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21.12.2019 Feature Article

Jackie Woodson’s Breathtaking Narrative on Ghana – Part 1

Jackie Woodson’s Breathtaking Narrative on Ghana – Part 1
LISTEN DEC 21, 2019

I almost did not read the recent article captioned “Jacqueline Woodson on Africa, America and Slavery’s Fierce Undertow,” subtitled “The African-American novelist journeys to Ghana, once a hub of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, as the nation invites descendants of enslaved Africans to call it their ‘home.’ But can you go home again?” which was published in the December 9th edition of the world-famous New York Times. I almost did not read this otherwise quite incisive, instructive and insightful mini-essay or travelogue because the two gentlemen friends of mine who brought the same to my attention, Messrs. Charles Owusu and Kwasi Ohene, both of them my longtime friends, had significantly not forgotten to add, almost with sneer-laced voices, that before undertaking her epic and, some would say, mythical journey from whose experiences this narrative had been produced or composed, the author had, according to her own public confession, consulted with the man whose very breath is globally known to reek of abject contempt and implacable resentment for everything Black-African. That man, of course, was none other than Mr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the renowned scholar of African American history and culture who teaches at Harvard University.

Both gentlemen informants, as it were, were also well aware of the fact that sometime in 2005, Skip Gates, as this distinguished Harvard professor and Yale and Cambridge universities-educated scholar is affectionately and/or informally known, had once offered my school, Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City, New York, the humongous amount of $ 5 Million (Yes, Dear Reader, Five-Million Dollars!) for a promise by the extant chief administrators of NCC, as the college where I have been teaching close to twenty-three years now is affectionately or abbreviatively known locally, to fire me as soon and quickly as possible, if these administrators, a couple or so of whom had invited Prof. Gates to keynote the 2005 African-American History Month Festivities, expected our protagonist to set foot on our college campus and deliver any lectures or presentations gratis. I would learn of this most sinister plot to destroy me by rendering me unemployed and unemployable and effectively homeless and legally a persona non grata from Mr. Harold Bellinger, the extant Affirmative Action Officer.

The Hatchet Man, or Grim Reaper, if the Dear Reader Would permit, had also promised that in the event of these movers-and-shakers becoming successful in their efforts to dislodge yours truly from the college, Prof. Gates would annually offer two Nassau Community College students/graduates full-scholarships and the privilege of continuing their studies at the most globally renowned and celebrated Ivy League academy in the United States. Well, Dear Reader, by the ineffable and inscrutable grace and magnanimity of Divine Providence, my African ancestors and Ms. Frances Hilliard, the extant faculty union president who had threatened to launch a lawsuit against the extant college administrators, I am still alive and here at Nassau Community College, and well into my twenty-third year of teaching – actually, January 21, 2020 will be twenty-three years since I was hired by the college – so it ought to be clear to the Dear Reader that Prof. Gates’ most dastardly attempt to literally put yours truly out into the mean streets of New York City, with its teeming population of the homeless, did not pan out in favor of the would-be Grim Reaper after all.

But, of course, the road thus far was absolutely not a piece of cake, in African American theatrical parlance. I would go through two separate periods of professorial suspensions and be summarily and punitively banished from campus for two weeks without pay on each of these two occasions. Well, I quite don’t recall being totally deprived of my paychecks on those two occasions of my suspensions and banishment, but at least that was what had been written on both letters of suspension. Recently, I have even joked to some of my students that I don’t quite recall not being paid during those two periods of my “disciplinary” sanctions or suspensions because the New York City Family Court authorities had not summonsed me to either its Bronx District Headquarters or its main Manhattan Metropolitan Headquarters to explain why my child-support payment obligations, just recently concluded, had not been honored during those two fiscally lean periods.

I have also joked that it was purely and wholly by the grace of Divine Providence and my ancestors, especially those benevolent ones from Akyem-Asiakwa and Asante-Dwaben (or Juaben) who had promptly stepped up to the plate, in American baseball parlance, as it were, to succor to my needs during these two most lean seasons. The third joke that I have also shared with some of my students or classes was about the apparently obvious fact that my largely Italian and Irish bosses, for the most part, on the college’s campus at the time, must have been far more interested in pointing me to exactly where the power over my destiny and economic survival here in the United States lay. And you bet, Dear Reader, I got it all loud and clear, and promptly so, at the time. Perhaps it is also about time that some of us relatively recent continental African-born American immigrants like yours truly began telling or narrating some of these most harrowing and traumatic experiences of our epic journeys here in the United States and, in particular, vis-à-vis our many raw ordeals at the hands of such Black-African-hating African Americans like Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., for a more realistic and balanced perspectives on these matters, as it were.

*Visit my blog at: Ghanaffairs

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., PhD

English Department, SUNY-Nassau

Garden City, New York

December 12, 2019

E-mail: [email protected]