It’s a peculiar thing to meet your sister for the first time at 19 years of age. She’s got a kid. You’ve got a nephew. You’re an uncle. You’ve got another sister, and she knows of even more siblings. It’s better than your imagination. Homie, this is real. We’re going bowling. You always feel lame going bowling. Rolling a stone ball down a path seems like a caveman activity- shut up. Get in your car. I hope they don’t care that I drive a Honda.
When I was a child, I knew about my biological family. I didn’t know them, I didn’t know who they were, their names, their faces, but I knew of them and that satisfied me. I knew that, at some point in time, our spirits would come to be joined in some way or another. Y’all still use Myspace? We did back then. I had come home to my adopted family one spring feeling it was time to explore that curiosity. I asked my mother for my paperwork, and to her credit, she did not take this request personally. A hospital in San Pablo. My name. Another name. You’ve got another sister. I put her name into the Myspace search.
Nothing. Jack shit.
Hold up. This is creepy, but just maybe… An image popped up. Three girls at an amusement park. Right there, in the caption, I see the name. I message the account that posted the picture. Her friends list is public. It’s hyphy “YAY Areaaaaa!” yadadamean Myspace in 2008, so nobody is using anything close to their real name. I clicked on profiles with pictures that looked like the girl I saw. I sent three women messages that night with a single message – I was adopted, I just learned the name of my biological half-sister, and I was looking for her. Here’s my cell, please don’t text, I don’t play with this T9 nonsense.
My sister messaged me that night, but I had already gone to sleep. That morning, I called the number she left me.
“You do not know what you did to me last night.”
Silence. She spoke again.
“I’ve been looking for you.”
“I’ve been looking for you too.”
“No, you don’t understand. I’ve BEEN looking for you.”
I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND.
My sister is the oldest of five children from my biological mother. She had seen four of her siblings born with various addiction, health and developmental issues. She had seen four of her siblings, her only siblings, taken from her and our biological mother. My brother was raised by his father. My younger sisters and I were taken by the State of California and essentially sold into middle-class families. Many families who have been through a foster-to-adoption process will know exactly what I am referring to. My sister is one of the strongest people I’ve ever come to know. She and her nephew are complete lights in my life – the chance to form a relationship has been priceless. Though I may never understand the depth of the hell it must be as a child to see your brothers and sisters ferreted away to different lives over and over again, but here we are today, connected.
I felt self-conscious about my hair. I was in the early stages of the living history I carry today. It’s the phase in the loc process I refer to as awkward-noodle phase. My hair is 3C, so my baby locs had me looking like I was wearing a crown like the Statue of Liberty. At this point, I had been 3 years in my ska/street punk style and I didn’t want to craft appearances. Vans with laces that I checkerboarded. A checkerboard black/white t-shirt to match. A Sacramento Kings lid that never had a chance of fitting my head. I stood a fly guy, ready to rock that first impression.
Back to bowling. I met my sister for the first time surrounded by other members of my biological family. I met my biological grandmother, my uncle, my aunt, a number of my cousins (Rest in Power, Boomer) and my nephew. I don’t remember bowling. I don’t remember what we ate. I do remember the feeling of unity.
Unity. The state or property of being one. When challenged to explore African & Afrodiasporic unity, this is the experience I choose to reflect upon first. Another name. I have another sister. We talked some, but from my memory, we really just enjoyed the concept of having each other in our respective lives for the first time.
One of the most challenging misconceptions to repeatedly experience as a Black American in the African Diaspora is the provided concept of “Black/African Unity.” #BlackLivesMatter employs various experiences with the conditions often forced on our African/Black visual identities in an exercise of empathy. Those experiences are many times horrible, violent, and breed a political atmosphere which is not a sustainable basis for the achievement of unity. Black America in North Richmond is not the same experience as Black America in Puerto Rico. The Black America in Houston is not the same Black America as Brooklyn. The Black experience in Manchester stems from a different legacy than the Black experience in Nisse. How do we tie these experiences together for sustainable unity and growth while also maintaining the needed focus on oppression?
Empathize. We don’t need to politic our experiences. The experience of knowing your siblings, seeing them brought into the world, then taken away from you without ever knowing if you’ll see them again, if they know you, or if they’ll ever care about you is just not the same as growing up with a family that chose you and your sisters to compose it. What was a burning spiritual curiosity for me was an absolute monstrosity for my sister, but we came together. The experiences are not separate – they are part of the same journey and legacy.
Our unity was achieved despite these experiences, not because of them. My nephew knows his uncles and his aunties despite the conditions, not because of them. This experience provided me with this perspective – honoring our legacy, in whatever way is purposeful to you and those dear to you, is to welcome yourself into this concept of African & Afrodiasporic unity. Fighting oppression and violence in perpetuation wherever it exists is necessary until it will no longer be, should there be a day. Learn about other African & Afrodiasporic experiences as much as possible, connect, share your experiences & achievements, and build a legacy. Lose the politics. You have another sibling.
I tend to enjoy sharing my experiences with people who can truly understand the feeling of Blackness and blood in isolation. These folks rarely pop up, but when they do, speaking to them is akin to laying your head against a soft pillow after a very, very long day. The pressure and weight of your skull separates from your spine, and your thoughts are able to float instead of their usual state, flattened to the bone so your constant imagined audience can’t see their true magnitude. It’s not often I can separate from the psychology of my white-approved existence from my actual sovereign existence. What I had to do to maintain this ‘oh, he’s one of the good ones’ facade truly goes to depths where I wonder if I’ll ever be fully free of those thought processes. As it stands, these thoughts happen and my sovereignty will then take over and counter the double-think.
I didn’t have any African or Black friends growing up because there wasn’t anybody of that visual identity outside of my family to be found. So I was it. The rep for all 1.5 billion Africans in this tiny redneck mountain town in California of 1500 mostly white folk. While Foresthill could use a lot more African influence, I didn’t feel any outright community oppression. Even if somebody had something to say outright about my visual identity, I could take care of myself. I was being shaped in a very different way. My achievements followed my interests. My interests followed my spirit. Whatever I achieved, I had to do it in a way that aligned with the family & community expectation of me.
That’s why I’ll told anyone who will listen to me that I made the choice to be bad at basketball (I didn’t, I was just bad). TThe essential impact this psychology had on me is that, for my developmental years, I partially existed to counter stereotypes. After I grew from connecting with my biological siblings, it was an easy thing to recognize. I stopped the performance. There was a me that I hadn’t met yet. Homie… You have another self.
Enter University of California, Santa Cruz. I wanted to be a banana slug since I was 12 years old. Santa Cruz was my favorite vacation spot and they supported two highly recommended programs with my two primary interests – linguistics, and at the time, video game design. The school itself struggled with African and Diasporic enrollment. 13% of the Californian population is Black American. UCSC, at the time of my graduation, claimed that 1.5% of its student body was African OR Black American.
Even with the shameful racism in both the measuring of the statistic itself and the actual percentage, it was my gateway to the African Diaspora. I was lucky enough to meet the rocket ship Wanjiku during my first summer. She is of the Kenyan Diaspora and in that, we felt kinship. There are some in my biological family that claim Kenyan ancestry, specifically Kikuyu. My existence celebrates a Kikuyu name. Shiku will lead many people from high positions. I’ll cherish the memories we share of snorting in our improvisation class. I met Precious, a deep thinker and incredible poet of the Nigerian Diaspora, at my first African/Black Student Alliance meeting, something my redneck self couldn’t even fathom at the time. To this day, after we speak, I write. Samuel was of the Black British diaspora. He began a chapter of TKE on campus after surveying UCSC Greek life and seeing the hostility towards Black, Asian, Latino & homosexual men on campus. Inspired by his presence and his own concept of legacy, I joined two months after they chartered to add my name to the ranks of the founding fathers of that chapter. These are just a few of the many Afrodiasporic lives that gave me another community.
Black visual identity was represented by 1.5% of the student population in our supposedly ultra-liberal institution but we crafted lasting and meaningful relationships. Biking among the forest in Santa Cruz never felt as lonely as it did in the mountains despite feeling overall like I had less friends. The legacy of our shared experience as the 1.5% will carry on much longer than our knowledge or the importance of that number. As we branch out to the farthest reaches of our journey, we will still be united by that legacy of our shared experience in Santa Cruz. And to any of them reading this, or any of our audience who resonates, I say this – you have another legacy. Go build with empathy and create your own experience of African / Afrodiasporic unity.