This summer my black called and wanted to reconnect.
“It’s been a while, let’s catch up!”
In the beginning—as is often the case when rekindling old, unmaintained relationships—it was a bit awkward. Once we got past small talk, I wasn’t sure where to go next. But my black stuck it out and we found lots of fun things to do together this summer.
1. Kenya and Chocolate City
We first met up in DC. I was there for work to help out with a cultural festival featuring China and Kenya. Though I was actually hired to help with China specifically, my black followed me around staying in my face throughout the entirety of the festival. We were nearly attached at the hip. Approximately 120 Kenyans participated in the festival. Never in my life had I ever been around so many people who looked like me before. It felt weird. I began to understand how some of my Asian American friends feel when they visit Asia. They’d previously shared how their Asian counterparts looked at them strangely because, while they were Asian, they either didn’t speak the language, were oddly shaped or were too Americanized. Here I was, hired for my ability to speak Chinese, while people approached me speaking Swahili only to be greeted with a look of confusion. My hair was different from theirs (at least because of what I do to it, it looks different), I spoke differently, and I was completely lost when it comes to the geography of Africa. I think there were expectations on both sides, and I was unsure how I was measuring up.
I’m convinced now that I can’t encounter a foreign culture without becoming completely fascinated by it and so naturally, spending 2 weeks with my black and 120 Kenyans was going to leave a mark. Reflecting on aspects of my identity that I had always ignored would only make it that much more deep.
Even outside of the festival, DC itself didn’t get the nickname Chocolate City for nothing. Everywhere I looked there were people who looked like me, and it was new and uncomfortable, yet kind of amazing. They weren’t just beggars or street kids, either. They were accomplished professionals. And it felt good to see them when I looked out at the world.
Inevitably, our conversation veered toward guys and relationships and I was in for even bigger surprise.
2. Playing Matchmaker
Before this summer, I can’t remember the last time I had been attracted to a black man. High school I think. Regardless of when, I’m certain it had only happened twice. But that’s all changed now!
Rihanna said it best: where have you been all my life? Great day in the morning! I might actually have me some black babies one day.
3. Discovering Textiles
After the festival ended, there was a special sale for staff. My black and I went for a look and I purchased a few things to commemorate the summer. I came away with a khanga dress and a daishiki. Khangas are colorful pieces of cloth worn by women in eastern Africa. An interesting feature of khangas is the wise saying written along the long edge.
After I got home, I took to Pinterest to find more stuff like it and soon came across African batik. Innnnteresting…how’d batik end up in Africa? I did some research on this and found that it was through the Dutch, who of course got it from Indonesia. Fascinating stuff. I also discovered a whole world of beautiful, African print, fashion. My black convinced me to get this beautiful dutch wax skirt handmade by a woman in New York from Etsy.
4. Getting Our Groove On
The constant sentiment running through all these discoveries for me has been, ‘why didn’t I know about this sooner?’ The same holds true for music.
We’ve all been there before. Looking for a specific video on YouTube and then hours later coming up for air after discovering a trove of distantly related treasures. It had been years since the siren song of YouTube had worked its magic on me, but here I am, months later, a junkie.
It all started when a friend of mine posted a dance video from a wedding on facebook. (If you’re reading this Nick, this is ALL YOUR FAULT! Thanks ☺). The wedding party was dancing to a song by the Togolese group Toofan, the Ghanaian duo P-Square, and the British Ghanaian Afrobeats artist Fuse ODG. I looked them all up and wouldn’t you know, Fuse ODG had hosted a dance competition for a chance to be featured in one of his upcoming videos based on the dance Azonto.
Who needs cat videos when you’ve got dancing kids, car mechanics, men in black, etc.?
You can guess how the story ends: I unearth hundreds of videos featuring the popular West African dance originating in Ghana—from the highly polished to the amateur, its dance cousin Alkayida, and I figure out how to sync my iPhone YouTube app with our home television so I can watch the videos on a big screen and dance along, (my sister, on several occasions, has tried to secretly film me dancing. I’d like to believe I’ve successfully averted her attempts). Street dance videos and dance crews are a thing.
5. New Music
It’s practically impossible to watch music videos without listening to the music. The fact that a song is not sung in English doesn’t detract in the least from my enjoyment of it. So, just as I’ve discovered new dances, I’ve also expanded my music library a bit with some of my new favorite songs. The festival was also the perfect place to discover new music. I really enjoyed watching the Kenyans perform and came home with several albums of Kenyan music. A whole new continent of music to explore (and another blog post in the works)!
I’m well aware that there is much more to being black than listening to a certain kind of music, dancing a certain kind of way, or wearing a certain kind of clothes. But from my experience over the summer, I’ve come to desire more black friendships, closer integration into a black community, and to continuing connecting with my black wherever that may take me.