Author Jacqueline Woodson On The ‘Year of Return’
The West African country Ghana designated 2019 as the “Year of Return.” This initiative aimed to attract members of the African Diaspora who wanted to reclaim their connection to the African continent — a connection violently severed 400 years ago by the trans-Atlantic trade in enslaved African people.
Award-winning writer Jacqueline Woodson participated in Ghana’s “Year of Return” with her partner and her two children. She described what it was like stepping onto African soil for the first time:
I had never been to Africa. But stepping out of that airport the first morning, it felt as though I had always known Ghana. The deep heat of the early morning so much like the South Carolina of my childhood. The dark bodies that seemed to fill every space easily absorbed my own dark body. And the smell — of petrol and cooking oil, of nuts roasting and plantains frying, of sweat and sewage — quickly swept me up out of jet-lag into the right now of Ghana’s capital, Accra.
Woodson felt an immediate connection to the country and its culture. But she remained mildly skeptical about the activities promised by the “Year of Return”:
Ghana’s Year of Return website celebrates “the cumulative resilience of all the victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.” It promised everything from a welcoming World Music Festival to a Natural Hair Expo to a First Bath Of Return and Naming Ceremony in which participants, as is custom for African babies, are bathed, given African names and presented to their extended African family. While these events sounded interesting and somewhat moving, it was not the way I wanted to see Ghana for the first time. I wanted the circumstance rather than the pomp. I wanted truth.
We’ll talk to Woodson about her experience visiting a place that was at once foreign and familiar, and the sensation of both belonging and dis-belonging that often comes with a hyphenated identity.
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