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After Thoughts: ‘I’m American, regardless of how my ancestors got here’

By Anne Brice

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Rose Wilkerson, a sociolinguist and lecturer in the Department of African American Studies at Berkeley, shares how it feels to her to live in the U.S. as an African American.

After Thoughts is a series that highlights moments from Fiat Vox interviews that didn’t make it into the final episode. This excerpt is from an interview with Wilkerson featured in Fiat Vox episode #69: “Language is more than how we speak — it’s home.”

Rose Wilkerson smiles for the camera as a teenager

It was in high school, says Rose Wilkerson, when she learned more about slavery and began to feel robbed of her culture. “It’s hard to say you’re an American in a country that treats you like a second-class citizen,” she says. (Photo courtesy of Rose Wilkerson)

Read a transcript of “After Thoughts: ‘I’m American, regardless of how my ancestors got here'”:

[Music: “Taoudella” by Blue Dot Sessions ]

Rose Wilkerson: When I was growing up, I would say probably around high school, I really felt robbed.

You know, the reason why we say African American is that most of us do not know specifically where our African ancestry came from. More than likely we came from Western Africa somewhere. Now that you have these genealogy tests, you can find out part of the story about where you come from. But you feel robbed — you feel robbed of your culture.

How can you adopt a country that treats you so horribly, or treats your people so horribly? That’s really difficult, you know. That’s how the treatment has been for many people of color is that, yeah, you were born here, but your ancestry comes from somewhere different from white Europe, white western Europe.

But I’ve realized over time, as much of a struggle as that is, this is where I’m from. I’m not from anywhere else. I’m still American, regardless. I’m still from this land, regardless of how my ancestors got here.

So, it’s kind of up to you and how you can understand who you are and how you function in American society. It’s not easy. It’s not easy. But, you know, there are different ways. People handle it in different ways.

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