Courtesy of Ebony.com
â€œYou are African?â€ 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 couldâ€™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, acarajÃ© (deep-fried balls of peeled black-eyed peas) in hand. Even if my language skills were up to par, Iâ€™m not sure I could have offered her a substantive response in my current state of mental paralysis. Standing in the middle of PraÃ§a da SÃ© in Salvador, Bahiaâ€”the countryâ€™s repository for African cultureâ€”I was caught in a quandary that my African and African-American studies degree couldnâ€™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 countryâ€™s three largest cities (Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and SÃ£o 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 hadnâ€™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]