I Am Memory

I Am Memory


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



I had “romanticized” or, (to give honor to Afrika), nubianized my idea of Afrika. Although I knew that it,

like everything else, would not be quite how I imagined.   But when I stepped off the plane to the beautiful

city of Aswan and was greeted with salutations from Nubian brothers who appeared to be there just for

that purpose—to make us feel welcome, I felt better than I could have ever imagined.


I Am Memory

A Journey to Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan

By Jerhretta Dafina Suite


As a child I dreamt of Afrika, properly called Alkebu-lan, as a splendid respite from the ways of my “native” land of America.  I have always thought of Afrika as my spiritual address. I cannot pinpoint a time when I began feeling this way. Perhaps it was while sitting on the porch talking with my Grandmother as she told me about the mistreatment of black people in the United States.

Despite our indispensable contributions, she explained, ours was a very tentative relationship with this country. Perhaps it began with her never accepting a negative image of Black people and never letting me repeat negative descriptions I heard outside our home that perpetuated self-hatred, ignorance, and fear.

I must have been around four years old and repeated (through a simple childhood question) a description of another Black person based on complexion.  My Grandmother said to me,  “Honey, we don’t talk like that in this house.”  Perhaps that feeling was solidified when I moved from Baltimore to San Jose and became not the only black person at the elementary school, but of the very few of us, the only “not ashamed to be Black” person attending the school. 

Maybe the reason was that I had to insist then (and now still), to have my history exposed and extolled as a matter of curriculum, as is the tacit agreement of Europeans concerning their history, stolen or not.  And perhaps it was all these things and the overt and covert terrorism that I and other Afrikans born in America are subjected to daily – aware or unaware. Yes, even as a child, the Creator blessed me with a longing to know myself and a Grandmother who inspired the same because of her comfortable sense of self.

Her eyes held wisdom

of Ancestors and triumph

of our children’s smiles

I can’t remember a time when I was not Afrikan centered – even when I did not have the words, the language, verbal anyway, being locked inside a language that offered no true expression to describe that paradigm.

I was 29 years old living in Washington, D.C. and becoming very used to, but not comfortable with, the idea that I was never going to be accepted as the person I was—

Black, spiritual, female, intelligent, and nappy headed. Looking and longing for a connection in this world without having to stifle who I was, and deflect words and actions of people who refused to acknowledge me as human, nonetheless feminine, and who chose to misinterpret my thinking as manly. 

I knew that there had to be a place where a woman with melanin could leave her hair the way the Creator made it (instead of celebrating the rape of my Ancestors by giving praise to hair more like the rapists than the raped Mother). 

My naps embrace, they

honor Creation, and are

keys to Pyramids

A woman who thinks of herself as part of the whole and not just an individual; a woman at ease with her complete behind and lips and her feet which were made for movement, and not be singled out as someone or something other than who she is; a woman who has learned to define herself.

Is there no peaceful

place on earth for a thinking

Afrikan woman?

A woman tired and sick of the racism so deeply woven into every aspect of society that even as I added a hard drive to my computer, I had to choose which drive would be the slave and which the master.  So, when I heard about a trip to the Motherland, I jumped at the opportunity to realize a life long desire and applied for my passport.

As I shared my excitement about my upcoming trip, I was often disappointed with the negative and fearful responses I received.  A managing editor of a newspaper where I was working warned me not to “expect too much.”  My rebuttal, “I know that wherever Europeans have spewed their venom there has been disruption and corruption of the natural order of things.”

It’s not natural

to dance to the words; instead

dance to the music

That’s what I was looking and longing for—natural order. So, passport in hand, shots taken, I departed from New York on my way home – to Afrika.

On one level I had “romanticized” or, (to give honor to Afrika), nubianized my idea of Afrika. Although I knew that it, like everything else, would not be quite how I imagined.   But when I stepped off the plane to the beautiful city of Aswan and was greeted with salutations from Nubian brothers who appeared to be there just for that purpose—to make us feel welcome, I felt better than I could have ever imagined.

“Welcome home Brothers and Sisters, welcome home!”

Initially, I had so many feelings, that if I had tried to describe them it would have been literally impossible.   I did not feel like I thought I would feel.  I felt better.  I knew it was a blessing to step upon land that was so much a part of who I was.  I was overwhelmed to be in my Ancestors’ home.

My disappointment came when I saw that Egypt, properly called KMT (Kemet)—the Land of the People of the Sun, or Ta Merry, had the official misnomer of the United Arab Republic. Although I knew this, to see it in writing, big and bold, hit me hard.  Here again, our land was named for enslavers.

Wherever venom

has been spewed, the natural

order is no more 

The Pyramids put in perspective my relationship to the universe. I knew that I was the culmination of all things and all time, as each generation is; we are millions of years old, but to see them with my eyes, and not through the lens of someone else, made me want to prostrate myself before them and give honor to the utter, absolute and complete brilliance of their form, substance and majesty; these, the triumphant—Khufu, Kafre and Menkaure.

I am old as earth

and I know all its secrets

I am memory

The fact that I could also see them from the window in my room at Cairo’s Hilton Hotel was sobering to a fault.  As was the fact that these ancient burial grounds were sacred and  should be honored as such, and not trampled upon by tourists or vandals disguising themselves as “scientists”.  Hypnotically regal, the Pyramids drew people from all over the world trying to decipher their magnificence, while refusing to recognize who built them or the genius of our ancient engineers. 

The people, the sights, the sounds, and the food, all of this was wonderful and woeful at once. It was wonderful because my genetic memory put me in harmony with the Nile and the civilizations that were born from its energy.  I knew that it flowed through my blood.  It was disappointing because our Ancestors’ burial grounds were being trampled and destroyed right in front of me.

From the nose chiseled off the Great Sphinx—(another misnomer)—it’s proper name being Heru-Em-Akhet, meaning the Rising Sun or Heru on the Horizon), to the ones knocked off our faces on the walls frozen in time, engraved by our Ancestors offering their knowledge and our story for eternity.  Like a two-dollar whore, neither kiss nor cloth is offered; the only purpose being to serve, sate, and soil.  These are monuments to Pharaohs and Kentake and should be honored and preserved with the utmost care and consideration for the phenomenal accomplishment and tribute that they are.

I often think about my conversation with a friend from Southern Afrika.  She explained to me, as she asked me to visit, that I would have to come as an honorary white person. 

I would have to go to Afrika as An Honorary White Person. How about that?  Imagine accepting that dubious honor of imitating the very same people that rob the graves of the Cradle of Civilization. I declined that invitation, honorary or not.

In Cairo, Egypt, what was honored was, as one vendor put it, “My beautiful American dollars.”  To them I was American.  In Cairo I was American and that was that.  As a matter of fact, most of the brothers, as there were not many native sisters out and about, did not accept the word Afrikan as a description of themselves. 

They proclaimed themselves as Egyptian, (leaning toward me, making eye contact in that measured and stern way that perfidious adults sometimes use to discreetly discipline and silence children who have caught them in a lie), as though Egypt and they were not really a part of Afrika. As though that part of Afrika had literally been lifted up, detached from that massive and great land and placed somewhere else.  That measured, stern stare, I’ve seen before.  It’s the look used to mask and manage an underlying schizophrenic frenzy; the look of denial. Just the fact that they were born in Afrika made them Afrikan, but they were unwilling to claim even that.

My goodness, I thought, no one wants to be Afrikan, not even Afrikans born in Afrika.  But that was Cairo, a big metropolitan arena, where everyone and everything was so “sophisticated” that no one had time to dig their roots. Cosmopolitan Cairo – where the waiters in the restaurants had dark complexions and the managers were lighter in hue… 

It’s not natural

to dance to the words

In Cairo where a waiter called me “mudha fuck” because he assumed I was not going to give him a decent tip. I needed change to buy bottled water but he thought that I was changing the bill to give him his tip.  I’ll admit that some of the words got lost in translation, but “mudha fuck” was clearly and pointedly emphasized.  

I had to take a look around because I thought I was back in America, where Sisters are disrespected daily and service to Black people at restaurants is based on the assumption that we do not tip well or at all.   But I was not in America, I was in Afrika.  This is not to say that his misbehavior and lack of manners (especially with company) reflected the general attitude of all Cairenes, but the ease with which he spewed that venom…

Is there no peaceful


Luxor, warmer in climate and atmosphere, offered me a sense of belonging not found in Cairo. I met a superb tailor during our day trip there, who promised to make me an outfit and bring it all the way back to Cairo. I paid him in advance and never had a second thought that he would not deliver.  Of course, he kept his promise. When he arrived he told me I favored his people in the Sudan and put his hand on my head. As he touched my hair he shook his head back and forth saying with regret and dismay in his voice, “Nubian.” Translation—“Nappy.”  “And, such a pretty child,” he lamented. 

My naps embrace, they

honor Creation

  Oh, but Aswan.  In Aswan I could have lived forever. Such a beautiful and peaceful place, Aswan is.   In Aswan I was comfortable and black and beautiful. In Aswan I floated up the Nile in a felucca as I drank tea made from that historical body of water. I went full circle returning to Aswan on the final leg of the trip. I thought I could live there forever.  And it was all beautiful and breathtaking and embracing. And I was a tourist. And lonely.  Although I was a part of the land, I was part of the people, I was lonely.  And I thought what a terrible, terrible thing that has happened to us, and the world.


So I went home to my Grandmother’s porch and reflected on her lessons, her comfort with herself, and regained the strength from Mama, my recent Ancestor, who is the culmination of all things and all time, to continue through our Middle Passage here and now. 

Her eyes held wisdom

of Ancestors

I regained the strength to move through the global and perennial disrespect and disregard for people with melanin.  I regained the strength to move through all the name calling and learned self-hate and yes, even through the ignorance of racism that is so deeply rooted in the psyche of the world against people who look like me.  I regained the strength to keep loving me, my community, and to keep my thoughts spiritual.

And the triumph

of our children’s smiles

And, I regained the strength to go back to Afrika.  There’s a saying that if you drink from the Nile, you will return to it.  I look forward to returning, renewed, more mature, and with a better understanding of the intricacies of the atrocities that plague all of us; Afrikans not only in the Diaspora, but in Afrika as well. 

I harvested my experiences and they yielded knowledge. And with that knowledge, I finally understood that while sitting on the porch, talking with my Grandmother, I had all of Afrika right there with me and in me forever and always.

I am old as earth

and, I know all its secrets

I am memory


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#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

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*   *   *   *   *

Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

*   *   *   *   *

A Wreath for Emmett Till

By Marilyn Nelson; Illustrated by Philippe Lardy

This memorial to the lynched teen is in the Homeric tradition of poet-as-historian. It is a heroic crown of sonnets in Petrarchan rhyme scheme and, as such, is quite formal not only in form but in language. There are 15 poems in the cycle, the last line of one being the first line of the next, and each of the first lines makes up the entirety of the 15th. This chosen formality brings distance and reflection to readers, but also calls attention to the horrifically ugly events. The language is highly figurative in one sonnet, cruelly graphic in the next. The illustrations echo the representative nature of the poetry, using images from nature and taking advantage of the emotional quality of color. There is an introduction by the author, a page about Emmett Till, and literary and poetical footnotes to the sonnets. The artist also gives detailed reasoning behind his choices. This underpinning information makes this a full experience, eminently teachable from several aspects, including historical and literary—School Library Journal

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *


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posted 23 August 2004




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