Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: A Non-History Of Black People

One month, one book, one post, is not enough for the topic of Black History.

There’s more at stake than just slavery, my brother. It’s a question of who will own the land, the people, the power. You cannot stick a knife in a goat and then say, Now I will remove my knife slowly, so let things be easy and clean, let there be no mess. There will always be blood.

Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing

Black people, listen up.

Everyone else too.

So I started reading African books very intently last fall; mostly because we were about to invite Dr Uzondima Iweala to give a talk and be featured on a panel for International African Writers Day and I did not have the cultural awareness that was suitable for a person of my standard.

I’m a closet nerd, I used to find more satisfaction in fictional characters than real people. I still do. I have a cold shell but I’m also a hopeless romantic; books did that. I eventually evolved into a literature-person as well because I now dwell in the realms of analysis and intertextual comparison.

IGCSE Literature, what’s up?

So, that was a wake up call you know? I went back to our good friends at the Lawrence Public Library and snagged any African book I could find. And I’ve had such a wholesome experience since then, what I’ve learned is that African authors, (especially Nigerian ones) are so visceral, so raw and maybe it’s just because I know exactly what they’re talking about and this is a culture I understand, but I feel every single thing they’re writing about.

That’s what representation in media is supposed to feel like people, wake up. Those white-washed Netflix shows are not going to do it for you.

And in honour of Black History Month, I picked up a book that had been recommended to me over winter and was in fact on my radar.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing is the story of two half-sisters in pre-colonial Ghana. One gets abducted and shipped off to America to be a slave and the other gets married off to a white soldier and thus, begins the story we now know of black people.

Homegoing is structured in such a way that it tells this history without overwhelming the reader in a way that a historical fiction would. It’s strikingly accurate and very introspective. It deals with each issue as it comes and by that I mean with each passing period, with each new version of slavery and colonialism.

The book switches back and forth between the stories of Africans and that of the newly-minted African Americans. It relays collective experiences and shares this underlying message that despite what Africans and African Americans have been through, despite the structural differences of our societies; we are still the same, we have been the same. We exist in the same system of oppression, just at different proximities to our oppressors. Our culture is the same; our dance culture, our music, even our music videos. Our interpersonal connection, our communication, our irrational and unwritten social codes are the same.

Black people everywhere are the same. The influence of our environment changes the way we sound, the way our culture looks but at it s core; it’s all the same.

That’s what Homegoing teaches us, the full circle moment, the generational ties and the reoccurring themes of family, loss, pain and our journey as humans illustrate this.

For me, Homegoing was an accumulation of ideas and feelings that I have experienced and mulled over especially as I have come to understand the position I am in as a black woman. I often find myself struggling to determine my place with regards to the murkiness of class and race and there are chapters in the book that not only speak to that but validate some of my feelings and fleshes out these experiences.

Black History Month is almost over but we are not done learning about ourselves and our stories. We are not done empathising with Black people taking care to listen and absorb the struggle, we are not done working to connect with each other because Black History is American History is British History, Ghanian History, Haitian History.

But most of all, now is not the time time to forget that Black people are people too.

xx

Naomi

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