Leaving the US Will Never Be the Antidote to Racism
As I read a Washington Post article by a Black American woman who traded New York for Paris, a single line triggered my wanderlust: “Paris, a city that has historically revered Black arts and culture and respected Black humanity.” Ever since Trump’s election in 2016, publications have been running stories like this about “Blaxit,” the exodus of Black Americans in search of a better, less racist life overseas. Many include inspiring pictures of Black women living their best life — and apparently best hair — their melanin poppin against lush vistas or architectural wonders in the background.
I began to wistfully imagine myself living in the City of Lights. Unencumbered by the constant stress of American racism, I’d finally be able to live life to the fullest. I’d join the ranks of Black icons like Josephine Baker and James Baldwin, hobnobbing with Parisian intelligentsia and the woke jet set. I’d eat a chocolate croissant every single day.
But the thing is, I’ve lived outside the U.S. for about 10 years — in Cameroon, Costa Rica, and now Turkey. I have loved living overseas, but when it comes to race, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. If I had left America to escape the kind of racism I face at home — I didn’t; I moved for love — I’d have been disappointed.
Some forms of racism, like blackface and monkey chanting, are bizarrely universal.
Anti-Blackness isn’t just “an American problem.” There are the stereotypical ideas about Black Americans gleaned from global pop culture, which often reflects the White gaze. Some forms of racism, like blackface and monkey chanting, are bizarrely universal. English isn’t the only language to have its own racial epithets for Black people; in Turkish it’s zenci, a reference to the Zanj region of Africa where the Ottomans sourced slaves. In more ethnically homogenous countries, locals may not have had any experience with Black people, which can lead to uncomfortable situations.
“The way the locals acted, I was probably the only Black person they’d ever seen,” says comedian Keelah Rose Calloway about her time living in central Vietnam. She has since relocated to Ho Chi Minh City where…