(The Picture of above is with Pastor Joel Bukenya, a man a greatly admire and respect!)
Uganda Reflection: I love being a dark-skinned, brown, black man!
Uganda had a wonderful way of surprising me continuously. One of the most pleasant surprises that I experienced was the healing of my skin condition. The condition of being black in the States. The condition of having dark-skin in America.
Now, when I say healing, I simply mean that I can say this with confidence “I love being a dark-skinned, brown, black man!” Being dark is an incredible blessing!
You see, while in Uganda, I was afforded the opportunity to step away from the negative imagery of blackness in the States. And I was granted the gift of embracing the loveliness of being dark-skinned.
My experience in Uganda shed light on an inner conflict.
In the States
In the States, at the subconscious level, there is always a war going on within me about my darkness- my blackness. It is not a war that overtly hampers my daily life but nonetheless it is a struggle.
In the States I fight against falling prey to the negative stereotypes. The ones that our media portrays of black people- especially of black men. All around me there are tokens of expression that say black equals less than, ignorant, threatening, and dangerous. I know, of course this is not true, but the messages are relentless.
In the States I fight myself about my own skin color. The question I sometimes ask is this: Am I black enough?
There are often times where I have not felt black enough for other black people. In particular, among those who are of my own skin color, I have been cited as too white. Or better yet, “You sound white.” What does that mean? And what does that mean about what makes a black person black?
Does it go beyond the skin color?
Conversely, among white people, sometimes I am too black. This is rare, though. In some cases my blackness comes as a liability, a threat, and an unwelcomed feature. Seeing past my character, there have been some who have made judgments solely on my skin color.
But in the same breath, some white people, also don’t think I am black enough. They quote me as not, “being like other black people”, or, “You are not really black”. They relegate me to having the Oreo Syndrome. You know, black on the outside, white on the inside. As an “Oreo” I wouldn’t be classified as one “those” black people- the ones that we see on television or hear on the radio. This further perpetuates the negative image.
To make it a little more complicated, let’s throw in one more thing. In the States there is also an awkwardness I have because of my ethnic heritage as well. I am a Jamaica-born man who was raised in South Florida. Due to this complexity I have also run into multiple issues because of the cultural differences of my blackness.
But, like I said, these issues are not detrimental to my daily life. It is mostly an inward conflict. The damage this inner angst has caused has primarily affected my identity. The chief problem is that I cannot fully appreciate my dark skin as I would like to.
However, Uganda, changed a lot of that. Being in Africa was a freeing experience! There, my blackness was honored, appreciated, and normal. I loved that!
In Uganda, from my first step, I entered into a whole new worldview of my darkness.
For starters, it was the most incredible feeling to be engulfed in sea of dark-skinned people. It was the first time in a very long time where I was a part of the majority. And I don’t mean Atlanta majority- I mean er’ body was black. Like 99.79 percent.
Everywhere we went there were all shades of dark skin. Consequently, I quickly became comfortable in my own skin. In fact it made me wonder, is this how white people feel on a daily to basis in the States? Comfortable? Relaxed? At home?
I’m not gonna lie. It was kind of nice to just melt away in the crowd for a few minutes, hours, days, weeks. Just to be one of the many black people. Normal. Not a minority. Not an aberration.
Although I did like that feeling, the real healing came from living and doing life with my Ugandan brothers and sisters.
In Uganda I experienced almost the complete opposite of my inner battle in the States.
In Uganda my brothers and sisters took my blackness as an automatic commonality. It was a positive thing. Right away they said, “Welcome home”. There was so much meaning in that. I cannot begin to tell you how much that meant.
There is a holistic wave of peace and wholeness that a black person feels when they return to Africa. Especially when they return home for the first time.
Coming home feels good.
I was at home. I felt at home. I truly belonged.
I did not have to work for it. I did not have to prove anything. I was dark-skinned and that was good enough.
What made this even more delightful was that my Ugandan family gave me a Ugandan name. In fact they gave me two names- there will be more about that in another post. It was more than just an expression of mere kindness. It was a reminder that I was a part of something bigger and grander.
In Uganda I was floored by the character of black people everywhere I went. This place did not follow the protocol of Western media. Everywhere I went, both in the Christian community and other communities, I was greeted by people who dismantled the American stereotype of black people- in particular black men.
In Ugandan I experienced hospitality so wonderful that I could cry. There were black angels everywhere. Almost everywhere we went people were so kind, so open, so giving and so loving.
People were incredibly welcoming. And they were so gracious and loving to foreigners- those who looked different than themselves. My teammates on my trip were all white but they were treated so well. People gave them their babies to hold, their homes to live in, and their hearts share, even without knowing them.
I’m sure if we looked further in to the fabric of Ugandan culture we would see some of the negatives but I was too overwhelmed by the goodness to notice it.
In particular, the black men that I met in Kampala and Jinja were of full of utmost integrity and humility. They had such incredible character. The men I met were men who thought way beyond themselves. In their hearts and in their actions they were concerned about generations. Their minds were on the well-being and prosperity of their nation and their children’s children’s children. Their hands, work, and actions matched what they believed. They lived far above and greater than the pettiness of today!
These men were true fathers. Not only were they fathers to their own biological children but they were fathers to the fatherless. Their scope of family and togetherness was unrivaled. And the wisdom that the possessed was akin to the lineage of Solomon.
As a man who grew up without my father, my heart was beyond filled with joy and admiration. These men are my heroes.
Day after day I grew to love my skin color more and more because these men and women were living a life that I aspired to live.
All in all I left Uganda proud! I was proud to be black. I was proud to be a Christ-follower. Although my primary identity is a son of God and Christ-follower, it was definitely a nice bonus to enjoy my skin color too!
It was such a blessing to be around great people. In general it was great to know that there are men and women of God doing great things across the seas. But it was extra special, in this particular time of my life, to see that these people were ones with dark skin. They were people, people with my skin color, that were peeling away the stereotypes, prejudices, and misconceptions that pervade throughout many societies.
There is so much more I can say on the subject but I will stop here for now. I am very grateful for this healing and blessing. It was so simple and yet so profound.
Questions of the Day
Are you comfortable in your own skin? Do like all the features that God gave you?
Let me know your thoughts. Let share our experiences.
I love you friends. Thanks for taking the time to hear my thoughts.