Viola Fletcher, 108, and Hughes Van Ellis, 102, are sworn in as citizens of Ghana at the Embassy of Ghana in D.C. on Tuesday. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
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I think and write a lot about the politics of repatriation, repair and return in the wake of horrific crimes and displacement. A story this week entwined all these threads.

My colleague DeNeen L. Brown wrote about two of the last known survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, who have found new symbolic homes — in Ghana.

Viola Fletcher, 108, and her brother Hughes Van Ellis, 102, were granted Ghanaian citizenship at the Embassy of Ghana in D.C. on Tuesday. In 2021, the two visited Ghana and were given ceremonial names and royal titles. Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, also gave Fletcher a plot of land. Considering that Tulsa massacre survivors are still legally fighting for reparations from the city, the symbolism is touching.

As I wrote last year while in Ghana, the country has a long history of presenting itself as a shelter for Black Americans facing persecution abroad. In the early 1960s, Ghana granted scholar W.E.B. Du Bois citizenship after he had experienced years of persecution and FBI surveillance.

In more recent years, the Ghanaian government has offered symbolic honors to prominent Black American victims of White violence. The Ghana Tourism Authority held a memorial service for George Floyd in June 2020. In Accra last year, Breonna Taylor’s name was added alongside Floyd’s to the Sankofa Wall, dedicated to notable Black figures around the world.

I believe that if possible, Black people in the diaspora should visit and learn about Africa. I know, and have seen firsthand, the sense of relief and belonging that Ghana provides.

However, as a Ghanaian American and a (former?) Pan-African idealist, I have mixed feelings about a few things. Ghana, which has been going through its worst economic crisis in decades, has been investing heavily in trying to promote itself as a tourist and investment destination for African Americans. It has also long been dependent on personal remittances from abroad, which consisted of about 6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2020. Yet there are plenty of arguments for why small countries that become overdependent on tourism set themselves up for increased risk of financial shocks, environmental degradation and the disempowerment of local populations.

If Ghana’s government were serious about building diasporic bridges, it would invest in its schools’ teaching more about colonialism and the trafficking of enslaved people, and about the challenges that Africans in the diaspora have faced. The country should also do more to protect and preserve historic sites such as the slave forts, instead of allowing them to be ravaged by neglect and climate change.

Is it right for a country to overtly use the pain of African Americans to help boost its struggling economy? Sometimes, I honestly don’t know. Ghanaians themselves have been suffering from unemployment. Ghana also struggles with the issue of police suppressing dissent. And given that Ghana is still proposing to pass a frighteningly draconian anti-LGBTQ bill, clearly, the country won’t be publicly offering shelter to the Black LGBTQ community in the United States — and especially not to Black trans women, who are being killed at alarming rates in this country.

I understand the symbolic power of Black people returning “home” to Africa. The centenarian Tulsa survivors deserve everything in the world, especially reparations from Tulsa. In the meantime, I hope that getting to see Ghana’s warmth will help empower and strengthen them in their long quest for justice in America.

Fun Zone: A question from Merriam-Webster

For all the language nerds out there, this was a great thread this week.

There were so many good responses. Some of my favorites:

Personally, I adore the Nigerian pidgin English word “wahala,” which means chaos, confusion or discombobulation. Anyone who has followed my work for a while will know I like trying to sneak it into my copy.

Do you have questions, comments, tips, recipes, poems, praise or critiques for me? Submit them here. I do read every submission and may include yours in a future version of the newsletter.