Where do I belong?

By Guido Melo | 31 Mar 21
Creative Commons/Diego3336

Where do I belong?

After living in Australia for almost two decades, I would like to think that this is long enough to call myself Australian. In reality, however, for people that look like me, it has little to do with time. For us, Global Africans, things are way more complicated. 

Yesterday while visiting my local doctor, the receptionist asked if “I was an Australian citizen” even before asking about my symptoms or why I was there.

“We don’t serve students in this practice,” she told me dismissively. I have a slight accent, but I suspect that was not why she asked such a blunt question. If I have to take a guess, I will say it has something to do with the amount of melanin my body produces.

Migration is always a violent act of separation. Even when the move is enthusiastically and autonomously decided, it still inflicts damage on the migrant. It leaves an irreparable tear on the individual. The person that leaves is never the same person that arrives. Migration places individuals in situations that can impact their physical and mental well-being. Conditions surrounding the migration process can increase the vulnerability to ill health. This is particularly true for those who migrate involuntarily, fleeing natural or human-made disasters.

I understand there are many reasons why people migrate. Sometimes humans migrate for economic purposes, other times for personal motivation or fleeing prosecution. Historically, many have been violently forced to leave their birth land behind as refugees.

Afro Brazilian 

Living in the Americas, especially in Eurocentric majority societies, I have developed significant impostor syndrome; thus, existing as myself has continually permeated my soul and devoured my mind.

I believe we are shaped by the land we inhabit and by the realities imposed on us. We are what we see, what we smell and what we taste. 

For more than 400 years, our people were forcibly taken and stolen from the African to the American Continent. The transatlantic forced crossing of our people left none of us unscathed.

In Brazil, the first arrival of a ‘Navio Negreiro’ sailed from the west coast of Africa sometime around the year 1549. Human trafficking did not stop sail across the Atlantic until as recent as 1866.

By chance, I was born in Salvador of Bahia, still, the same pirate galleon that took my ancestors to the then Portuguese Rio de Janeiro could have landed in the Spanish Havana, the then French New Orleans or the British colony of Charleston in South Carolina.

Therefore, I hold no deep allegiances. I am myself, my family and my circumstances. I am an African uprooted living in the diaspora. Today I am part of what many call the ‘Global Africa.’ 

Inherited trauma is infused in our DNA and our collective unconscious. In her recent book, ‘Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing (PTSS), author Joy DeGruy states that African Americans’ multi-generational trauma can potentially lead to undiagnosed and untreated post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in enslaved Africans and their descendants.

The recently studied concept of “epigenetic inheritance” understands that traumatic experiences can directly affect our DNA in ways that are passed onto the offspring; therefore, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so forth are affected by intergenerational acquired trauma. This creates what experts called ”molecular PTSD.”

This intergenerational trauma afflicts the descendants of those kidnapped humans of African heritage still inhabiting the Americas and the Caribbean today. So, I have to ask myself: How can I lose something that was never really mine in the first place? For an Afro-Brazilian like me, the feeling of not belonging has been ingrained, by design, since birth. According to widely available data, Brazil is one of the most unequal places in the world. A recent study by the UN stated that ‘Based on the statistical analysis of censuses, surveys, and other evidence shows that racial inequality is high and that racial discrimination in the labour market and other spheres of Brazilian society is common.’  

Am I Afro-Brazilian? Am I Afro-Australian? I want to say that I am all of those things, still, simple binary denominations will not constrain me. I am occupying a territory stolen by the Europeans over 200 years ago, where sovereignty has never been ceded. 

I know things don’t change overnight and progress has been slow. Progress is slow. This makes me feel that nothing has changed, or we have not fought hard enough to improve our lives. I know this is not true; still, my offspring will face a world not too dissimilar from mine as a teenager in the 1990s and of my father’s teens in the 1960s. Our people are still dying; we are still always begging for our lives to matter. 

Nonetheless, progress was made, and because of it, there is still hope. I still hope. I am not sure that coming to Australia was the panacea for all maladies, but this is where I live now.

Belonging is an abstract construction and as an Ubuntu Philosopher believer, ‘I am because you are’. 

Expanding the saying: “I belong because you belong.” The world is ours to share. The land I came to existence, can and does influence me, so does the land I inhabit now, however it should not define my entire being. It should not determine my final experience on this planet. We are more than this. We are continually shifting, learning and changing as humans. Existing with plenitude is belonging anywhere we find ourselves.