Your Cards Right..

Before I even had the chance to step out into the rain I had atleast 5 men try to grab my bags from me to take them to the van that had arrived to take us to our first destination in Ghana. In America it would have been viewed as chivalrous and unfortunately out of the ordinary, but in Ghana I knew better. I had already been warned that while someone offering to carry your bags may seem kind, here there is an ulterior motive: they want to get paid.

I can’t help but admire that hustling mentality and the entrepreneurial spirit. While there were a healthy amount of people that only had a hand out expecting money or food, but rarely, even in the United States will someone offer a service for whatever it is that they want from you. I can really respect that. It’s something that you don’t see in America, people want a lot and are not willing to give much at all.

As we drove down the streets in Accra I was really just amazed at what I saw. There were people walking up and down the busy streets with varying products to sell. They had everything from umbrellas, to chargers, fruit, and gum. Almost anything you can think of was right there in the streets. Sometimes it seemed like the products begin sold would adapt to the area we were in or what the weather was at the time. There was also a very communal flow that the traffic had, even with people and bumper to number traffic there was a smooth economy of movement.

“No” became my new favorite word. I probably gave myself whiplash shaking my head to let the vendors know that I didn’t want to buy, or to let the beggers know that I didn’t have anything to give. I simply wanted to look outside at the scenery and fully be able to take in my surroundings.

And I was so interested in everything that I saw in my surroundings. In America we are really accustomed to firmly structured business, that span beyond just banks, restaurants, hotels, and paid public servants. Traditional storefronts are almost a depiction of success, but here in Ghana there are so many different visions of success and what a market looks like. There are formal and informal markets as well as markets that range in size. Some are about the length of a street in a neighborhood, while others are the size of several football fields.

The market experience was unlike anything I have ever experienced. I attempted to take a picture at one of the earlier markets we went to but out of respect for the people there I would always ask and most times they did not feel inclined to have their picture taken. So, I don’t have any to share. In one instance I even had a lady yell at me asking me why I was taking her picture, and I definitely learned from that mistake.

Never before in my life had I thought it was okay to negotiate the price I was willing to pay for an item. You just don’t do it. When you go into a store the price is the price and that’s it. Ghana markets are the exact opposite; you are encouraged to bargain prices. Cash is king. And American money is even better. Thankfully we started with the less aggressive markets, as a group we definitely got better and more confident with time.

Observing the small businesses was one of the most eye-opening experiences for me. The two (beyond the shea butter plant) that stuck out to me was the woman who had a leather business and the man on the side of the road that did furniture weaving

Ghanaians have a work ethic that is out of this world. While we learn about traditional gender roles and how they play apart in the Ghanaian societal fabric, we are constantly running into examples that defy everything that we learned in the books. From a woman owning a business and teaching men her craft, to a man that took up a craft and was taught by someone that was not of blood relation.

Ghana proved to hold on to tradition but to also not be afraid to create new traditions for the better.

~Kristen Phantazia

“Perception is reality, and reality is in my world there is no black and white, only shades of K…”

Symbols Make Music..

There is nothing in this life that is done without purpose. Everything stands from something, and everything comes from something that came before it. And, to be frank, sometimes words are just not enough. Sometimes dance is used to convey a message, sometimes music, body language, or in other cases symbols.

Adinkra symbols greet you at the door when you make it to Ghana. They are everywhere, on clothing, billboards, walls of buildings, in restaurants, and even candy wrappers!

“Adinkra” can be defined as: being separated, taking leave, saying farewell. The word originates from the language of the Ashanti people, Akan/Twi.  Because of this when fabric printed with adinkra symbols are worn by community spiritual leaders and royalty it is usually done so as a funeral garment, mourning someone’s death. That has since changed and you can see adinkra symbols casually plastered almost anywhere.

I was on a quest to find my symbol, the adinkra symbol that I believed best fit e, and it was so hard. The more time I am spending in Ghana the more I am learning. Not just about the Ghanaian culture but about myself. There are about 400 adinkra symbols that are officially recognized in Ghana, so you could see how it is hard to narrow it down to one symbol. Here is an archive.

I did however, find a symbol that represented my strength as a woman and it has an identical appearance to that of a fro pic. It embodied characteristics of not just what is inside a woman, but the manifestation of those things in her physical appearance.

The process of creating the ink to print the Adrinkra symbols is a tedious one. The substance used in the stamping process is prepared by boiling the bark of Badie (a tree) together with iron slag. This creates a redish brown color. Originally the printing was done on a cotton piece lying on the ground. Today, that method has evolved and raised platforms with sack coverings are now used as the printing table. The designs, are created by dipping wooden symbols into the ink and gently rocking back and for and carefully lifting to create the perfect imprint.

It seems only right that such time is taken to prepare these symbols since they are representation of values, morals, and traits that have been an important part of Ghanaian culture for centuries.

~Kristen Phantazia

“Perception is reality, and reality is in my world there is no black and white, only shades of K…”

When 1 + 1 Doesn’t Equal 2..

I am in Ghana studying to earn credits to go toward my higher education degree. That’s right. I completed Elementary, middle school, and high school, and am so close to my college degree I can taste it.

In Africa, while education should be a right it is a privilege. A privilege that I as an African-American sometimes take for granted.

In our first few days here we visited the W.E.B DuBois Center, and on the latter part of our time here we did a community service project for the Krofu community, and there we had the opportunity to see the education system from the perspective of grade level students. We also got a small peek into the campus life and attitude toward higher education by our visits to the University of Cape Coast and the University of Ghana.

One of the largest differences that I saw between the American educational system and the Ghanaian educational system is that in Ghana grade school education is up to the discretion of the parent to choose if the child goes to school and if so to what level they are allowed to complete. There is no requirement that a child must receive a formal education, because of this many children may find themselves at home helping with family responsibilities, both domestic and financial. This trend is one that I saw paralleled with the African American community from generations past. It was very common for a child to drop out of school to be burdened with ‘adult’ responsibilities.

Also there are many things that you cannot learn in books that you must learn from life and experience. There lessons elders in the community have an abundance of. Simply put the weight and dependability that communities have for their elders is reflected in the amount of passed down knowledge and tricks of the trade.

Also, the access to resources is a major problem in some areas of Ghana. While boarding schools are an option for some Ghanaians, what we would call a public school becomes the general route for young Ghanaian children. Here supplies and resources are limited. From textbooks to balls to play with outside the need is evident. In America this is something that can be seen in urban area school districts, where minorities tend to populate the area. The schools are a reflection of the climate of the neighborhoods.

For higher education.. affordability. College is EXPENSIVE. In America the higher the price tag of the institution the more ‘quality’ the education and experience seem to be. Higher education is a market that goes hand in hand with the overall climate of our country. You need an education to get a decent job but higher education is limited to those that can afford it. This creates an uneven playing field of opportunities simply by default.

In Ghana this is different, for those fortunate enough to obtain a higher education there is a certain level of respect that comes with that territory. Professors are held in high regard as well as students and the idea of education is viewed as more a practice as opposed to an unobtainable idea.

If education is key, then America is intent on keeping those doors locked.

~Kristen Phantazia

“Perception is reality, and reality is in my world there is no black and white, only shades of K…”

A Flourless Cake Wont Rise..

A cake without flour is no cake at all, and definitely not one that will rise.

Today is Father’s Day, which is probably one of the very few holidays that is celebrated worldwide. Just like a cake needs flour to rise (grow) into our full potential, while some people may not have flour (biological father), there are flour substitutes (father figures) that still do the trick.

Last night, in one of the few moments I’ve had on decent wifi during this trip, I saw a Gillette Razor commercial. It was no longer than 5 minutes and featured about 4 different fathers from varying walks of life. They all looked different, spoke languages from French to Spanish to English, and one of these fathers were the same. I can honestly say that it was a beautiful thing to see. However I did notice one detail that damped the entire experience for me.

Can you believe that out of what Gillette chose to have represent diversity in the land of fatherhood, none of the featured fathers were African or African-American. This really disturbed me and got me to thinking about a few things.

As far as our readings go, a lot of what we have read about in regards to men, was mostly focused on their role in business, and major aspects of family life. There was what seemed to be an emphasis on the absence of the father in the home.

In light of always trying to find a way to connect my personal experience to that of which I was seeing in Africa I related to this ‘fact’ probably more than any other aspect of life in Ghana.

I grew up in a single parent home, raised by my mother. Just like many African-American families in the United States it isn’t uncommon for grandparents to have a major role in the life of their grandchildren and this was the case for me. My grandparents were pillars in my growing up process. Where was my father? No where to be found. The major difference? For Africans it wasn’t that the father wasn’t in the house, but he was more like the elephant in the room, you knew he was there and his presence alone was enough to influence your behavior. I can’t say the same for myself, or for thousands of African-American children like me.. my father was never there. He was never there in any aspect of life, physically, emotionally, financially, or otherwise. And it hurt.

Max has become a valuable asset when it comes to learning about life details like the father in the home. Realistically there is only so much that a textbook can teach you about the role fathers play in Ghanaian homes.

The Gillette commercial is yet another example of how capitalism penetrates every facet of our lives. By not having an African or African-American father in this commercial the idea that black children are fatherless is one that is sinks subtly into the subconscious of any of the almost 7,000,000 that watched the commercial.

Happy Father’s Day to all of the fathers out there, and a special wish for the fathers of children of the African dispora. We thank you.

~Kristen Phantazia

“Travel while you’re young and able. Don’t worry about the money, just make it work. Experience is far more valuable than money will ever be…”

Returning To The ‘Door of No Return’..

Have you ever cried at the mere idea of something? An experience that you may never have, or a heartache you will never feel? As humans, empathy may be one of the greatest qualities that we possess. The ability to understand and share the feelings of someone else, it’s what helps us connect.

I don’t feel like a child in the Motherland.

Yes, I said it.

As an African-American I constantly find myself feeling like I don’t have a place in this world. I came to Ghana believing that I was going to be coming back where I belong. Why? Well, in America I don’t feel at home. Every single day I am forced to wake up and be my race, I am constantly reminded of the chocolate tent of my skin. Whether it’s the stares that I employ from onlookers while I am in the midst of a black or white people respectively. Maybe it’s the look on my peers face when I raise my hand in class and they are shocked that I can articulate and enunciate my thoughts with eloquence, class, and ease. Being black in America is hard, and being black and feeling like you don’t belong in America is harder.

But the truth is that abroad I have yet to find my place. I just knew that by coming to Ghana I was going to find answers and my place in the world.. instead what I found was strength.

I’ll let John Green give you a 101 Crash Course on Slavery.

Walking into the Cape Coast Slave Castle there was no class, no lesson, movie, show, or book, that could have adequately prepared me for the feeling that I had.

I walked through dungeons. Some specifically designated for males, and others specific for females. I touched the walls that had slave bodies pressed up against them that were once drenched and overtaken by the smell of an obscene amount of missed baths. I walked the floors, floors that used to be packed solid with human waste.. I could still smell the excretion. As the door to the dungeon was closed I heard the water crashing and imagined how I would have felt if that was my first encounter with the water. When the guide wasn’t talking to us it was so quiet I could hear the faint echo of cries, and screams.

As we walked over to one of the two clean water wells I pictured African women being bathed and moisturized with Shea butter just to prepare them to be taken to the governor’s quarters to be raped. And from that rape a mulatto child could very well be a product. I had the opportunity to experience the darkness of prison cells that would uncomfortably accommodate 5, but was created to hold 50 slaves. The darkness was pierced only by a small hole that was created not for light but as a means to watch the slaves in the room. In this prison cell slaves had an unavoidable death.. and knowing that none of the bodies would be removed until the last of the 50 bodies was lifeless. Can you imagine that? Imagine being the first to die in conditions like that or even the last.

Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along The Atlantic Slave Route by Saidiya Hartman provided the best preparation for this experience. There were two points that she made that had the biggest impact on me.

1. Noone can tell you how an experience like this should feel. Regardless of if you go once, twice, or a thousand times, feelings are the most genuine and unique reactions to an experience like this one.

2. ASlave Castles and the structure of slavery itself can be paralleled with the human intestine. The function of the intestine is to take what you put into your body (food) deplete it of all that is good, use that to keep your body going and then get rid of the waste. The slavery system is the same way.

Take a slave. Break the slave down, all the things that make him/her unique strip them of it. Keep the body strong, take away and discard the mind.

It’s in moments like these that I thank God for my mind, and the opportunity to come to this land and expand it.

I came from the womb of a woman and a man that walked through the ‘Door of No Return’ and here I am, returning.

The overwhelming emotion that I had walking out of the front doors of the castle was one of pride. Knowing that someone made it through those inhumane conditions, conditions made to break them and they made it. Because of them, I am. And I am glad to be.

~Kristen Phantazia

“Travel while you’re young and able. Don’t worry about the money, just make it work. Experience is far more valuable than money will ever be…”

A – (Hartman, pg 111, 120)

Strong Enough To Bear The Children..

Then get back to business.

If you didn’t know that was a Beyoncé reference and I could not help myself.

Africa and America have two different ideas of what it means to be a woman in the workplace. But regardless of how they go about addressing this specific group of people one thing is for sure this is nothing new.

Women have been made to fit into a mold of inferiority to men for many, many years. Everything comes in two’s including the standards that are held for women in the workplace as opposed to the standards that men are held to in the workplace. More so than just professionally women do not get the credit that they deserve when it comes to their contributions to other facets of life, with the exception of the near complete control that women have over the family dynamic, especially African women. Women are routinely discriminated against and the justification isn’t even just covert prejudice, sometimes the reasons are overt and unashamedly broadcasted.

When considering the role that gender plays in the development of nations and societies one must understand that inequality is the thread that holds the fabric together. Patriarchy, or plainly put male dominance ( white male more often than not), is the root of forms of unequal situations. The equality of ALL people has been an uphill battle for centuries, especially in the United States. When you look at the documentation on which our nation stands equality and freedom are always conditional. From the heart of the struggle for equality the idea of feminism is one that sprouted and it spans across the globe. It it is a bold phenomenon that empowers women to get up and fight for their rights, while different demographics of women take different approached the desired outcome is nonetheless the same.

Before you know the types of feminism, you must first define what feminism is.

Noun

fem·i·nism

ˈfeməˌnizəm/

play

 Feminism can be loosely defined as a theory and practice that analyzes the positions/ situations of women in society in an attempt to advocate for their political, social, and economic right to be equal to men.

7 Types of feminism:

  1. Traditional – developed in the late 1800’s through the early 1900’s. It was a movement that sought for women to be treated as equal to men.
  1. Radical – is a perspective within feminism that calls for a radical reordering of society in which male supremacy is eliminated in all social and economic contexts. Radical feminists seek to abolish patriarchy by challenging existing social norms and institutions, rather than through a purely political process.
  1. Social – is a branch of feminism that focuses upon both the public and private spheres of a woman’s life and argues that liberation can only be achieved by working to end both the economic and cultural sources of women’s oppression.
  1. 3rd World – Deals with the equalities and rights of women in third world countires, Because of this specific plight feminists in this strand find themselves facing and having to discuss taboo issues that no one will talk about but everyone needs to hear about.
  2. African – I found an article that sums up what African feminism is.
  1. Womanism – In the words of Alice Walker: “Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.” I can’t give you a better definition since she is the one that coined the term. Basically womanism includes other groups of oppressed people. It’s a movement from black women that all-in-all includes black men in the fight for equality.
  1. Liberal – is a particular approach to achieving equality between men and women that emphasizes the power of an individual person to alter discriminatory practices against women.

Men rule the world, and this is no different in Ghana. Abuse and mistreatment are most times practiced like a second nature. Gender relations, or lack thereof, has a defining role in the work place. Work that men oversaw while women executed the tasks is what is considered women’s work. Since men have access to all sectors of the work force this can create a decline in access to working opportunity for women.

We visited several business in Ghana that have a sole purpose of using work and the knowledge of the business to empower women and provide as many women with the opportunity to learn a trade as possible. We visited a few of these establishments ranging from leather making, a sewing school/shop, and a Shea Butter plant.

 

Leather Making:

Here we met a woman who started off as a shoe shiner and now owns her own leather shoe making business. She talked to the group about how she saw her mother spend years selling water on the road to make a living for her family, and while she was appreciative she vowed to herself that that would not be her destiny. Now she defines the norm of women being in subordinate roles and is the teacher of young men who have a desire to learn the business.

 

Sewing School/Shop:

This seamstress start her own business where she teaches orphans from a local orphanage how to sew, and also makes money by selling the things that are created in her shop. Most of the individuals working at the shop were young girls full of promise and potential. She spoke of the growth of her business and how her family was very supportive of her dream and helped her in any way that they could. Including the buindling that we were standing in. She had it because of her father.

 

Shea Butter:

The Shea Butter plant was to me the most in depth look at women working we got while in Ghana. In America Shea butter is a luxury for the African-American community. It is a commodity that we so effortless go to the store to purchase and do not for one second stop to think about all of the time, and physical energy that was put into the process of making it. These women here were working mothers raising our next generation while providing an essential for the current one. It’s a wonder how they do it.

Cynthia walked us step by step through the shea butter making process that takes about 4 days start to finish.

Shea is a fruit, after you eat the fruit you crack the shell of the entity on the inside to reveal the nut. The nuts are then washed with water, and put on cement platform to dry. They are then brought to the production center where they are put only machine on the whole plant and are ground into a powder form. The nut goes through another roasting process. From there everything move quickly, I will insert pictures to help you visualize.

This plant gives work to about 60 women, a formal education is not required you just must possess the skillset needed to carry out the job. Just watching these women work blew my mind. The literally were working with children on their backs, there is no maternity leave. The time period between having a child and getting back to work is a small window.

Women’s empowerment is key. They hold up entire households and work daily to provide for their families. The current social construction makes it near impossible to provide women the recognition that they deserve. Even female goats in Africa are valued at less than male goats. Which is odd to me. When are both productive AND reproductive. Their womb carries future generations and their backs hold up current ones. We live in a society where males benefit from women’s subordination and we must ask ourselves why.

As one of the few males that actually acknowledges that women are an essential in today’s society and we should treat them as such, James Brown said it best:

This is a man’s world. But it wouldn’t be nothing without a woman or a girl.

~Kristen Phantazia

“Perception is reality, and reality is in my world there is no black and white, only shades of K…”