A case study on travelers to Ghana offers insights
Protests against discrimination have erupted across the globe in recent weeks, spurred by the murder of the black man George Floyd, by an officer of white race in Minnesota and the United States. This act of violence against racial minorities is an important reminder of the inequality of race that continues to affect blacks across the globe, African diasporas being no one of them.
In reality, Ghana, which has been a pioneer in connecting the diaspora to their African heritage through the tourism industry, has honored the death of Floyd by holding the holding of a memorial ceremony in Accra. The event was organized by Ghana’s Year of Return committee in collaboration with the African Union of Diasporan Forum.
The Year of Return 2019 was a campaign for tourism to mark that 400th anniversary marking the initial slave ship to arrive in America. It was a form that was a case of ” roots tourism” that entices travelers to travel to a place by virtue of their ancestral roots.
Beyond the personal and educational transformation many travelers receive from this type of travel, could this also provide an opportunity to work towards reconciliation between different races?
My research of a collection consisting of African American roots travellers to Ghana suggests this could be an option. The study looked into how the trip affected the travellers in their sense of identity as well as their commitment to social justice issues.
Exploring the roots in Ghana
In August of 2018 I travelled with the group of 10 African American travellers on a 10-day excursion to Ghana which included visits to historic sites, in addition to villages, cities and nature reserves. I conducted interviews with the participants prior to as well as after their trip, as well as conducting observation and a focus group throughout the journey. I inquired about their expectations for the trip and how it had changed their perception of themselves. I also inquired if it made people more likely to engage in social justice-related activities such as protests, getting involved in social justice organizations within their local communities, and voicing their opinion on the social injustices they face in their work.
Travelers told me that their journey made them think about slavery in a different way, which gave them a greater knowledge of the race system in United States. One example is that a traveler stated that prior to going to Ghana they had an “certain anger towards white people”. However, going to Ghana and in particular in particular the Cape Coast dungeon exposed them to a greater understanding of the people who were slaves and the sexism of (white) Europeans and (black) Africans.
Read more: Ghana hopes ‘Year of Return’ will boost tourism. But caution is needed.
Travellers also shared how the trip helped them to understand more deeply their identity as both African and American. For example, one participant said:
I am a person with these distinct traits that connect me to this particular place. I want to return home and shine like a beacon of shine off of me and not be afraid or embarrassed; we should not be afraid of who we really are.
This quote demonstrates the way that identity formation through travel to the roots can lead to the possibility of reconciliation among travelers themselves.
A third traveler said that they realized following their trip that the roots of tourism, if properly managed it could provide a means for inter-racial understanding and communication. They reported that they observed a distinct difference between black and white groups of tourists at Cape Coast. Cape Coast dungeon. The latter was more romantic, and the other emphasized more of the terrible specifics of slavery.
The traveler said that the romanticized incident was not uncommon at historical slave plantation heritage locations within the US. These kinds of stories only perpetuate memories from the Jim Crow era. However, if they are transformed, these experiences in Ghana, as well as in the US, could serve as a way to facilitate reconciliation across race lines.