Courtesy of Ebony.com
“You are African?” The words fell from her mouth like a ton of bricks. For several moments, my synapses short-circuited under their weight. Save for her inflection, she could’ve spoken either a question or an affirmation. Maybe it was a reminder.
Adorned in a shimmering silver headwrap and a billowing white dress, the beautiful baiana woman looked at me with a quizzical gaze, acarajé (deep-fried balls of peeled black-eyed peas) in hand. Even if my language skills were up to par, I’m not sure I could have offered her a substantive response in my current state of mental paralysis. Standing in the middle of Praça da Sé in Salvador, Bahia—the country’s repository for African culture—I was caught in a quandary that my African and African-American studies degree couldn’t rescue me from. Was I, in fact, African?
Since the day I got off the plane in Brazil, I felt ensnared in an irreconcilable identity crisis. Over the course of two months, I visited the country’s three largest cities (Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and São Paulo) along with some of its smaller coastal towns. On each leg of my journey, I encountered a succession of experiences that made me critically question the construct of racial classification in relation to the African diaspora. As if growing up Black in America hadn’t wounded my psyche enough. So why would someone with a mediocre-at-best comprehension of Portuguese travel halfway around the world to incur a racial complex, you ask?
[Images: Rico Washington via Ebony.com]