Cocoa Production in West Africa
“To get the cocoa plants, I had to promise a man in Osu that I would marry his daughter. I will have to use all of the leftover goods from my cocoa trade to pay her bride price. I cannot marry Abena this season. She will have to wait” (152).
Abena’s chapter in Homegoing introduces the role of the cocoa industry in Ghana. Following the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807, British traders looked for new commodities to trade in order to expand industrialization. By the late 19th century, the British gained control over Ghana, along with its natural resources. Although cocoa quickly became a “cash crop,” Ghana’s economic growth was a product of colonial power. Local farmers lost control of the cocoa trade, relying on external markets with varying prices and imported tools (Ludlow 7-9). The cocoa industry allowed the Western world to prosper, while Ghanaian producers and workers struggled to provide for their families.
Ghana remains the world’s second largest cocoa exporter. Currently, cocoa farmers earn less than $2 per day, often depending on child labor to maintain low prices (Hinshaw). As depicted in Homegoing, British colonialism created economic markets that exploit poor people of color. In Ghana, demand for cocoa has only increased since colonialism, which has led to widespread trafficking and child labor. The abuse of Western power for economic gain is deeply rooted in colonialism; Western nations continue to grow richer while extracting resources and labor from Africa.
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Police Abuse of Power
In Kojo’s chapter, Kojo encounters a police officer when he is looking for his wife, Anna. After Anna didn’t come home from work one evening, Kojo decides to look for her, using his only photo of her as a reference. He asks a White woman, scaring her and causing a nearby policeman to interfere. Rather than helping Kojo, the policeman rips apart Kojo’s only photo of Anna and makes several derogatory remarks toward Kojo, threatening to send him back to the south.
“The policeman turned and walked away, and the quaking that had been held somewhere inside Jo’s bones started to escape until he was sitting on the hard ground, trying to hold himself together” (128).
Racism within the police force has continued to be a problem in the United States. White people comprise roughly 62% of the American population, but only make up 49% of the population of people killed by police officers. African Americans, however, make up 24% of the people killed by the police, but account for only 13% of the American population. This means that Black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as White Americans to be killed by police officers. Additionally, unarmed Black Americans are 5 times as likely as unarmed White Americans to be killed (Lowery).
Gyasi’s Homegoing sheds light on police abuse of power in the U.S. Kojo’s chapter portrays the fear and desperation ingrained in Black Americans when interacting with police officers. Violent tactics of control are disproportionately used with Black people, the same tactics that led to the death of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, and many more.
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The Prison Industrial Complex
Following the end of the Civil War in 1865, the federal government had plans to restore infrastructure and housing in the south. Although slavery had been abolished, new laws punished Blacks for typical daily activities, a tactic used by the U.S government to prevent African Americans from obtaining true freedom. In Gyasi’s Homegoing, a very real, racialized prison system is demonstrated through H, a free man who was forced to serve ten years in prison for allegedly looking at a White woman. H thought he was free when he left his former master’s plantation in Georgia, but soon realized he was trapped in alternate form of enslavement: imprisonment.
“Now he saw that there was an entire city underground. Larger, more sprawling, than any county that H had ever lived or worked in, and this city was occupied almost entirely by black men and boys” (161).
Gyasi draws parallels between the grueling slave-labor system of post-Civil War America and the current mass incarceration system. According to the NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet, African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of White Americans. For drug related crimes, African Americans are 6 times more likely than White Americans to be incarcerated, despite using drugs at similar rates.
In the 2016 Netflix documentary 13th, director Ava DuVernay thoroughly investigates the modern-day prison industrial complex. She argues that enslavement has been perpetuated through the criminalization of people of color. Prisoners are required to work gruesome hours under the government’s convict leasing, and African Americans particularly are subjected to poor treatment. If they are released from prison, former convicts, especially African Americans, find it nearly impossible to get a job that provides them with sufficient income. Consequently, 76% of inmates end up back in prison within five years, becoming trapped in a cycle of incarceration.
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Kyna Smith ’18