My Journey Through Racism by Kwame Djemjem
Updated: Jul 29, 2020
I am of African and Caribbean heritage My ancestors were enslaved Africans and they were also European Slavers. I was born in Britain. My earliest recollection of racism was at the age of 6 or 7. I was living in a room in a shared house with my mother. One of my joys of the week was watching cowboy films on a Saturday afternoon. There was a recurring patterns of Indians been portrayed as savages. That did not sit well with me, I felt sorry for them.
Humour became one of my coping strategies for the racism I began to feel when I was growing up. In my teens, my brother and I would get excited when we saw a black man on TV. We would play a guessing game of when the black man would get killed off. Racism in the media was on pandemic proportions. I developed distorted images of Africa, I wanted to distance myself from Africa. I often 'joked' with my best friend that he came from a jungle (thank you, Tarzan).
Watching the Roots saga about enslaving Africans when I was 11, filled me with anger. I was never taught about my heritage before slavery in schools or at home. I was stopped by the police for the first time when I was 16. On Oxford Street in central London, I had to take off my shoes and socks to be searched, it was because I looked suspicious. Today, I am not able to count how many times I have been stopped and searched; I would say about at least 30 times. I had some fun times though, I understood the game they played.
I was around 26 years old when a mentor gave me a book 'They stole it, you must return it'. It spoke of the traditions which have been lost during Enslavement. This book sparked my curiosity to learn more about slavery and what had happened to my ancestors and what traits could have passed on to me. I read every slave narrative I could find. There were not a lot of books about traditional African spirituality, so I read books about Native American spirituality because I felt it resonated.
As a result of reading so many horrible stories and connecting with people who were angry with the ‘white man’. I too began to hate white people. I spun the story of black people being devils to considering all white people were devils. My saving grace was choosing to leave my environment and go to working in York, a predominately white area, for over a year. I found hating white people was too much hard work, even when they call me the 'n' word. I spoke to people, I made friends, I felt their beauty, people embraced me, and I embraced them.
At the age of 34, I embarked on a journey to trace my heritage. I made several visits to Africa to trace my maternal lineage. I completed my journey 14 years later. I traced my maternal line back to a village in Burkina Faso. I was embraced by the elders of the village there. I felt at peace within myself, as if a gap had been filled. I changed my name that day. I would no longer be associated with the name of my ancestral enslaver. Finding my heritage and learning some of my traditions felt like I was healing my family and all my ancestors along my maternal line.
Completing that journey has made me appreciate who I am, my essence beneath my nationality, my skin, my culture, my traditions, and my gender. I feel content to define the closest thing that comes to defining my eternal essence, which is love. That is how I see everyone.
When I am faced with racism, I do not get offended. I gained an appreciation of how important it is for us all to challenge our conditioning. People are easily able to act out aspects of racist traumas that were cultivated centuries ago. We live in a nation where the government cannot apologise for hundreds of years of racist enslavement. That is why Britain can have a prime minister who has made numerous racist remarks without offering an apology.
I am going to make a memorial out of recyclable material to celebrate the End of Enslavement, featuring Haitian Revolutionaries, African and European Freedom Fighters, and African and European Abolitionist. (read more)
Honouring the people who helped to shine some light on our evolution.
Kwame Djemjem ထ❤