AFRICANGLOBE – Last week, after watching another Black man die at the hands of the New York City police, I can’t help but wonder whether there will ever be true equality for African Americans. The number of African Americans that have been victimized, murdered, terrorized, shot, and left for dead seems not just to be a legacy of some bloodstained Jim Crow past, but a part of a present moment that seems just as bleak. While there has been some progress, the narrative of the Black experience in America feels remarkably static, as if it’s just shaken up, flipped, and twisted for a new generation.
It’s making me question whether America is truly the best place for African Americans.
I recently watched a film from the 1970s called Space is the Place. It’s about an African American leader who wants Blacks to leave an oppressive America for a new land in outer space where Blacks will have more agency and equal opportunities to thrive. On the surface, the movie is every form of ridiculousness you can imagine, with a slick-talking pimp, outrageous wardrobes, and a spaceship that looks like a pair of binoculars. But the heart of the film, the idea of mobility and liberation through migration is intriguing—and one that has been missing for nearly a century from our current dialogue about upward mobility and the state of Black America.
Is it time to revisit?
I don’t have to repeat all of the ways in which Black lives are challenged in America. You’ve heard all the statistics. Read about Trayvon Martin , Jordan Russel Davis, and Emmett Till. Watched as the nation grieves for missing white girls, while the stories of 64,000 Black girls remain unheard. Look at Ta-Nehisi Coates’ piece on reparations or glance at some of the most recent reports about Black life and you’ll find higher rates of unemployment, a larger wealth gap, more foreclosed homes and lower education rates. Last year the Washington Post found that “the economic disparities separating Blacks and Whites remain as wide as they were when marchers assembled on the Mall in 1963.”
But none of this is a surprise. Nowadays it seems as if the stagnant state of the Black community has been normalized, accepted as part of a reality instead of a crisis that needs to be attacked as ferociously as one would a plague.
Perhaps, as the crazy film poses, leaving America is a legitimate path to mobility for Black Americans. So why not attempt a new movement, right now, today, that expands our notion of mobility beyond the borders of America, that calls for at least some Blacks to leave America in order to have a more just, and satisfying life? Just to even see if it’s possible?
The idea of migration is not new in the Black community; we’ve understood the connection between movement and upward mobility for centuries, whether it was escaping up North to freedom, to Liberia in the 1920s, during the Great Migration when six million Blacks moved to the North in search of better opportunity, or back down South and into the suburbs after the turn of the 21st century. Yet advocating a better life beyond the borders of the United States still seem absurd to many Blacks and Whites alike rather than a realistic solution to the many ills of the Black community.
In 2008, Pat Buchanan said that America has been “the best country on earth for Black folks,” but I find it hard to believe that Blacks living in some parts of Africa, the Caribbean, Europe or other parts of the world aren’t as content and fulfilled as my friends in New York or Washington that are struggling to make ends meet.(Trinidad and Tobago, for example, recently just reported its lowest unemployment rate ever recorded: 3.7%.)
There will never be a perfect place for Blacks to live. There’s racism and strife virtually everywhere, but amid rising inequality, a diminishing political voice for the poor, increasing student debt, and stifled economic opportunities for Blacks, can Blacks ever truly “win” in America? I’m encouraged by some of the political organizing and movement building that is occurring today, such as strikes among low-wage workers. But I still wonder if Black people need to take things further in order to progress.
Let me be clear. I love America. I always have. I eat apple pie, revel in freedom of the press, and believe in the “American Dream,” probably way more than I should. I watched the recent the World Cup and was legitimately heartbroken when America lost to Belgium. I feel a connection to America, more than any other place in the world, and while half of my family migrated here from the Caribbean, I totally feel Chris Rock, who says, “If you’re Black, you got to look at America a little bit different. You’ve got to look at America like the uncle that paid for you to go to college… but molested you.”
Part of me feels like a wuss for saying this. The abolitionist Frederick Douglas was staunchly opposed to the idea of Blacks leaving America. He believed that Blacks should stay and fight for equality. I can understand why. America is our home and we have just as much a stake in it as any other group.
But while there has been individual achievement, as a community African Americans have never exactly thrived. I think it’s part of the reason why Blacks have continued to flirt with the idea of expatriation over the years. There was Marcus Garvey’s “Back to Africa” movement, a plethora of Black artists that departed for Paris in the 1940s, and scholars like W.E.B. Dubois who took up residence in Ghana in the 60s. These movements, some of them with separatist roots, never really caught on with the larger Black community.
As a whole, Black Americans, despite centuries of frustration and despair, have been and continue to be so tied to the idea of America that it seems sacrilegious to even talk about expatriation. I think that’s a mistake. How long must Blacks wait for the promise of America to be fulfilled? When do we say enough is enough? When do we reach our breaking point? Is it in another 50 years? 100? Ever? Never?
I’m not saying all Black people should move back to Africa or some specific “Garden of Eden.” I’m not saying they should separate from Whites and other Americans either. One solution for all of the “Black” community isn’t even possible anymore as our needs and wants are so disparate (Blacks from other places like the West Indies and Africa seem far more open to this idea of expatriation,). But having a movement that pushes Blacks to look at various paths to upward mobility, and exposes them to places that have a high quality of life and thriving middle class, like Canada, Switzerland, South Africa or Germany could be an important key to Black American “freedom” in this “what’s next” moment.
It Is Happening
It’s hard to tell how many African Americans are living abroad, because the government does not keep official statistics. The BBC has reported that the number of overall Americans living abroad to be about six million. The number of Blacks within that group most likely would be significantly smaller. Anecdotally, though, it seems more Blacks are exploring life abroad, including some prominent ones: rapper Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def ) lives in South Africa now, poet Saul Williams moved to France, singer Tina Turner just traded in her US passport for a Swiss one, and there’s a thriving Black expat blogosphere.[/sociallocker]