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Identity Formation in America

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My name is Lorin Jackson. You may have met me during the launch of the inaugural CPDI Africa Internship in the summer of 2020. I was thrilled to be awarded the internship, but struggled to meet the expectations, and coupled with the uprising and turmoil that America faced the summer of 2020, I couldn’t maintain what was necessary to successfully matriculate.

Recently someone commented on my initial Instagram post announcing my involvement in the internship, and it inspired me to complete the coursework on my own time.

To be honest, I was challenged by the first research assignment that asked us to identify elements of our architecture. I was stumped at identifying “our,” let alone “architecture.” I initially identified as a “Black American,” but in light of the recent atrocities enacted by the state at the time, to call myself American felt disingenuous and incriminating. To be Black in America is to be in direct opposition to everything America was really created for, so there resulted an internal conundrum. I even questioned the use of Black as it was historically a tool of capitalist constructs to delineate good and bad humans, worthy and unworthy. I had to ask myself harder questions like “who am I?” and “what definition of my ethnic origin best serves to define architectural elements that might heal and uplift my people?”
I had to look a little deeper to answer these questions. I was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, the third generation on my mothers side to be raised in St. Louis, and the fourth on my fathers’ side. My ancestors migrated from Texas and Mississippi prior to St. Louis as far back as I can trace. My Aunt, who this month turned 103 shared our ancestors were slaves on my fathers, mothers, fathers side; and the same case on my mothers, mothers and fathers’ sides. It’s a known fact one of my great, great grandmothers was white and married a very dark, black man. It is believed that another great, great grandmothers was Indigenous American and married a black man. How these unions came to be is unclear, but given the history of this country, is no surprise nor uncommon. So therein lies a dilemma - I am not purely any ethnicity from Africa, Europe, or Indigenous to America, and my culture reflects tattered shreds hurriedly stitched together, combining them all.
After more research, I came up with a term that felt accurate and appropriate for this work. Afro-American is how I want to identify myself and my people for the sake of these studies and developing a lens from which to practice. Afro- as a prefix simply indicates African, but for me, it alludes to the detachment from ones roots, an adaptation that created something new, like the Afro. Cultural erasure ripped away thousands of years of inherited knowledge and practices from my people that we can’t research our way into knowing first hand. Conversely, there are inherent, visible, and invisible qualities that undoubtedly connect us to African roots. Gestures, greetings, how we move, how we feel and perceive the world around us. We are connected through an unbreakable bond, but displaced in time and space. Descendants of slaves in America adapted to survive and perform which gives us a quality unmatched on Earth.
I keep “American” because I am always contending with the reality of the present day. Though I don’t necessarily consider myself aligned with American society, principles, or practices, it is the context in which my family has survived for generations now and I must honor their fortitude and contribution to my existence. I also must honor my audience and allow people to understand the context from which these ideas are evolving. I want this to be understood by a global audience with a range of education levels and sociopolitical backgrounds. As the definition of citizenship is in a flux, we have an opportunity to unite as a global community and create what we all need in the near future. I can’t be the change or live by example if I’m not present or rooted in the context of the challenges we face. I can be immersed, but separate, like oil in water.
I wanted to take time to expound and clarify the reason behind my determination to contribute to, develop, and spread this conversation - honestly for myself as much as for others. Even in recent days I have seen more people and groups in the US awaken to ideas that have been discussed on the CPDI Africa platform for decades. I ultimately want this work to be healing to Afroamericans in the US and who have returned abroad. As more Afroamericans build wealth and work toward self-sustenance, similarly to those on the African continent, we need to build for ourselves in a way that is healing, sustainable, and uniquely us. No longer aiming to attain to Western, capitalist ideals, but working toward a holistic, intrinsically unique society within our respective geographical & political contexts. On the journey, I hope to equip myself and those around me with knowledge and experience that liberate us to be autonomous and see this way as the new normal.

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