Why I Hate the Phrase “Never Forget Where You Came From”

Jessica ChibuezeAnyone who knows me knows that I didn’t have the most enjoyable childhood in the Bay Area of California. No shade to the Bay – Oakland in particular – but, for me, I just don’t have a lot of fond memories.

Circumstances in my own and my parent’s lives made adolescence particularly difficult. And, moving into adulthood wasn’t that easy either. So, whenever some random person who knew me back then pops into my life to remind me to never forget where I came from, it irritates the shit out of me. The fact is: I can’t forget it. Certain memories from my childhood are indelibly cemented in my mind, and not for the right reasons. Therefore, I can’t imagine that this phrase is used to help me. Rather, it seems like a feeble attempt at making space in my present life since my past life is of the least priority for me now.

It’s always the people you barely remember who pull out this phrase. There are reasons for that.

First, there is this idea that as people, Black people in particular, become more successful they will neglect to acknowledge their potentially humble beginnings. This concern has some merit. There are plenty of “new Black” actors and entertainers who have done their best to distance themselves from the communities that reared them. Oftentimes, Black bourgie folk have the audacity to demean and “other” Black folks who have yet to reach similar accolades.

Second, I think there is a certain feeling of being left behind in struggling Black and Brown communities. Because everyone else’s lives look so glamorous on social media, there is this mistaken notion that those who have moved away have automatically achieved the American Dream. Like, just by virtue of leaving their communities, they have made it.

Third, I have found that the┬ápeople who know you the least are often the ones trying to take up the most space. Sometimes people who never liked you, treated you like trash, and acted like you had a communicable disease everyday are the first ones to call you on back home. It’s selfish. It’s a way to say, “Hey, don’t forget me, the perpetual ass hole.”

The combination of these ideas leads people to remind those who have moved on to remember the struggle and to hold onto their childhoods – no matter how violent or painful they may have been. In my case, I associate much of my childhood with feelings of loneliness, confusion, violence, fear, and rejection. Throughout middle and high school, I wanted nothing more than to escape it all and – as I told my mother when I was 11-years-old – “never come back.”

When I left for college, I never had any intention of moving back. Elders constantly reminded me that “home is where the heart is” not realizing that my heart had never been there. The assumption that my childhood home had a place of dominion in my life just because I was born there led folks to continually ask me “when are you coming back?” and “how long you gonna be out there?” Questions to which I have always answered “never” and “forever,” respectively.

Granted, I am sure that most people don’t know how unenjoyable my time was in the Bay. The ones who knew/know me will never say things like this to me because they know I have no plans to go back. They embrace the fact that I never really found a place to fit in there. They support my aspirations to do other things more suitable for the person that I have become. They are less concerned with me remembering them and more concerned with me becoming the person I was created to be.

To be clear, I am never going to forget the people and places who gave me respite during the tumultuousness of adolescence. I will ever forget the teachers, deacons, friends, hairstylists, choir directors, and others who offfered me encouragement when I was in tears or feeling on the outs again. I will never ever forget the communities that ushered me along toward summer programs, college tours, and eventually, grad school. I will never forget those vital and invaluable experiences because they – like the difficult experiences – made me who I am today.

I am never going to forget where I came from because I am never going to forget who I am, who I am becoming, nor who I was. But, the folks trying to remind me of that fact are trying to take up space in a life they have no rights to. They are attempting to take credit where it may not be due.

Photo credit: Jessica Chibueze Instagram

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Jenn M. Jackson

Jenn M. Jackson, PhD is a co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Water Cooler Convos. She is a native of Oakland, CA. Jenn is a radical Black feminist scholar who believes none of us are free until all of us are free.

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