The harsh reality of the Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown shootings along with the Brown and Eric Garner grand jury findings have given Abriel Bolton cause to proclaim her family’s search for a new home via Facebook. Bolton and her husband who currently reside in Florida plan to leave the U.S. before their toddler reaches kindergarten.
“Before my husband and I had a child, we always spoke about the state of Black America and our fears, especially if we had a son,” says Bolton.
Across the Atlantic, fashion designer Asanyah Davidson sits with locals in a Marrakech cafe, on vacation from her newly adopted home in Lagos, Nigeria. While increasingly overt racial tension is one reason Davidson left the U.S., she cites her desire to travel again and a better quality of life as another catalyst.
“I missed travel,” says Davidson. “That’s something that’s hard to do with a regular American 9 to 5. Vacations are like, this thing you take when you’re dead.”
She notes that despite her education and vast experience, it was difficult to be well compensated in South Florida. Moving back to New York would mean working just to live.
Bolton and Davidson are not anomalies. The black unemployment rate, police brutality statistics, and a less stressful existence are some reasons blacks are seeking greener pastures elsewhere.
Spurred by black nationalist Marcus Garvey, there was a 2oth Century movement for blacks to leave the U.S. in order to have self-determination and re-connect with people dispersed throughout the world due to colonial practices. While it is difficult to determine the number of black Americans that make up theapproximately 7.6 million American ex-pats living abroad, the conversation is increasingly taking place.
Gregory Howard, a writer for Deadspin, takes the conversation head on.
“When you look at the things that people take for granted and are owed them through the Constitution, and these same rights aren’t extended to blacks, then the only conclusion is that America isn’t for Black people.”
However, Howard believes that racism is a global phenomenon to some extent, so running away may not be the answer. Like some others, Howard thinks that spurring change on American soil may hold more promise.
Journalist Reniqua Allen understands his viewpoint. In a piece for Quartz, she questions whether America is the best place for African Americans.
“You hear the idea that America is not the place for black people,” says Allen. “I’m not 100% convinced either way, but it’s interesting to think about what our options are.”
Playing by unwritten rules is often used by blacks to navigate societal bias. New York Times bestselling author and attorney Lawrence Otis Graham wrote a compelling piece for the Princeton Alumni Weekly detailing how the myth of a privilege shield was shattered when his son was confronted with racism.
“When Trayvon Martin was shot, that was the first time that it became apparent to my children that even if they’re innocently walking through their neighborhood, a security or police officer, or even a resident, could cause them harm, even in they were completely in the right,” says Graham. Despite this factor, Graham says he’s never considered moving his family abroad.
“I look at this as a domestic issue that can actually be changed and be improved, in the same way that Rosa Parks and others in Alabama were told to leave the South instead of trying to change its discriminatory policies.”
The operative question, then, becomes whether it’s fair to leave blacks without means to move as foot soldiers in the struggle, or to ‘quit America’?
History and Africana Studies professor Dontraneil Clayborne dismisses the notion that white Americans should be the only world citizens, and that blacks should be more global in their thinking.
“I don’t think it helps the cause to leave,” says Clayborne, “But for better or for worse, black people have been raised as individuals. We’re not a monolith – it boils down to a person’s purpose and intent.”
Black views rest on both sides of the issue. For some, the U.S. will always claim them as conflicted native sons, as in Randall Robinson’s Quitting America. For Abriel Bolton, the answer lies abroad.
“I don’t see it so much as running from something as running to something — a better opportunity for my son.”
This post was written by Dr. Chetachi A. Egwu, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Nova Southeastern University. Her scholarship focuses on Black Internet Usage and the African image in film, with an emphasis in documentary. The Howard University alumna is the owner of Conscious Thought Media. Follow her on Twitter @Tachiada.