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  • Writer's pictureMorgan Ransom

The Black Experience in Roma

By Morgan Ransom

When I woke up this morning, there was a void, sitting heavy between my ribs. It pooled deep in my lungs and sank into my shoulder blades as I lay back in my bed. Then I heard a knock at the door, and a text message from a friend.

“R u in ur room?”

Pulling myself from the sheets and ignoring the magnetic pull my bed had on my body, I opened the door. And presented before me at 9:45 in the morning was my smiling friend, a bouquet of flowers in her hands.

“Happy Black History Month!” She beamed, and it took everything out of me not to cry. The waves of joy, sadness, homesickness, and love washed over me like ocean waves in a thunderstorm.

For those who do not know already, Black History month is observed only in the United States during the month of February. In the United Kingdom, it’s during the month of October. In Italy, it isn’t recognized, for more obvious reasons. The majority of Black Italians are not native to this country, and Italian history, like the population, is not filled with Black people. Even so, there is still a reckoning that must be had between the old facist regime that Italy was ruled by but not even 100 years prior. The waves of what once were are still rippling throughout the cultural landscape.

However, instead of focusing on the obvious differences between American tradition and Italian culture, I’d rather focus on the people who, like myself, are neither recognized as natives of their new lands, nor can be seen as completely African anymore. We are a homogeneity of culture and experience in our own right. The disconnect that comes with leaving cultural ties is an emotionally and spiritually painful one, however, there is also beauty that comes when something new is created. To live and exist in spaces not created for or by people like you is, in a word, separating. The cultural ties fray once you leave your home country. It forces the individual to leave not just physical possessions behind, but cultural, emotional, spiritual. When I walk through the streets of Rome, I don’t see people like myself, not in taxis or restaurants, not museums or churches.

As for myself, coming from a mixed immigrant household, I was both exposed and diluted to so much culture. My mother, an West Indian Trinidadian, and my father, a Black-Italian American, had a wealth of experience, history, and heritage to pass on to me, and while it was by no means the traditional Black American experience, it is still a part of what we, as Americans, observe as Black History.

As we reflect on Black History, whether as Black people or non-Black people, I believe that in order to do so, we must also highlight the complexity that comes with the history of an entire race across the world. Black History month, particularly for students abroad, should not be a reflection on the history of our motherlands. Instead, it is the analysis and discovery of history beyond the lens of familiarity. It’s a feast of culture, of stories, of pain, of triumph, and experience that cannot be watered down to the political and historical figures that American students have learned about since grade school.

Instead, I’d like to highlight the underbelly of Black History, the modern political activists, artists, musicians, philosophers, thinkers, that influence and enrich our cultural experiences, as Black and non-Black folks. Below, I’ve gathered a list of such individuals, and I encourage you to dive into these resources, and discover something new, not just about Black culture, but about yourself.

It’s high time we start giving people their flowers before they meet their grave.

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