This post on The Outer Drive got me thinking about blackness and football, but first and foremost American blackness and football. (Not to say that nations and borders can confine blackness but in terms of this discussion, it will be something directly related to American blacks. Yet I still find an issue with limiting blackness on these terms.)
John’s call to examine one’s roots, as well as to find a rooting interest, is something I feel very strong about. I believe that it is important for black fans, particularly American ones, to self determine when it comes to fandom. We see this every World Cup when a number of black Americans understandably have a disconnection with the United States and look for another team that at least looks more like them. This is usually roundly criticized by supporters of the US team when they quickly remind you that you are not from Ghana, South Africa, etc. If there is one thing the dominant culture in America is good at, it is reminding black Americans what they are not.
“You are not Ghanaian”? But am I American? What does it mean to be American or be of any nationality, for that matter? It has to be more than simply holding a passport with certain symbols that makes one think of the nation that they are most commonly attributed to. Those people are always correct, I am not Ghanaian, but 2014 has made it quite clear that my blackness prevents me from ever being fully American.
This is not to say I believe everyone should run out to adopt a nation to support, or do something that would be reductive nature. To support a national team is to do more than throw on a jersey — a nation should not become an accessory. There is more to Ghana than just the Black Stars, just like there is more to international football than the game on the pitch. The success of former colonial nations on the pitch represents a country that is overcoming the suffering forced on them by outside influences. It represents a nation and a people with a future where their successes come from within. It’s a suffering that will never be forgotten, but something that will be overcome.
I cannot possibly know the suffering of any nation or people who have been colonized. As a black American, however, this suffering is something that I can relate to far more than any false idea that the US national team can offer me. The success of a nation such as Ghana in a footballing tournament fills me with optimism for the future, a future where both black nations and black people will be allowed to self-determine and achieve greatness. My personal history will most likely prevent me from knowing my African roots prior to the end of the American Civil War when my relatives wandered on up to Cairo, Illinois. What they passed down to me, however, is something that can never be erased or forgotten and that connects me with a world that goes beyond anything a passport can offer.