AN ODE TO AFRICAN AMERICAN HUMANITIES

Anne Moody, picture obtained from the Anne Moody History account on Twitter

I like to say that every African or Black person who goes to the United States of America should take an African American Humanities course. It is important that as a Black person when you land in America, you pay homage to those that bled and died for you to be able to have that visa and entry stamp in your passport. When I got into Alabama State University, a Historically Black University in Montgomery, Alabama, I was very excited at the prospect of leaving my home country of Malawi and going to school in America, it is the greatest nation on Earth after all. I thought so until I ended up on my beautiful HBCU campus and was introduced to the story of Henrietta Lacks in Honors Biology during my first semester. You mean to tell me that a whole government still profits off a Black woman’s cells without appropriate compensation to her or her descendants? well, yes. When second semester came around, the punches were still rolling. This time around I had to take an African American Humanities course and the required reading included “Coming of Age in Mississippi” by Anne Moody and “Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells” by Ida B. Wells. I must say that to this day, even if you offered me a million dollars, I would not move to Mississippi. The horrors of lynching, the rampant racism and the poverty that Moody and Wells describe in their writing made me realize how to be Black in America is to be brave. How do you dress in your Sunday best to watch a Black person get murdered? How does a Black person wanting to get served at a restaurant just like anybody else cause that much violence? What is it about a Black person running a successful business and providing for their family that can ignite in you a violent urge to kill? It puzzles me sometimes how I never knew none of these stories and quite possibly could have never known or been intrigued by them had I not ended up at an HBCU. Another course activity required us to research our family trees and while my American classmates had the privilege though a painful one of looking up census records at the Alabama Department of Archives and History, I had to rely on oral family history to figure out mine. This activity ignited in me an interest to know my own history as a Malawian, and to analyze much more critically the things I was taught growing up. How much of my own history was infused into my school curriculum growing up, was I taught to be proud of it or was I taught to be grateful to the English missionaries who brought christianity, commerce and education? The irony of how the arrival of the white man on the African continent is interpreted differently depending on which side of the ocean you grow up on is not lost on me. I still remember thinking that it would have been cooler if Malawi had been colonized by the Portuguese and not the English, because we would have been a Portuguese-speaking nation and not an English speaking nation after learning about colonization when I was in Standard 7. The amount of brain washing it took to have that kind of thinking still astounds me to this day. The African American Humanities course literally turned my world upside down, during one class we were required to sing negro spirituals and as a class we did not take this activity seriously as we should have. I for one, did not know the significance of spirituals and knowing what I know now, that a song meant freedom to someone who never had freedom, I would have sang with reverence. African American Humanities opened my eyes and I began to see the way systemic racism seeped into every aspect of American life. When the Flint story broke, I was aghast. How does a country like the US do that to its own citizens? but when I looked back to my readings on racism, it all made sense. When my parents came over for my college graduation, I made sure we visited The Legacy Museum and Peace and Justice Memorial in Montgomery because I wanted them to understand this new person I had become. The 2016 election had been a contentious moment for us and my parents just could not understand why I had no room for the Republican party’s talking points. Nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to America and this sometimes makes me feel sad for the place I called home for five years. It is people such as Stacey Abrams that give me hope, a Black woman who is changing the game one voter at a time. Now that I am back home and digging through my own history one book at a time, I recognize what African American Humanities did for me and what it gave me, Anne, Ida and an identity of self.

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