I’ve been a Black American all my life; in fact I was born to it.  It is a genetic condition that I inherited from my parents both of whom were carriers.  In fact my whole family is comprised of Black Americans, including my youngest nephew who, despite his white mother, is also considered to be Black.

Perhaps it seems odd that I would describle myself thusly, but I wonder if such an appelation might not be appropriate given the history of my people in this land.  Black-Americans (or African-Americans if you please) are people with a strange relationship with the United States.  We are an invented ethnic group with very little live connection to our roots in Africa.  We are ethnically mixed; the slaves which were our ancestors came from widely varying peoples with different languages, customs and cultures.  We are racially mixed; most Black Americans can count a least a few non-African ancestors (usually European or native American, but sometimes east Asian).

What unites us is our shared history in this country, as minorities who have spent the better part of our history here as slaves, and then as second-class citizens.  A four hundred year history in which only 10% has been spent with any significant measure of equal rights.  Is it any wonder then that we have our share of social problems?

More to the point of this though, I believe that Black Americans suffer the effects of a socio-historical amnesia that is the result of psychic dislocation.  In other words, we are people who know no other land than America, who are uniquely shaped by the American experience, more American than many of the European immigrants who arrived here in only the last 100 years, but yet historically we are homeless. Most of us cannot trace back to a tribe, a language, or a spot on the map.  Indeed many of us are taught to disregard or even despise our African roots.

The first time I remember crying at a worship event was at Urbana 1996 when a group of students prayed to God in different languages.  I wept openly, and was surprised by my tears. I realized in that moment that I have no language other than the language of my oppressor; I cannot even talk to God but in the tongue of those who slashed the backs of my fathers and raped my mothers.  The white man made us. It is his language I speak, his clothes I wear, his customs I practice and his culture I breathe. 

This is why I grieve for those who give up so easily that which I never had the opportunity to know: a language, a culture, a people.  They do not regard the birthright they have been given, and trade it so easily for the mess of pottage that is the American dream. 

The thing I have as a Black American is a God who has carried us through.  The church has been one place where our African-ness has carried through: the drums, the dance, the shout, the testimony, the mothers of the church and the rhythm of the stomp are all things that tell me that God belongs to me too.  In early days of church, even in the Black church, these things were often rejected as being heathen and unworthy of the worship of the white man’s God.  But he’s not a household god who lives in a temple for whites only.  He is the God of every nation.  And now every church worth it’s contemporary service has drums and guitars and lifts hands and dances — that’s what happens when we did not forget.

I pray that my other brothers and sisters, those whose cultural memory can be refreshed as easily as going home to kimchi or pho, will not forget. That this 2nd generation will remind the world that God is their God too.  Let tong-sung ki-do rise again from the lips of a new generation to release the han of those living the bicultural reality of being a stranger in a strange land.  Let our Lord Christ be honored as the truong toc (eldest son/head of family) who is the quintessential model of filial piety – the son who perfectly obeys and is the ancestor par excellence.  Let the people regain their memories so that the story of God can be told.

Author: elderj

I was born the fourth child and third son of godly parents in Nashville Tennessee. After leaving home for college I got involved with InterVarsity, then graduated with a degree in finance. After that I got a masters in history. Nowadays I spend too much time reading, writing, thinking, and occasionally doing my job.

5 thoughts on “Afro-amnesia”

  1. Great post Joshua. I really agree, our Asian brothers and sister need to step up and add their voice. They need to be distincly Korean, Japanese, Cambodian, Vietnamese, etc. For as I have said many times, God is just too big squeeze into just one culture.

    BTW, I really like the way you touch on the pathos on what it means to be African-American. We really don’t have a sense of space and place that other people share. What unifies us too often is our shame, our shared degradation as an oppreseed/despised people, enslaved for over 400 years. Jewish people certainly have a shared sense of suffering, but al least they have a common language, land, and culture to fall back on. Plus, no one thinks that Jewish people are stupid and lazy.

    Keep writing, I have wondered why it has taken ou so long to get your own blog.

  2. While I agree the essence of your article, as someone black, born and raised in the U.K, I think Black Americans do have their own land and culture- America.

    Unlike blacks in France or here in the UK, the United States was built with your blood, within the United States. While France and the UK built their countries with the aid of Blacks in far off colonies in Africa and the Caribbean.

    Unlike Blacks in the US, British Blacks and other ‘Afro Europeans’ have only been in their country for a few decades rather than hundreds of years like you.

    You should be proud Americans, you built that country, just as I’m proud to be British, my ancestors helped build this country from the colonies in the Caribbean with their sweat and blood, and blacks ‘displaced’ everywhere have the right to call these lands their home, and somewhere that belongs to them. You are not homeless.

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