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…”

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…”

Day 3: And She Slept.

Day 3:
Last night I got my first decent nights’ sleep in 72 hours, and I only slept for about 4 hours and I’m okay with that. I spent 11 hours flying, atleast 6 hours in waiting and overlays, when we left it was 12:30 pm and when we landed in Germany (which is 7 hours ahead of Arkansas) it was 8:35 am.. of course it was suggested that we sleep on the plane and stay up when we made it that morning. so that’s what I did.
The plane ride was.. fattening. yes, fattening. They served us dinner and breakfast, as well as various complimentary adult beverages. All of which I indulged in. I slept for 3 hours and stayed up for 5. I watched a few episodes of Black•ish Season 2 (a show I’ve been avoiding for a while but turns out it HILARIOUS, and very relevant), I also saw Creed (a movie I have been meaning to see for the longest time, and it was phenomenal, I cried at the end.. I’m not sure if it was solely because of the content or a slight expression of my sentiments toward the long flight mixed in.), then I watched Straight Outta Compton for the 3rd time, I am obsessed with that film.
When the plane finally landed I walked onto German soil feeling like a limited time bread. my feet and ankles were swollen and I was walking around looking like a chocolate poster child for Pillsbury DoughBoy from the knee down. You’ll be happy to know that my ankles and feet ate back to Kristen size.

The first day here (day 2 of traveling) was a day to get ourselves accustomed to our surroundings and adjust to the jet lag. NEVER underestimate the toll that jet lag can have on a group of going adults, no matter how close you think they are there are bound to be issues. But the great thing is that people with the mind to come on trips like these, also have the heart to go out of their way to make things right. It is a beautiful thing to witness.

I had a few ‘real talks’ last night, i ma actually headed to have one now. I cried tears and laugh. sometimes it takes taking a trip to bond with people in a way you never thought you would, or deepen connections you already had.

Today was a long one, I woke up around 6 am, which was great because it was the perfect time to talk to family and loved ones back home. We left the hotel and didn’t make it back until 7pm. The amount of walking was a lot and I fond myself making the mistake of complaining, and then i juicily caught myself.. how often do you have the chance to get caught in the rain in Antwerp? or sing at Our Lady Cathedral? go 31 meters underground only to find yourself at ground level a few short moments later? You don’t get that chance.

I miss my people like crazy, and by my people I mean the people that I love and care about. But I am making it through, this is an experience and I am learning so much day by day.

~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…”