what is home? curing the diaspora blues
December 19, 2018
The debates that happen inside the Black diaspora always bring me down. I’ve even seen this feeling kindly referred to as “the diaspora blues.” It can be described as the disappointment and melancholy felt in seeing cultural debate happen between Black people globally, because of borders and the ideas that white domination has perpetuated. It is worth asking if there would be a concept like the Black diaspora if white domination did not exist. Surely Africa is vast and diverse enough for there to be a concept that acknowledges both the cultural differences and similarities that exist throughout the continent. But the Black diaspora reminds me that something was broken. And dispersed. And that we’re attempting to put it together again, and keep it together this time.
As I traveled across the AFROPUNK Brooklyn’s festival yard this past August, I had conversations with Black folks from across the globe. My mission wasn’t to learn anything new necessarily. It was to remember. Remember that we’re born out of a common struggle, promise, and resistance despite where we were born and how we express it. The project was to cure me of my Black diaspora blues.
On one bench there was a Black couple and we laughed about the heat and the need for shade, and I asked them what home meant to them. They answered, “Home is more than what I wake up to or go to sleep. Home is about being around people that make the area feel safe.” Selling art while enjoying ice-cream was a striking black woman from the UK. We talked about how important humor and laughter is to survival. She travels often and told me, “No matter where I go, Black people are always so funny and charismatic. No matter where I go Black people can make jokes about the simplest shit ever.”
I asked everyone I talked to the same core five questions and found a few minor differences, but their essences was the same. On my way to get a drink, I sparked up a conversation with a man from St. Croix who spoke warmly about the concept of home, “Home is where my family is. Home is where you decide you feel comfortable. Like right now, I feel at home with all the people here because everyone is being themselves. That’s what I like to see.” And only moments later another man from Chicago simply said, “Home is a place where you know you’re safe.” The commonality between all their answers was that home is something that must include the space and permission to expand and explore the limits of your body, mind, and soul without fear of harm or critique.
It was towards the end of the night, as the sun began to fall and the festival’s headliners were beginning to warm up, that I found myself backstage waiting for the R&B songstress, Mahalia. She met me in trailer still glowing from her breathtaking performance, with a remarkable amount of energy for someone who just spilled it all on-stage, in front of thousands of people. She smiled, and I recognize this too. Her accent is British, but her smile is Black. It is the smile that Black folks exchange to not only greet one another, but to express acknowledgment of a shared identity and safety. (I’ve also experienced this in the form of a head nod.)
I asked Mahalia about her hopes for the Black community in the future. Her response was, “I hope that we can get to the point where it is not such a fight to talk about things.” She continued, “From my experience, I have yet to get to a place where I can say anything about how I feel and people be so scared of it.”
It was interesting to hear Mahalia’s answer to this question, because what she was desiring was what so many other Black folks I had conversation with earlier called home; the safety, the freedom, the love. This realization cured my diaspora blues – if only for the moment. The thought that around the world, the one thing that is true globally about Black people is that we’re all struggling and fighting to forge home for ourselves. My final question Mahalia was what her definition of home is? “Home is my mom,” she said.
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