Is it time to bail on America?
Nina Simone told us, “get up from the table when love is no longer being served.” The strange fruit vocalist tried to warn us to know when it’s time to leave. Some Blacks had intuitively known when some places were just too unsafe; it was time to flee. That’s what the Great Migration was all about. When the lynching of Black bodies became a sport in the south, and there were few opportunities for advancement, it was time to move north. The Great Migration was the travel of 6 million African Americans out of the rural Southern United States to the urban Northeast, Midwest, and West that happened between 1916 and 1970. (In 1965, Nina Simone paid tribute to Billie Holidays 1939 recording of Strange Fruit.)
Nina’s anthem, Mississippi Goddamn, in 1968 shook the radio waves. Stations banned her music. (The song was inspired by the death of Medgar Evers in Mississippi and the 1963 bombing of the Sixteen Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, where four Black girls were killed who’d just finished a Bible-study session.) Nina paid the price for her activism. She got up from the table and left America in a self-imposed exile.
More than fifty years after Dr. King shouted, “We Shall Overcome,” Black people still fight and march against institutional racism, brutality, and terrorism. Doc Rivers, coach of the L.A. Clippers, lamented in response to the vicious shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, “It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back.”
In 2020, some Blacks see only one option to the lack of love, institutional racism, terrorism, brutality, economic struggles—leave. They’ve chosen a new home abroad because they’d had enough of the bitter morsels of hatred served at the table.
Black expatriates are nothing new. Black artists and intellects of the 20th century found safety, opportunity, respect, and creative freedom outside of America. James Baldwin, Josephine Baker, Richard Wright, Paul Robeson fled to Paris. Before them, Henry O. Tanner, a Black expatriate who left America in 1894 after racism thwarted his art career in America. Fed up, they flocked to the Black arts district, Montmartre in Paris. (Tanner couldn’t get a fair shake in America, yet stores throughout the U.S. sell his public domain art.)
In his book, Paris Noir, African Americans in the City of Light, Tyler Stovall points out that Black American expatriates were able to identify with and interact with the many Africans and West Indians in Paris in a way they never could in the U.S.
The Colonization Society raised the question, should Blacks stay in America in 1816. The Society considered sending Blacks back to Africa and set up a colony 50 years before slavery was abolished. For more than 30 years, the Colonization Society shipped Blacks back to Africa, which later became Liberia’s nation in 1847. Over 12,000 Blacks left America and emigrated to Liberia.
Paul Cuffee, a successful shipowner and free Black man, founded the Friendly Society of Sierra Leone, a cooperative Black group to establish the Black Settlers of Sierra Leone, and the Natives of Africa to cultivate the soil and create a
Folks have told Blacks to go back to Africa since our arrival in America. Even though we built this country, and every aspect of the society reflects our gifts and genius. The familiar mantra is alive and flourishing. This past August, a white woman called the police on 3 Black women jogging in El Segundo Beach, near Dockweiler Beach, south of LAX, and called them the N-word. In a racial tirade told them to “go back to Africa.”
Last year, the Ghana Tourism Authority encouraged Blacks to go back to Africa for the Year of Return. The GTA sought to make Ghana a key travel destination for African Americans and the African Diaspora. The Washington Post reported that more than 3,000 Black expatriates already live there before the invitation. In 2019, The Year of Return attracted record numbers of tourists 237,000 people visited Ghana from the U.K. and the U.S. compared to the previous year. Blacks have gone back to Africa for peace and quiet, a sense of family, a chance to get rich, the pursuit of Black ideology, leaving “whitey’s” world, returning home, and helping to build a strong Africa.
The perils of racism are like a swinging pendulum. Daily Black people duck and dodge for dear life relying on rhythm not to get hit. But how long can we keep this up? Racism and terrorism against Black people manifest as chronic physical ailments. Medical experts claim that our mental state impacts our physical condition. According to the American Psychological Association, common and pervasive exposure to racism and discrimination creates an additional daily stressor for African-Americans.
There are too many land mines to navigate in America. Each generation ends up fighting the same fight over again. Fighting wears on our bodies and minds. We mourn, we march, we protest, we boycott, we vote, we pray, and the cycle repeats. Doing the same thing expecting a different result has a name—lunacy.
Perhaps it’s time to bail. Take our pensions, savings, creativity, dignity, and brilliance and spread our wings and fly away.
Indeed, people of African descent owe a debt to civil rights legends to stay and fight. Black people have a stake in America because the country was built off our backs, blood, brains, and ingenuity. We owe it to those in the streets, fighting, struggling, and standing up to oppression. The civil rights movement was as much about freedom as it was a sacrifice. Blacks made sacrifices in the belief that something good would come out of it for all of us. Freedom is free-will; the ability to make choices. Black people have every right to choose to leave. Moving abroad is an act of self-preservation. Black expatriates who made the great escape and have survivors guilt for leaving America should throw those left in America a lifeline. Build a network like Harriet Tubman. The Underground Railroad populated a community of escaped enslaved Africans in Canada that flourished.
If you’re not ready to bail on America, travel is the gateway to escape for a while.
The Expats International Ingrams is a series about Black ex-pats on Amazon Prime.
Alice T. Crowe- Opinion columnist
My passion is correcting the missing pages in our history books. Secrets of the Hollow is my latest film series. The first segment, Last Disintegrated School, the untold story of Thurgood Marshall’s fight to desegregate the Brook School in Hillburn, NY, in 1943. This untold story happened eleven years before Brown v. Board of Education. Infobase distributes Last Disintegrated School. Visit my website for information at www.acroweflyz.com. I am currently editing the revised edition of my book, How to Get Black on Track. Follow me on Twitter.