Going to Gorée Island
My time spent on Gorée Island was an incredibly emotional experience. This place is a central landmark of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The effects of slavery on the Black population throughout the diaspora has been a constant component to every answer to my every question about the Black condition. As I walked through Gorée Island, every understanding, that I held, about the Black condition was wiped clear, any understanding as it concerns the space that Black people occupy in this world, gone. The conversations and lessons about the slave trade and the treatment of Black people, in general, were insufficient preparation for this experience. Seeing vestiges of the infrastructure and mindset of those that participated in the slave trade served as tangible reminders of how people that look like me have been treated. Standing in spaces where Africans were held captive, awaiting a fate worse than death filled me overwhelmingly with anger. Seeing for myself, the depths of the human imagination and the possibilities of darkness was mind-numbing. The degree of degradation, confinement, and dehumanization was evident, all these years later. Seeing the accommodations set aside for the jailers was infuriating, especially as I had just walked through holding cells, where, mere feet away, people separated from their families with shackled wrists and ankles were held, awaiting a voyage that for some would be the last experience of their lives. I could not begin to grasp the dimensions of self-righteousness and total lack of regard for human life that lead to the barbaric mindset of those who perpetuated the practice of slavery.
With these thoughts racing through my mind, the thought of life without the stain of the slave trade was all that I could seem to focus on. Then, it hit me, without this, my reality, isn't. Without the Transatlantic slave trade, my lineage does not begin. Without it, this world looks very different. Without the capture, degradation, murder, and subjugation of my ancestors from this very land, my consciousness is not possible. My parents never meet, they are never born. I found it impossible to move on from this thought. I couldn't speak, the tears present, prohibited speech. Without the reality of the slave trade; without this foul history, I do not exist. Yet, here I am. My lineage had survived this atrocity, and because of it, I am here.
After having come to an understanding of the reality of my existence, I struggled with the notion of my luck. What do I owe? How can I justify my assimilation into a system built on the backs of my people, a system not designed for my equal participation?
Coming home from Gorée Island has been an experience all in its own. I have begun to recognize another form of subjugation masquerading as a way of life, contrary to its role in suppressing it. This subjugation requires us to willingly relinquish our consciousness and our sense of family and community, in exchange for the mindless pursuit of consumption; all in service to a system that ignores our concerns, robbing us of the quality of life we all deserve, a quality of life that is just within our reach.
Now that I am home, I see the effects of having our sense of identity and family structure stripped away in order to allow individualistic pursuits. I see these substitutions for life as a diminishing aspect of our existence. I see the forfeiture of generations of knowledge of how the natural world works in exchange for pills and packages.
It has been troublesome for me, witnessing the willingness to accept artificial convenience and success at the cost of our health, supporting a system that does not enrich our lives but detracts from it. The time I spent in Senegal, with the people in Guéde and Lahel, was enlightening. I was able to see parallels between issues both at home and in Africa. I saw the recognition of a system out of sync with the natural world. In conversations, I heard over and over, and I keep hearing, "when we use chemical fertilizers our food doesn't taste as good". I saw a realization of a rise in what we call "western diseases" and a connection to the food and how it is grown. This is why I returned to school in the first place. This is the conversation I wanted to be a part of. The program that I am returning to Senegal for, is all about helping communities take food security into their own hands and in a sustainable manner find ways to adequately feed themselves and encourage local economic activity. I couldn't dream of a better way to spend my summer.