“When I touch my mother, I feel Ghana,” Lawrencia Atakora says with her arm stretched behind her as if reaching for her mother’s hand. “But when my son touches me, he feels D.C.” Born in Washington D.C. (or just “D.C.”), Lawrencia’s parents are both Ghanaian.
Fleeing political instability, Lawrencia’s grandfather brought the family to the United States when her mother was just 17 years old. Lawrencia’s parents were childhood sweethearts who got married when her mother returned briefly to Ghana in her twenties.
However, as her father could not get the necessary documents to travel to the US, they divorced not long after Lawrencia was born. She attended school both in Washington D.C. and in Accra where her father lives until today—swinging back and forth across the Atlantic throughout her childhood.
“It was very dangerous in D.C. back then. There were gangs in every neighbourhood, lots of drug use and I would hear gunshots at night. My mum had to work all the time so I became a latch-key kid.”
“Being in Ghana was a completely different experience. I had someone to pick me up from school, I always had family around me. I felt safe.”
She is proud of her Ghanaian heritage (“There isn’t a Ghanaian dish I can’t cook!”) but rooted in being American. “As a kid, I thought I was the definition of being African American. I learned that wasn’t the case when I got bullied by other black kids. I was a minority within a minority.”
There are approximately 120,000 Ghanaian Americans in the country, and little over 3 million Americans of African descent. Of those, 1.8 million are foreign born, mainly originating from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana and Kenya.
I encountered this diverse diaspora first-hand as many Uber drivers I met were Sudanese, Ethiopian, Senegalese, Eritrean and so on. I learned that most Ethiopians were in Washington D.C., while Houston had the highest population of Nigerians.
A graduate in Human Development from Trinity University, Lawrencia is currently finishing her MBA and applying to law school. She also works at a consumer research firm, is a leadership fellow at liberal think-tank, Center for American Progress, and mother to a six-year-old boy. All by the age of 27.
“I crave challenges. I wanted to prove to myself that even though I had my son at a young age, I could still achieve what I wanted. He’s been a motivation and he makes my journey more fulfilling. Raising my son helped align my activism and political zeal.”
When asked what her goal for him was, she answered: “I want him to be respected and treated equally. I hope that he gets the same opportunities as his white counterparts. The fact that he is a black boy in America already means he’ll be viewed a certain way.”
She recalls the time she was turned down from a job at a law firm for being “too intense,” despite having scored the highest during the interview process. She later learned from her colleague that ‘too intense’ was code for being black.
“People like me often prefer identifying as African instead of African American or black. Even other immigrants see blacks as being bottom of the barrel.”
Lawrencia recounts the times she witnessed Haitians, Dominicans and other Africans identify as white in her market and consumer research.
“Growing up in D.C., we had the ‘jump out’. That’s when cops patrolling in unmarked cars, jump out and intimidate a group of teens while we were hanging out. I knew that they were disproportionately targeting black teens because it did not happen in the predominantly white suburbs of Maryland where my cousins grew up.”
“I don’t think there is unity in our society. It boils my blood that we present ourselves that way on a global platform. There was a fairytale unity when Obama was elected. Different groups unite over different issues.”
Reports prior to Election Day stated that early voter turnout among the black community was at a low—accounting for only 16 percent of early ballots compared to 25 percent in 2012. Poor African American voter turnout is cited as one of the reasons for Hillary Clinton’s loss. Some African Americans I met on the ground attributed this to their disappointment in President Obama, and resulting disillusionment with the Democratic Party.
“There’s a perception in the community that Obama didn’t do anything for us, but he’s not the president of black people, he’s the president of the United States.”
“Obama did many things that benefited the community like Obamacare. Many don’t understand the roadblocks that were in his way,” she said in reference to the Republican-majority Congress.
“What frustrates me about the Republican campaign is that it’s built on lies; the same manufacturing jobs are not coming back. It’s like when a guy tells a girl everything she wants to hear on their first date just so he could go home with her at the end of the night.”
“Republicans play dirty and Democrats don’t know how to—they’re more concerned about being politically correct. Irrespective of how upright they tried to be, the Democratic candidate was still viewed as crooked.”
“Donald Trump did what he needed to win at the expense of the progress we’ve made.”
What does she expect of the new Republican government? “I don’t believe they have the people’s best interest at heart. It sucks but I kind of want them to fail.”