In the poem To the Diaspora by Gwendolyn Brooks, what is "Afrika?"  

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ladyvols1's profile pic

ladyvols1 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The word diaspora is a Greek word that means to scatter seeds.  The concept of this word is that the ethnic group of African Americans should spread their culture.   In the poem “To the Diaspora” by Gwendolyn Brooks, she has written a poem to the Black community, and it is her calling the Black community to their roots. Brooks speaks to her fellow African Americans telling them that it is important to understand and accept that they are Afrika. The term “Afrika” is the Swahili name and spelling for what we call Africa. This is not a mistake by Brooks, but a deliberate choice to try and engage her community to develop a pride and knowledge in their heritage.

“you did not know you were Afrika

When you set out for Afrika you did not know you were going.

Because you did not know you were Afrika.

You did not know the Black continent that had to be reached

was you.”

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Gwendolyn Brooks writes poetry from her heart and as she sees it. She admits that her upbringing and experiences dictate the type of poet that she is and she embraces and challenges conditions in which Black people, specifically for this poem, often find themselves. In To The Diaspora, Brooks draws attention to an age old problem of identity as people strive to identify with their roots in order to enrich their lives. She is determined to leave a legacy. 

Diaspora is a word often associated with the Jewish people who historically, in exile settled in countries and continents far removed from their origins and which gave the word its negative connotations because of the harsh conditions which often accompanied such forced separation and relocation. More recently diaspora has become more of a consciousness and a recognition that no matter where in the world a person may find themselves, they will always have a special connection to their roots.

Brooks wants to make African-Americans aware that the subject of diaspora is important because, in terms of identity people often do not know what they are searching for and, as she says, "You did not know you were going." Being aware of diaspora, according to Brooks ensures that common bonds are formed and social and geographic boundaries become less significant in terms of a collective identity and those who "did not know you were Afrika" discover a part of themselves which otherwise would remain unknown. Brooks knows that African-Americans are skeptical and "very little believed me" thinking that they will not discover anything special. 

Discovering that "you were Afrika" associates the people with the continent of Africa but without restricting them to any part of it specifically. Africa is a vast diverse, cosmopolitan and culturally rich continent and this allows those African-Americans whom she addresses not to be restricted or compartmentalized as that would defy the definition. Brooks uses the word "Afrika" to mean a broad base of people who have a unique connection to their heritage but also a shared identity with a connection so strong that being "the Black continent that had to be reached" creates an inner feeling of solidarity with a community that has no physical boundaries. "Afrika" is that place in every African-American.


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