“I am Queen Mother of Ghana!” said Lisa Raye, an African-American actress, philanthropist, and the former First Lady of Turks and Caicos on The Wendy Williams Show. Raye explained on the US-television show she was using her platform to work on issues of education in Ghana, build a small school there and raise peace and awareness. The audience cheered enthusiastically. ‘Good for you’, said Wendy Williams.
The Wendy Williams show is watched by an average of 1.6 million people daily. Raye’s ‘Queen Mother’ naming ceremony news has made global headlines, garnered controversy, and has been the focus of discussion, derision, anger, ridicule and hurt. I was in Philadelphia watching this. It was still a point of discussion when I landed back home in Accra.
Raye was ‘named’ ‘Queen Mother’ in a ceremony in a Los Angeles restaurant, by a man who is named on the video as ‘King Yahweh’ of the Kingdom of Yahweh. He is apparently crowned as a King in both Ghana and a region in Cameroon. In the video, she is seen being named as ‘Queen Mother of Agona Kwanyako , which is actually a town in the Central Region.
Two things are necessary. We must correct the record, and we must engage this moment for clarity and connection, context and culture between us as Africans and African-Americans.
Corrections first. On the show, Raye said she is ‘Queen Mother of Ghana’, and a video reported she had been ‘enstooled’. Ghana is a Republic with a President. It has more than 270 paramountcies. It has 16 regions. There are Chieftaincies. The President of the National House of Chiefs is Togbui Afede of Asogli. There are regional Queen Mothers. Nana Ampem Darko V is Chief of Agona Kwanyako. Agona Kwanyako – the place where Raye was ‘named as Queen Mother’ is a town in Ghana’s Central Region. The only woman who was enstooled as the Okyenhene-Sovereign was Nana Afia Dokuaa. And she reigned from 1817 to 1835. The current Queen mother of Akyem Abuakwa is Nana Adutwumwaa Dokua, a descendent of the original Dokuaa. Their crowing is the result of ritual, tradition and intricate naming ceremonies. Lisa Raye cannot be a ‘Queen Mother of Ghana’, named and enstooled via a ceremony in Los Angeles. It is not just that this is not possible, it is the ridicule of ritual here in Ghana.
If I knew you, Lisa Raye, I would not write this publicly. I would call you, speak to you quietly away from public eyes and ears and explain that your comment on the Wendy Williams Show is inaccurate, but it also spits on ritual, respect and traditions in this West African nation. I would say to you – as I would to the thousands of African-Americans – either coming home to Ghana or seeking cultural connection to the Continent – to beware that sometimes what is called culture is corruption.
What we cannot do – and what is unacceptable – is what happened with the Lisa Raye ceremony. There are issues here of Chiefs giving away titles that are irrelevant and impotent. What the receiver may not be told is that the expectation of such a title may require a cheque-book, with a never-ending expectation of cheques. This has been an issue before. It will be one again. It is treating tradition, culture and ritual like a hustle. And like all hustlers, they seek those vulnerable to that particular hustle. Hustlers are not unique to culture, nation, community or colour. They do not honor geographic borders or halt at the possible harmful impact on our healing as a global black people. A hustler hustles whether it is healing, drugs, pews, government contracts, titles or cultural rituals.
With this story, this ceremony, there has been division. Derision. And laughter too. That is how we treat ignorance of each other’s ritual, rites of passage and distinct blacknesses and cultures. We do that to each other. That is not my intention. It is important though that the record is set straight. And from that place we can also choose to learn.
To Lisa Raye I would say, let’s not do this. Let’s not sit on a talk show, and in front of millions make such inaccurate and deeply problematic statements that carry consequence that trash context and trivialize culture. You can build a school and elevate education in a region in Ghana, without having some bogus ‘queen mother’ title bestowed on you.
Public correction is challenging in an era of cancel culture. It triggers ego and flexing. We want to clapback, demonstrate our braggadocio. We sometimes engage our audience, fans and followers. We tag and hash tag. We feel humiliated and hurt. We retreat. We become more entrenched, hold tighter to our position. From that space we seek to humiliate and hurt. So, begins the cultural clapback. It is no space for healing, instead it reveals the tender places that cultural identity lives.
The ceremony, the so-called naming, the errors in reporting all speak to deeper issues that need addressing. It is here we must reckon with culture and context, and our connection as a global Black people.
This is the bigger work we need to do between us as Africans and African-Americans.
That work is tough, it is truth-telling, it is doing so with more compassion and less critique. We – both African and African-American – are equally capable of retiring to our respective corners within rings of blacknesses, donning boxing gloves and coming out jabbing, punching, drawing blood and scoring victories in the name of ‘how black are you? It serves no-one. It hurts us all. It dishonors a necessary healing.
2019 is the Year of Return. Our president, Nana Akufo-Addo, issued a call to return in Washington that has been heard and responded to by thousands and thousands of African-Americans. Thousands more are expected during the month of December. It is beautiful. It has been bountiful. It can be painful, and powerful.
I just came back home to Ghana, after a trip to New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. I sat at the boarding gate listening to the excitement and anticipation of African-Americans, some of whom are making their very first visit to the Continent, and for some returning simply for this special anniversary.
Return can be an uneasy space. It is more than flight – take-offs and landings – it is relationship with a painful and powerful history. It is reckoning with untreated traumas. So much of this Year of Return has been framed as business opportunity. That framing is from Ghana’s political world and our politicians, our business folk too. Come home, invest, build! So goes the Year of Return battle cry. When we cast return solely in terms of lucrative economy and investment, we miss doing crucial connection work and substitute connection with capital.
The business of our collective healing as a global black people goes beyond a year. A return rooted exclusively in business may trigger untreated traumas of black bodies being treated as business, being reduced to property. Return is about an emotional economy. It is about the bridge that was ruptured between us as Africans – those who stayed – and those who became African-Americans – those who were stolen. We are The Stayed and The Stolen. We are fractured, but we are still family. We certainly fight like family.
Healing can sometimes be a hustle. It takes the need, the ache for belonging, acceptance and community by some African-Americans in nations like Ghana and feeds it with bogus claims, unrecognized rituals and non-existent titles.
Let’s choose differently.
Let’s choose each other in ways that respect and honor traditions. Let’s do that by understanding what is real in our ritual, and what, frankly may be hustle in rituals held thousands of miles away.
As Africans and as African-Americans, as black peoples we have pride about who we are, what we come from and where we come from. We also have our prejudice about who we perceive the other to be and what they come from. Neither one of us is immune from such pride, prejudice or ignorance.
Lisa Raye is a daughter of the diaspora, she is our sister. She is not our nation’s Queen Mother. Ghana welcomes her, as it has, does and will the thousands of African-Americans who are coming – or have already come home – to this land. This soil is stained with blood and bone. It has been built and rebuilt. It does not – and cannot – stand on empty titles, but it can shine with a willingness to self-correct, and to sacrifice ego for evolution.
This is no romanticized return. It is about a very real reckoning for the stayed and the stolen. It is emotional justice.
‘the STAYED & the STOLEN’ is a multimedia project on healing between Africans and African-Americans from The Armah Institute of Emotional Justice (AIEJ). We engage the framework of ‘Emotional Justice’, and develop creative conversations, projects, events and campaigns in Ghana and across the US. Part I of ‘the STAYED and the STOLEN’ took place in New York October 2019.