Yaa Gyasi‘s novel “Homegoing” is a masterfully written historical novel. It begins in Ghana, and tells the story of the progression of two lines of a family tree over eight generations. One branch stays substantially in Ghana with a complex relationship with power and complicity with the slave trade. The other branch is sold into slavery in the United States. Each chapter is the story of a different family member, their context, dreams and struggles.
There are many very good books about race in the US available, and I have barely made a dent in my reading list. But I those I have read, this makes the short list of books I think should be required for white folks.
I missed the fanfare when it was first published, but it was recently brought to my attention through a conversation on Rachel Cargle’s Instagram. Rachel, and a couple of other black women I follow, have recently shared stories of personal pilgrimage to places like Cape Coast Castle in Ghana. They have shared a window into their experiences of standing in a place where their ancestors were held captive, tortured, treated worse than animals.
One conversation thread that I saw was about the pain black women were experiencing watching white people visit these places as tourists. A personal desire to have their own experience of grief and healing, without having to see people whose ancestors inflicted this violence. A few white women piped up, wanting to have their own experience of insight and understanding. They were encouraged that they could do that without making such a trip, and that one way to do that could be by reading “Homegoing.”
I think as white folks we are incredibly used to thinking that we have a right to be anywhere we want. That all spaces are ours. That is privilege and supremacy. We can learn to respect that some places and experiences are not ours to have. And be grateful when people of color choose to share their stories and perspectives with us to empathize and learn from. I’m grateful for what Yaa Gyasi has shared here. Her story will stay with me for a long time.