Fed Up, These Black Americans Say It’s Time To Get Out Of The U.S.
Above: Devon Kitzo-Creed stands in front of a shipping container in the parking lot of her apartment complex in Wilmington, Delaware on October 9, 2020. Image Credit: Meredith Edlow for HuffPost
Devon Kitzo-Creed, a 28-year-old African American, always planned to leave the United States to live abroad. Definitely before she had kids, but probably not until she was 30.
2020 has shifted its timeline.
Now she and her husband, who live in Wilmington, Delaware, plan to move to Ecuador immediately after the election. She will continue her work as a doula and obstetrician. He can work remotely as a video editor and animator.
Why the rush? "The way things have gone this year, the political climate in our country and the way I don't feel valued in this country at all," said Kitzo-Creed.
The day before Kitzo-Creed spoke to HuffPost, a Kentucky grand jury declined to charge police officers with murder after they shot Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman, in her Louisville, Kentucky apartment.
That no one would be brought to justice for the death of an innocent woman sent a familiar message to Kitzo-Creed: This country doesn't care about blacks.
“It's like the black woman really is the most disregarded, disregarded person in America,” she said, repeating a Malcolm X quote that Beyoncé had made even more popular. "So I'm going."
Kitzo-Creed belongs to a group of African Americans who want to leave the US or have already left. HuffPost spoke to several who said they had had enough of the daily eardrums of racism, discrimination at work, police hostility and the fear of doing even the most mundane tasks.
Kitzo-Creed remembered being followed in the grocery store just that summer. Another man told how a police car recently followed him at night and his heart was racing. One woman recalled asking a mechanic in her home to put on a mask because of the pandemic. He said to her: "We don't have to do this after Trump wins the election."
Almost every black professional HuffPost spoke to had a story of a tense encounter with the police. Some said the murders of Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery (shot while jogging) and George Floyd (killed by a police officer who held a knee by his neck for eight minutes) were crystallizing moments.
While there is no exact data on the number of African Americans living or planning to move overseas, anecdotally, discussions about whether to stay in the US are growing - especially among higher educated, relatively wealthy Black Americans. USA Today and Condé Nast Traveler spotted the trend in August. And after last month's presidential debate, Google saw an increase in searches for moving to Canada.
It's not just politics and police violence, however. Everyone was talking about the pandemic. "The shift really came with the pandemic this year," said Sienna Brown, a 28-year-old African American who moved to Spain six years ago and now runs an online community for women interested in moving abroad. She said that at first she mostly heard from women who wanted to travel internationally. Now women want to go.
This year was the last turning point for me. This country has something that feels like a weight to me.
45 year old black professional
Life in the United States has always been far more fatal for blacks, with lower life expectancies and higher death rates. And COVID-19 brought this long-term trend to full relief. Black death rates from the virus are disproportionately high.
But death rates for African Americans were already higher when they went into the pandemic. Incredibly, even if no one in the black community had died from the coronavirus, their death rate would still be higher than that of white Americans in the middle of the pandemic, demographer Elizabeth Wrigley-Field recently stated in Slate. "Racism gave black people pandemic mortality long before COVID," she writes.
In economic terms, African Americans are known to lag far behind white Americans. The pandemic exacerbated the problem. Currently, the unemployment rate for blacks is about twice that of white workers - a ratio that has been around since the US began measuring the data.
Some people mentioned that living abroad would be cheaper so they could retire earlier or afford the kind of housing and lifestyle that is out of reach in the US. And the need for quarantine has led to increased feelings of isolation and a lack of community.
The desire to leave the United States is not just about economic opportunity or even death rates, however. it is about a search for oneself. African Americans talked about leaving the United States to really find themselves free from the weight and stress of living with racism.
“As a black man, I feel safer in other countries, and I tell this to everyone I speak to. In any other country I've been to more than my own, ”said Terry Williams, a 32-year-old teacher who has lived abroad since 2016 and travels through 26 countries. He can give classes online. “Being abroad is the first time I've felt a privilege when it makes sense. I am not considered a black person. "
"Just between the racism and everything that happened as a result of the pandemic, I really don't want to be here anymore," a 45-year-old black professional who lives in Washington told HuffPost. She declined to be identified because her employer doesn't know yet.
"This year was the last turning point for me," she said. "This country has something that feels like a weight to me."
She plans to move to Cape Verde, an island nation off the west coast of Africa, where she wants to build a house and live in part-time employment. She has already set up a friend there.
Her discomfort in the United States began in 2008 with the election of the nation's first black president. It was a moment of celebration for the African American community, but it also sparked virulent racism.
On the neo-Nazi website Stormfront, traffic increased six-fold after Barack Obama's election, as Ta-Nehisi Coates points out in the Atlantic. Coates draws a line from the racist backlash straight to Donald Trump. As is well known, the racist lie of the birthright helped kick off Trump's political career. His tenure was spent unraveling Obama's policies, even if it conflicts with the success of his administration.
After Obama's victory, this Washington, DC woman noticed white acquaintances of hers, people she'd gone to high school with in Michigan who were openly racist on Facebook. They shared memes about the First Family that were offensive: pictures of monkeys and other hideous blurring that they believed to be a relic of the past. "It's troubling to find that people have these beliefs," she said.
Of course, she was aware of racism beforehand. She was the valedictorian of her high school, but was told by a white counselor that her test scores weren't good enough to get into a top school - "like Michelle Obama," she recalled. (A counselor also told the future US first lady that she wasn't "Ivy League material." She applied and was admitted to Princeton anyway.)
That was different. "It's like people have been hiding their true feelings for a long time, so there were reasons for them to let go," she said. "It was very scary."
After a year of traveling to Brazil, India and South Africa, a light bulb went on in 2016. "I didn't miss the US," she said. "I've seen that there are better ways to live in other places." She admitted that there is racism in these places too, but nothing is as bad as in the US.
Being abroad is the first time I've felt a privilege when it makes sense. I am not considered a black person.
Terry Williams, 32
This woman and several others mentioned to HuffPost that when they travel abroad they are considered American as they are not at home. They feel privileged at home because of their skin color.
"It was the first time I felt seen as a person," said Chrishan Wright, a 46-year-old black woman from New Jersey, of a solo trip to New Zealand three years ago. She told how she accelerated while driving in the country and was run over. "You were so lovely."
During the pandemic, Wright was laid off from a well-paying marketing job in the pharmaceutical industry. She talked about her time in the corporate world and felt like a “unicorn” being one of the few black women in the company she worked for.
“In the corporate world, it can be very isolating. You don't see faces that reflect yours, ”she said. “If you do something minor, it becomes major. While your [white] counterpart is doing the same things and not even talking about them. You see the double standards. "
In June, Wright launched a Facebook page called Blaxit Global, dedicated to African Americans considering leaving the country. She wants to be gone in about three years when her daughter finishes high school.
Blaxit is a term some now use to talk about leaving the US. It's also the name of a podcast that Wright started interviewing people who have left or are leaving the country. (It should not be confused with "blexit," a term conservative commentator Candace Owens uses to persuade African Americans to leave the Democratic Party.)
"Blaxit doesn't necessarily mean you have to leave the US and go to the African continent," Wright said. "It is meant to show that members of the African diaspora, our spurs, are spread all over the world and that we have the opportunity to create an existence that is not apologetic and undisturbed."
It really is nothing new about African Americans wanting to leave the United States to escape the boundaries of racism and live more freely. A long list of brilliant African American artists and writers has gone abroad to pursue their work freely: Josephine Baker, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Nina Simone, and Paul Robeson.
“I only left this country for one reason. A reason. I didn't care where I went. I could have gone to Hong Kong, I could have gone to Timbuktu, I ended up in Paris, on the streets of Paris, with $ 40 in my pocket on the theory that nothing worse could happen to me there than I had here, ”said Baldwin on The Dick Cavett Show in 1969. (Watch the following clip around 10:15 a.m.)
More than 200 years ago, Haiti, the world's first free black republic, opened its doors to enslaved Africans in the United States. President Abraham Lincoln supported efforts to create new "colonies" for formerly enslaved people.
But even then, these efforts met with resistance. Prominent African Americans like Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass believed the United States was their country too, as Georges E. Fouron, professor of education and social sciences at New York State University at Stony Brook, reported in an article recently published by that Institute for Migration Policy.
"The United States was their country, they said, and they had no intention of leaving," writes Fouron. "Instead, they called for the immediate abolition of slavery and full and equal rights for all in the United States."
The struggle for equality and the realization of true freedom continues.
“Blacks, African Americans, will always be looking for a different kind of freedom. A greater kind of freedom, "said Morgan Jerkins, senior editor at Zora, a medium publication for women in color, and author of" Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of Great Migration Recovers Her Roots. "
African Americans are communal. Jerkins points to black churches, "full at regular times". She notices the block parties in her Harlem neighborhood.
The pandemic has destabilized all of that. "If you don't have this community, it'll do something to you."
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I take pride in being an African American and I fight for other African Americans. You are the reason I stay
Morgan Jerkins, Senior Editor at Zora
Jerkins said she got the impetus to go, but was one of the countless African Americans who go nowhere. “I stay for so many reasons. So much of my work is based on African American culture, ”she said. You could do this work anywhere, but it would not have the same urgency.
Also, Jerkins points out that not all African Americans can just leave. That it is a privilege that only a few can claim.
"I'm proud to be an African American and I fight for other African Americans," she said. "You are the reason I stay."
Delaware-based Kitzo-Creed said she respects that some will stay and fight, but adds that there is also strength to leave yourself and take care of yourself.
“My grandparents were civil rights activists; Just because they fought for my freedom doesn't mean I have to stay here, "she said, adding that she is grateful that she has this choice because of her activism.
Kitzo-Creed said her grandfather, a Baptist minister, was actually preaching with Martin Luther King Jr. when the icon came to Los Angeles. And her grandparents moved from Cleveland to the Watts neighborhood of LA, where they were during the 1965 riots in that neighborhood. “I remember my stories of my grandmother driving past burning buildings. You lived through it all. "
She said her grandparents, who died five days apart three years ago, always knew she wanted to travel. "I think they would tell me to do it," she said.
Kitzo-Creed and her husband Aaron stand in the middle of Brandywine Creek in First State National Historic Park in Wilmington, Delaware on October 9, 2020. The park is one of the few places they are happy to visit due to political tensions and rates of COVID-19 surge in the United States. (Photo: Meredith Edlow for HuffPost)
Devon Kitzo-Creed's husband, 29, Aaron, told HuffPost he was fully on board to leave.
"I want my family, my wife, to be happy, prosperous and free to advocate education, prosperity and opportunity for all of the children we have," he said. "I want the American dream and I have to go to get it."
He added that prior to meeting his wife he was fully aware of racism and knew that blacks faced microaggression. But he didn't really understand the daily psychological implications. "It wasn't real," he said.
The first time the lightbulb went on was three years ago in a summer in his hometown in Maine. He was looking forward to taking Kitzo-Creed, then his girlfriend, to a local ice cream stand. He went there as a child and even worked there briefly. “It was a children's paradise,” he said.
He knew the woman behind the counter the day they showed up, and he was disgusted with the way she treated his current wife when she went to pay for her ice cream cones - vanilla ice cream with rainbow sprinkles. Kitzo-Creed pulled out her debit card, which wasn't signed. This is not unusual. (Right now there are two well-used unsigned debit and credit cards in this white reporter's wallet.)
The woman behind the counter insisted that Kitzo-Creed show ID. Her partner fought her, pointing out that the woman wasn't checking someone else's ID to buy ice cream. Kitzo-Creed said that without him she would probably have left empty-handed as she hadn't brought her ID that day.
When she finally got her cone, there was a hole in the ground. The woman struggled again as she spoke.
Aaron Kitzo-Creed had floor. He remembered that customer service was an absolute priority at this place. It was just so clear that something else was happening.
"I don't think I can survive the crap that black Americans go through every day and succeed," he says now, looking back.
In a survey of 1,500 experts from the women's organization Catalyst, more than 58% of black women and men said they were often or always on guard against racism. This emotional tax makes people worse and leads many skilled workers to leave the workplace. It is therefore not surprising that some would take the more extreme leap.
"That experience of constantly preparing for the potential of dealing with discrimination, bias and unfair treatment from leaving the house until you return," said Catalyst researcher Dnika Travis HuffPost in an interview this summer.
She has been working on such studies since 2016 and for the next few years. "At the time we thought the apartment was safe, but with Breonna Taylor ..." She drifted away.
Many black women were encouraged this week to see Senator Kamala Harris, D-Calif. Stand against Vice President Mike Pence in the Vice Presidential Debate.
"It was a historic moment," writes HuffPost's Erin Evans. "To see a woman of color tell the truth to power at another crucial moment in our nation's history."
However, the prospect of electing Harris as the country's first vice president for Black and Asia wasn't enough to convince Kitzo-Creed to stay with him.
“I think it would be great. Definitely a big milestone, ”she said. Still, she believes that the sight of a black woman in such a position of power would spark racists again. "It adds fuel to the fire."
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.
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