Home Headlines Black Americans head overseas, as they claim to be fed up with racism in the US

Black Americans head overseas, as they claim to be fed up with racism in the US

by Yucatan Times
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Anthony Baggette knew the precise moment he had to get out: He was driving by a convenience store in Cincinnati when a police officer pulled him over. There had been a robbery. He fit the description given by the store’s clerk: a Black man.

Okunini Ọbádélé Kambon knew: He was arrested in Chicago and accused by police of concealing a loaded gun under a seat in his car. He did have a gun. But it was not loaded. He used it in his role teaching at an outdoor skills camp for inner-city kids. Kambon also had a license. The gun was kept safely in the car’s trunk.

Tiffanie Drayton knew: Her family kept getting priced out of gentrifying neighborhoods in New Jersey. She felt they were destined to be forever displaced in the USA. Then Trayvon Martin was shot and killed after buying a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea.

Baggette lives in Germany, Drayton in Trinidad and Tobago, and Kambon in Ghana.

All three are part of a small cultural cohort: Black emigres who, feeling cornered and powerless in the face of persistent racism, police brutality, and economic struggles in the USA, have chosen to settle and pursue their American-born dreams abroad.

In Ghana, where Kambon is involved in a program that encourages descendants of the African diaspora to return to a nation where centuries earlier their ancestors were forced onto slave ships, he says he is one of “several thousand.” Kambon rejects descriptors such as “Black American” or “African American” that identify him with the USA.

In Trinidad and Tobago, where Drayton now works in her home office with a view of the ocean and hummingbirds frolicking above the pool, there are at least four: Drayton, her mother, sister, and her sister’s boyfriend. There are likely more.

About 120,000 Americans live in Germany, which is home to an estimated 1 million people of African descent. But because for historical reasons Germany’s census does not use race as a category, it is impossible to calculate how many hail from the USA.

“There’s a lot of institutional racism in Germany,” said Baggette, 68, who has lived in Berlin for more than 30 years. Years later, Baggette feels conflicted about his move.

He described the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989, as a time when Neo-Nazis and skinheads would “throw Black people off of the S-Bahn,” the city’s subway system.

“But I still felt, and feel, better off here – safer,” he said.

‘I don’t have to think of myself as a Black woman

In interviews with more than a dozen expatriate Black Americans spread out across the globe from the Caribbean to West Africa it became clear that, for some, the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has provided fresh evidence that living outside the USA can be an exercise in self-preservation.

A 2019 study by the National Academy of Sciences found Black men were around 2.5 times more likely than white men to be killed by police. A 2020 analysis of 100 million traffic stops conducted across the country determined that Black people were far more likely to be pulled over by police than whites, but that difference narrows significantly at night when it is harder to see dark skin. Black Americans face a far higher risk of being arrested for petty crimes. According to Pew Research, they account for a third of the prison population but just 13% of the overall population     Pew Research, a non-partisan “fact tank.”

12 charts, 1 big problem: How racial disparities persist across wealth, health, education,n and beyond

Drayton, 28, is writing a book about fleeing from racism in America. She said one of the starkest illustrations of how her life has changed since moving to Trinidad and Tobago in 2013 is how she feels comfortable driving her kids around the block to get them to sleep each night without being worried about what happens if she is pulled over by police.

“In America, your hands are shaking. You’re worried about what to say. You’re worried about whether you have the right ID. You’re just so worried all the time,” she said of the interactions her friends experience regularly with American police officers.

For other Black Americans who have chosen what amounts to a form of foreign exile, Floyd’s death and the ensuing social justice protests that erupted in its wake, have confirmed prior realizations: leaving may not mean a life completely free from racism and police brutality, but it at least feels somewhat more within reach.

Sienna Brown, fourth from left, and other Black American expatriates during an outing near Valencia, Spain, in 2018.

“It wasn’t until I left the USA to experience Spain that I got a sense of what freedom looks like. I was able to be 100% myself without having to worry about safety and without needing to have too much of a complex identity,” said Brooklyn, New York, native Sienna Brown, 28, who lives near Valencia on the Mediterranean Sea. Brown has founded a company that helps Black American women emigrate to Spain.

She said Spain isn’t racism-free and isn’t that diverse, but she has experienced it as a welcoming place where people are willing to be educated about their prejudices.

Lakeshia Ford moved to Ghana full-time after visiting in 2008 as part of a study-abroad year in college.

“Here I don’t have to think of myself as a Black woman and everything that comes with that,” said Ford, 32, who grew up in New Jersey and now runs her own communications firm in Accra, Ghana’s capital. “Here I am just a woman.”

Lakeshia Ford, in Accra, Ghana.

She said that while racism in the USA contributed to her moving to Ghana, it was not a direct reaction to it. She was equally intrigued by Ghanaian culture and what she saw as a growing economic success story rarely portrayed in the West, where Africa for many is still synonymous with disease, poverty, and conflict.

“When I got here I remember thinking: There are wealthy Black people here. No one tells you that. I way pissed off about it. I was also really intrigued,” she said.

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