When I was dating a Nigerian man we had a conversation about where his family is from in Nigeria. I was always fascinated that he knew exactly where his family came from and what tribe. I also felt a little twinge of jealousy as well. I think it’s something a lot of Black American’s can relate to. Never quite knowing where our roots are or where our ancestors walked, talked and slept. I’ve tried to trace my own history and got as far as my ancestors who were share croppers, barely removed from slavery. Sharecropping became a way for freed slaves to make a living from land owned by someone else. The landowner provided everything to tend to the land and the sharecropper received a small share of the crop at harvest. That’s as far back as I got. My grandmother passed away before I had the chance to ask her more about her parents and her grand parents. I’ve looked into my last name and slave owners and always come up empty handed or with too many options to ever quite narrow down. I’m always a little taken aback when someone asks me where I’m from and I say Durham, North Carolina. Because 50% of the time, especially here in New York City, the land of immigrants, the follow up question is: No, where are you originally from? And I never quite know how to respond to that. Durham, North Carolina is all I know and I’m just black is usually my answer for those seeking to know the specifics of my ethnicity.
Photography by Rose Lazard || Editing by Monroe Steele
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Of course I could go get one of those DNA Ancestry Test that tell me I’m 58% Ghanaian, 4% Egyptian (in my wildest dreams) and whatever else. I chose not to do that. Honestly, I don’t know how much I believe in that testing. I remember watching a 60 Minutes show about DNA Ancestry Testing where a woman got different results from many different testing centers. You are pretty much at the mercy of the database of DNA at whatever company you choose. Currently, there is still no way I can say definitively that my ancestors are from this tribe of this country. A physical place where I can go and see with my own eyes. A place where I can go and put my bare feet on the earth. It’s nearly impossible to trace everything from both paternal and maternal DNA. I also feel a distain from never having the chance to know my ancestry because of slavery and then having to pay to find out something that probably isn’t even the whole truth. I think sometimes the yearning to know so badly is what drives people to buy those tests and to grasp onto whatever results they get. There’s peace in knowing. Not everyone is so privileged. I may never know where I’m originally from, but I can still wear garments that tell a meaningful story. I can adorn myself in clothing sewn with heritage. I can wear a piece of Africa. That’s the beautiful thing about fashion.