The most powerful space that I have stepped into, this year, where you cannot ignore the invisible forces that seem to tug at you by just being at that very space is the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington DC. It is a space, filled with the story of the black man in America, and the birth, life times and death o the black child being born into a society that was built on being a slave society. You see the story of how the black child grew up not to accept slavery as a permanent social status, but to try to convince those who still see him as a “lower race”, to take off the racially-tinted sunglasses in order to see more clearly that, apart from the color of their skin, black people in America are no different from anyone else.
The museum, when toured from its lower levels, upwards, is a chronological timeline of the story of the African American in the US. And myself being fully African, it required of me that I share these sentiments with people who once walked on the same continent. However, to me, the comparisons stop there. Since most of the slaves from Africa actually came from Western Africa in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, and not where I call home, -East Africa(Kenya to be more precise), my family history does not lay privy to a history of enslavement to the Americas. But, this single strand of relation, and sense of something shared becomes suddenly magnified when I walked through the halls of that museum. It is by this single strand, that at times seems insignificant, that being the only african in a class of international students, handed me the button to become a representation of all those black, African, and African-American people out there that were absent. It was not a choice that I at first came to look at, but one that I felt deeply was one that would clear my conscience if I took on that responsibility. It was a conscious choice to make myself a representation of other people’s history, in any way that I can, firstly, by not dismissing the fact that I am black, and secondly, that black history in America is tainted with decades, and centuries of black slavery and racism.
Ignoring such a history, i feel, will only make me more and more stoic and unresponsive towards the cause of the black people in America. However, I also know that taking on this premise assumes, implicitly, that non-black participants in the conversation may not have taken on that same responsibility. I know, out there, that many non-black participants in a conversation about racism in America are empathetic, and justly right, to also honestly take on the responsibility of representing the history of a society, whether the black man’s history, their own history, or another person’s history.
Yet, inevitably, when participating in any conversation, on whatever topic, everyone will look at the topic of discussion, and at you, and if there is any connection, however faint it is, they will look up to you, almost naturally, to represent a culture, a society, a people, and if you choose not to engage this responsibility, nothing else will matter to you, and you will deny people the chance to hear you out, and understand you. But if you accept that responsibility, I have known the grace, and satisfaction that it brings.
History, is something that should be engaged with openly, and used as raw material in art, and industry, because it offers a gateway of seeing that history through other people’s eyes.