I have a confession to make: I am not as deep as I may sometimes lead people to believe. I am going to a live taping of The Wendy Williams Show tomorrow, I watch Love & Hip Hop and Real Housewives of Atlanta (RHOA) with merriment, and my niece knows that Waka Flocka’s latest single, Round of Applause (the radio version, of course :-)), is “Aunt Jennifer’s jam.” Indeed, I have a penchant for many things rachet (Does that make me a bougie Black girl?). Yes, I (like many Black people) have mastered the art of code switching. All that said, you can imagine my delight when an object of my rachet proclivities inspires me to dig deep for a dose of introspection. Recently, the RHOA South Africa episodes served this function for me (Part 1 originally aired on 1/29 and Part 2 will air on 2/12).
To begin, I know that RHOA catches a lot of crap for perpetuating the very stereotypes that, historically, all Black women have had to fight against — the emotionally imbalanced/off kilter, snap at the drop of a hat, ghetto, drama queen, angry Black woman (but, I’m with my girl Michelle Obama — “Can I live, please? Sheesh.”). And, perhaps the effects of RHOA-like reality television were exacerbated by transporting the tomfoolery across the Atlantic to the Motherland — a continent subject to more than its fair share of uninformed stereotypes. All of this I get — however, I also get why some (inevitably non-Black) producer would think a “reconnect with the Motherland” episode would be a good idea (it was RHOA’s second most-watched episode in its history, in fact), and why the housewives’ widely-criticized fetishization of the experience (i.e., Cynithia’s dashiki and Kandi’s animal print evening garb) should be interpreted only as genuinely innocent ignorance, and nothing more.
Before anyone challenges that assertion, let me be clear: we’ve all seen (and maybe even read) Alex Haley’s Roots, I read Lerone Bennet’s Jr.’s “Before the Mayflower” from cover to cover in high school (thanks to a very progressive and forward-thinking Black History teacher), and we all know that Africa is the true Cradle of Civilization. And we all also faithfully celebrate Kwanzaa — invoking the spirits of our ancestors, pouring libations, and feasting in their honor. Err…yeah, good ole’ Kwanzaa. You can imagine my shock and disappointment when I arrived at college and my African friends made a mockery of this so-called pagan Black American holiday — one that had been a formative part of my identity growing up in Louisville, Kentucky. But, this is precisely my point. Black Americans can point to some bad men and women in United States history as evidence of our collective strength, resilience, creativity and promise. But, on an individual level, we have no idea precisely from whom we descend — of course Africa (duh!). But, as we all know, Africa is a continent, not a country.
Because of this, I always knew I wanted to trace my ancestry Skip Gates DNA test style. This was always a longer term goal, as I don’t have several thousand dollars at my disposal that could not to be put to more tangible and immediate use. Fortunately, a while ago, a law school classmate and friend of mine — who also happens to be Black American — sent me an email with information about about an organization called Roots into the Future that was conducting DNA tests for a limited number of African-Americans to trace their ancestry free of charge. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity and ordered my kit.
Four months later, I still have not swabbed my mouth and sent in the DNA sample…*womp womp*.
But, an article I recently came across in Clutch Magazine, which describes rapper Q-Tip’s discovery of his tribal roots (the look on his face when he is told that his ancestors are from Guinea-Bissau is priceless :-)), has inspired me to follow through.
You are probably expecting me to tell you my tribal roots…but, I can’t with any certainty! Many people assume, though, that I am from somewhere other than America — usually West Africa (surprise, surprise) — and, depending on who I’m with, I will play right into this assumption (it is not entirely untrue, right?). In fact, some of my closest girlfriends are Ghanaian, and I know just enough basic Twi phrases to convince the un-inquisitive interrogator that I am Ghanaian, too. The conversation goes something like this:
Q: Where are ya’ll from?
Friend: We’re Ghanaian.
Q: Oh, so you ‘re Ghanaian, too? *Pointing to me*
Me: Yep. Ete sen?
Friend: *Poker face*
Anyway, I am very excited to find out just who my ancestors on the other side of the Atlantic are — and what better time to kick start this process than during Black History Month? Stayed tuned for the results!
Now, to the fun stuff…
Below is an easy meal that you can throw together with things you probably already have lying around your pantry/fridge/freezer, but don’t have any immediate plans to use. I made it yesterday for dinner. It’s kind of like chicken parmigiana, but without the breaded chicken breast; and I cut the chicken breasts into relatively thin chicken strips.
After the chicken is baked, add cheese of choice (I use mozzarella) and bake for about five more minutes (or broil if you want your cheese to be lightly browned).
Served with angel hair pasta.
Happy Super Bowl-ing!