I am suffering from a very mild case of alcohol poisoning even as I write this. Why? Because I, along with everybody and their mama, spent the last nearly two weeks pouring libations out for my ancestors in Ghana for Year of Return activities. The Ghanaian government described Year of Return as “a major landmark spiritual and birth-right journey inviting the Global African family, home and abroad, to mark 400 years of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in Jamestown, Virginia.” Return meant so many things this trip. It meant Afronation, Essence Full Circle Festival, Cape Coast, Detty Rave, Accra Arts Centre, Afrochella, Shito sauce, fabric, parties, staying in the club until the sun comes up...
But the most important of those meanings for me is returning our dollars to our people.
1619 marked just the first year that Black people became the primacy of commerce in the Americas. Over the next few hundred years, Africans would be kidnapped, tortured, murdered, beaten, raped, denigrated, pillaged, terrorized, subdued, broken, dominated, separated, colonized, and scattered around the world into what is now known as the African Diaspora. But Africans would also survive, pass on, find joy, create family, invent culture, vitalize societies, and build a meaning to their new existence as Black outside of Africa. We endured the largest forced migration in history, and yet we have continued to be innovative, creative, resilient, and joyful people. And though connections have been frayed and broken, they aren’t lost.
When I started Nile, I didn’t immediately think of it in the context of slavery (even though I’m a firm believer that all roads in America lead back there). I knew that I wanted to have a diasporic reach by involving Black-owned businesses around the world. But I didn’t view Nile as any grand initiative to connect with our roots. What I have realized, though, is that Nile is developing in a moment that is ripe with Black people searching for one another in every which way. We want Black love, Black joy, Black magic, and Black owned. And Nile is just one of the entities that has flowered in the last few years to answer the call to connect. My favorite one line response, when people ask what Nile is, is that it is a “digital community connecting consumers with Black owned brands online,” and my Year of Return participation truly unveiled for me why my subconscious has clung to the word “connecting.”
A great piece just published in the New York Times explores how marketplaces centered on Black owned products have begun to increase the visibility around buying Black and how they have captured a spreading sentiment in the community that we want to spend our money to build one another up. One quote from that article really struck me: “White people aren’t going out of their way to find other white businesses because they’re there — they’ve always been there. If our cities didn’t get burned down, if our streets that were filled with nothing but black businesses didn’t get burned down, we wouldn’t have to go seek them because they would already be there. They would be the Nikes, and the Walmarts, because those legacies would have been built.” The piece focuses on the American aspect of the Diaspora, but every former colony and every person of the Diaspora is still subject to the same sentiment — that we are running in a race where other participants got a head start, on our backs.
The businesses and initiatives mentioned in this NYT piece, including BLK+GRN, the BOM, and Buy from a Black Woman, are businesses that I have been following for some time. These businesses are just the tip of the iceberg; there are so many more out there as well, from Melanoid Exchange to Katika. And they are each a piece of the puzzle that will help pull the Diaspora back together. What I saw, felt, and experienced in Ghana during Year of Return activities were other pieces of the puzzle. I attended music festivals owned by Black people featuring Black artists with food from Black caterers and goods made by Black vendors. I stepped into the dungeons of the Cape Coast slave castle, where the single most valuable commodity in American history — the Black body — was held en masse awaiting a new life, or often death, in bondage. And, of course, I danced the night away in one of the most enduring nightclubs in Accra, Twist, which is Black-owned too.
A lot of truly amazing Black things happened this past year in Ghana as part of the country’s Year of Return celebrations, and my realization that Nile was a part of a global effort was only one of them. This year, Nile will fully launch and will bring thousands of Black-owned businesses and their products to the fingertips of anyone in the Diaspora with internet. Nile is hoping to make connections in the best way we know how; by facilitating Black folks as we own our bodies, our labors, and our commerce, and dedicating those things to one another instead of the same corporations who have stolen from us.
In my last full day in Accra, I read a report that Year of Return had injected up to $1.9 billion dollars into Ghana’s economy over the course of the year. Think of how radical that is. The people coming to Ghana and bringing their money weren’t just tourists with fanny packs and cameras. They were a critical leg of the relay race to help the Diaspora catch up. They were descendants of the very people whose labor and resources injected Western societies with the wealth that they now lord over us.
They were never meant to return.
As I sat on the wall of the Cape Coast Castle after my tour, I had a thought. There were a couple hundred people of the Diaspora walking through the castle on tours at that point, and it was very likely that at least one of those people had a direct ancestor who was kept in the dungeons of that very castle for weeks or months before they were sent in slavery to the New World. That Black person on that tour in 2019 would have no way of knowing that their ancestor had been in that place. And their ancestor would have had no way of knowing, when they were pushed through the Door of No Return hundreds of years ago, that someone, in fact, would.
But we did.
Nile’s full site launches in early 2020. In the meantime, sign up for our mailing list (below) to get the inside track on businesses coming to Nile and other dope Black things. You can also connect with Nile on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @theNileList.
Edit: Turban by Loza Tam and shirt by BLKGRL Spoken