Letter to Ghana: My Supposed “Sh*thole” Nation
To my brothers and sisters back home at the Gold Coast Nation:
I am writing this letter to you on MLK Day since a lot of you have been asking me how I’ve been doing ever since the United States President allegedly called all 54 African nations “sh*thole countries.” To be honest, I’ve been pretty indifferent to his presidency. Some might say this is a problem but I say it’s simply me just not being surprised in the world I live in today.
It’s hard to feel any type of shock considering this is an individual whose history speaks for itself. He showed housing discrimination to Black and Brown people, lied about the Central Park 5, was one of the instigators of “the birtherism movement,” called Mexicans drug dealers, admitted he likes to grab women by the p*ssy, tried to put a ban on Muslims, pardoned well-known human rights violator Sheriff Joe Arpaio, stated Nazis were “very fine people,” attacked private citizens left and right, and endorsed a well-known ephebophile in Sen. Roy Moore.
And keep in mind; this is just a small sample size of the man known as Donald John Trump.
So honestly, do you expect me to be surprised that he called you — the home of my ancestors — a sh*thole nation?
Now, to be fair to the President, these comments were “allegedly” stated by him. He even vehemently denied them himself.
“No, no, I’m not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed,” Trump said in Florida, according to a pool report. “That I can tell you.”
Of course, “the least racist person” never actually tells the public they’re the least racist person. I mean a sexist never actually blatantly says “I’m a sexist.” The proof is in the pudding. You don’t talk about it. You let your actions speak for itself.
Oh, my apologies. You asked me how I’m handling all of this nonsense? Well, I’ve dealt with individuals like Trump for a good portion of the 30 odd years I’ve lived on this planet. I’ve been insulted and teased about my family coming from Ghana ever since I was a kid and to be honest it doesn’t really bother me as much anymore. It’s not so much complacency as it is me being smart enough to understand that I had to accept the fact that there are people who just flat out hate Africa and for reasons that are solely of pure ignorance and pretentious pride that masks fear and self-loathing.
Think about it: why is it that people of darker skin always seem to get the brunt of hatred around the world? Hell, I mean it isn’t even mutually exclusive to the United States. I’m pretty sure you heard what happened to future bride of Prince Harry of Wales, Meaghan Markle, and the racism she endured from his family and his people. And keep in mind, the myth is that the United Kingdom has less prejudice than other countries.
It’s even worse when the people who you are technically your neighbors fail to condemn the actions of the President. Their duplicity is simply astonishing. It’s even ironic I speak about them on the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I say that because while they like the idea of Dr. King being a nonviolent man who wanted peace and equality for all races they fail to mention the times he was very critical of the white establishment, challenged the status norm of race and class, and even was dismissive of white people who claimed they weren’t racist but weren’t willing to support his cause during the Civil Rights Movement.
The most obvious highlight of this was his Letter from a Birmingham Jail where he talked about the very problems we are seeing today in regards to those who are complacent during the President’s racist actions towards Black and Brown people in America.
First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
Think how Colin Kaeprenick dealt with the backlash when he protested the National Anthem because he wanted to bring to the attention of the racial injustices in this country. You could even go back and talk about how Muhammad Ali did the same thing and he received resentment for his actions before he became accepted by the public again. This probably won’t be highlighted as much considering Dr. King’s message is a pretty damning statement. As a friend of mine once said, they’ll continue to “Disneyfy” Dr. King’s legacy.
Of course, they’ll try to deny this. French philosopher and psychiatrist Frantz Fanon said, “Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new
evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.”
What does he mean by this? Think of it as this way: cigarettes are bad for you because they increase your chances of getting lung cancer. It’s been scientifically proven. You ignore it, stating it would never happen to you and continue to smoke it anyway. That’s the meaning of cognitive dissonance. You try to hold on to your core beliefs despite that the fact that it’s flawed and contradictory.
Long story short, life in the States is an exhausting experience. Lord knows I would love to come home and get away from it all. There’s nothing much here for me and my family anyway and why bother staying in a nation that doesn’t want you here. Well, that’s because I can’t leave just yet. I still would like to accomplish my goals in this country before I officially retire and return to Ghana. What those goals are private and I sadly cannot express them in this letter but understand that they are objectives I must complete before I can finally say, “I’m done.”
I remember when I last visited Ghana a couple years on less than stellar circumstances. My grandmother — the family matriarch who birthed an entire generation of Ghanaian— passed away peacefully and I returned to say my goodbyes.
One of my uncles during the funeral highlighted a hilarious moment in my childhood when I came to Ghana for the very first time when I was a little boy. I was in a state of culture shock because I never realized there was an entire nation of people who looked liked me. It was so weird that I initially wanted to go home. However, over time and repeated visits allowed me to get over my inner xenophobia. It also helps to run into kids who are the same age as you and make your life easier to embrace your identity.
When we finished talking about my wacky childhood, he stated that even though I was born in America, Ghana is forever my home. My values, my culture, and my family helped shape my existence and I should always embrace the idea of being home whenever I visit. I told him thank you and I already felt like home.
I can’t tell you how taxing it is whenever people have a constant belief that Ghana or any other nation in the Caribbeans or Latin America constantly have to deal with the perception that we are piss poor, uneducated, have limited resources, and are destined to fail. It’s even more annoying when we try to debunk a lot of those myths they think we are doing this for “respectability politics.” It’s like you can’t win in this life.
I could go on about history of countries like Haiti and El Salvador and why people assume they are naturally poor and why the United States (along with Norway) are rich. I could mention about the Western Civilization imperialism effects on a lot of Sub-Saharan countries. However, that would essentially be a full day’s worth of discussion that I don’t have time for this essay (laughs).
In conclusion, I’m doing alright. The United States is going through sh*tty times right now but I can make it work for as long as I’m here. Much like Ghana, the United States is also my home. I was born in New York City, the “immigrant capital” of this country. I — along with my siblings and cousins — represent my family’s legacy and I would like to ensure that my descendants are well-taken care of for many generations to come long after my family and I leave this world. If I recall, these are one of the values I was taught from Ghana: the importance of taking care of your family. I can’t say I’ve done a good job but I know I can do better.
These are some of the lessons I’ve learned from a supposed “sh*thole country” and I can say I am forever proud to be a Ghanaian in America. As Dr. Kwame Nkrumah once said, “ I am not African because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me.” I suspect other people from the “54 kingdoms” of Africa feel the same way as well.
Peace and love,
Kofi Amankwaa Jr.
*this essay was originally posted on my personal blog, “Words I Manifest”