Identities: A short story collection is available on Amazon.com, Chapters Coquitlam, Chapters Metrotown, Indigo Granville and Pangea Limited at 118 Wilkinson Road, Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Baindu felt light and breathless. This was too much for one day. Shawn pulled out the simple box from his pocket. Baindu gasped through tears as he opened the box to reveal a simple ring set with a peridot stone for her birth month, August. They had discussed the complexities of Blood Diamonds one evening and Baindu had insisted that given the connection between blood diamonds and Sierra Leone she didn’t even want so-called clean/certified diamonds when she got married. She wanted a simple ring with her birthstone or any other gem, just not diamonds. Baindu looked at Shawn and asked: “Are you sure?” He said yes and she said yes. Shawn felt goosebumps rise through his back and neck in that moment. He thought he heard his ancestors applauding as they watched the sunset through the glass windows.
They walked the Heritage Trail afterwards, feeling a profound sense of rightness as they walked where those before them had, embracing and silently savoring the moment. They left a virtual quilt on their way out that read: Shawn and Baindu said Yes! here: To freedom, love and our heritage and roots!
The next day, they got up early and drove to Jordantown.
If I had to pick a favorite in my short story collection, it would be this story #10, The Wedding.
The wedding situates a modern-day romance within the historical connections between Freetown, Sierra Leone and Nova Scotia, Canada. In so doing, this anchor story in the collection connects the past and present, as well as the whole book, tracing the connections and divides that continue to impact black communities globally today. Peoples of African descent continue to make cross-oceanic journeys – I often argue that very few of those journeys are voluntary, as refugee and immigration cycles continue the ricochet of the historical oppression and subjugation of black people in the global world system.
This story is ultimately about two things. First, the dearth of knowledge that peoples of African descent tend to have about their own histories and second, the power of love to bridge all divides.
There is that old adage that knowledge is power. I believe that black communities globally continue to give away power simply by not having the right information, first and foremost about ourselves and our identities. I believe that turning this tide will be part of the source of the unity and therefore the progress of our communities into the future. It is well known in theories and research on social change that continuing cycles of oppression perpetuates splits and factions within minority groups. This is both a result of political strategies such as divide and conquer and the natural in-fighting that occurs when oppressed peoples start competing for resources and ‘territory’ among themselves. Note that the latter is not due to any inherent character flaws within minority groups as per popular propaganda, but a natural human instinct for survival of the fittest that all humanity shares. Throwback to any survivor reality TV or popular series like hunger games and that is literally and metaphorically the conditions minority communities continue to contend with on a daily basis. Therefore, it is imperative on the journey to freedom from the psychological conditions that continue to keep peoples of African descent trapped to understand our histories and how that shapes the social conditions we continue to face today. That will in turn position us to work together, not against each other, for our collective freedom and equality. In the story, the Wedding, the protagonists Baindu and Shawn both offend each other within their first encounter, simply because of lack of knowledge and understanding of each other’s histories and perspectives. Uncovering the layers of complexities beneath their shared yet different identities as black people becomes part of their love story.
For those who think understanding our histories does not matter today, I offer that part of my research into posttraumatic growth supports that it does. Posttraumatic growth research shows that the growth and transformation of individuals or social groups requires understanding the impact of the past on the present in ways that inform positive change into the future, rather than keeping people stuck in the past. One of the ways this happens is through telling our stories in ways that allow us to understand each other’s present identities and our connections to each other.
In addition, some very timely Canadian news has reminded us about the Canadian-Sierra Leonean connection and why it matters in terms of continued oppression of Black Canadians today. In September, a UN report recommended that Canada proceeds with repatriation of land titles to Nova Scotian Blacks – land titles that were promised to them 200 years ago but never given. The extreme conditions met by Nova Scotian black loyalists that occupied places like Jordantown and Birchtown was the history of the character Shawn’s descendants in the Wedding. Those same conditions are part of the historical systemic oppressions chronicled in a book newly released this October: Policing Black Lives. As the author Robyn Maynard explains, these were all issues that she, as a black Canadian, never knew growing up. Likewise, I had the privilege of speaking at the Canadian-Sierra Leonean Heritage Day earlier this year. Freetown, Sierra Leone was the place of resettlement of Black Loyalists when they repatriated to the continent because of the difficult conditions they faced. The returnees were one of the groups that formed the Creole peoples of Sierra Leone today. I shared this video as part of my talk showing the reunion of the Hamilton family of Nova Scotia and Freetown. Many in the audience of present-day Canadian-Sierra Leonean immigrants remarked to me that they did not know about this history and connections with real impacts today.
The Hamilton family is an example of Black families that were separated across the oceans because one part of the family stayed in Nova Scotia while others left for Freetown. It is representative of how families were originally split during slavery when some were taken and others not. We are all more connected than the histories we are taught and the artificial ethnic separations we have inherited would have us believe, if we would but turn back the curtains of history for ourselves. Another symptom of our lack of ownership of our own history and narratives is the fact that in all my Canadian university studies, every African history professor I encountered was not an Africa. This trend was remarked on at the African Awareness conference week 2017 hosted by University of British Columbia that I attended and spoke at as well. It saddened me to think that in the two decades since I was an undergraduate student, nothing has changed.
This story is also personal. Like Baindu in the story, I am from one of the ethnic Sierra Leonean groups who are not of slave descent. I am married to a wonderful and proud Creole man. We share the complex history of inheriting the impact of Creoles on the one hand being the colonial favorites who were asked to stay separate from the ‘natives’ and the ‘natives’ who now hold systemic power over Creoles in post-colonial Sierra Leone. My husband’s ancestry, like Shawn’s, is hidden in the annals of history that was written for us and that meant he has always carried a minority social identity, even in the country of his birth that he first called home. Our children, are entering a future where identity lines are blurring and they must stand proudly and firmly on a self-assured sense of identity in order to survive and thrive in the midst of the social barrage of classifications they must withstand because of who we are.
To all peoples of African descent, I say again as I did metaphorically through Shawn and Baindu’s characters, it is past time to accelerate our movement forward in unity and progress…
“It was time for Shawn and Baindu to begin working out their happily ever after, holding with them the full history of their ancestors from these African shores to Britain and the Americas, to Nova Scotia and all the way back.
From slavery to freedom.
From bondage to revolution.
From poverty to wealth.
From servitude to service.
From hatred to love.
Lonta. Na De Wod Dat. The End. Word!”