Tamir Rice reportedly celebrated his 18th birthday this week. The USA TODAY Network talked to 31 black teenagers about growing up in Tamir’s America.
Anthony Baggette knew the exact moment he had to leave: he was driving through a convenience store in Cincinnati when a police officer stopped him. There’s been a robbery. It fits the description given by the store clerk: a black man.
Okunini Bádélé Kambon knew: He was arrested in Chicago and charged by police with hiding a loaded gun under a seat in his car. He had a gun. But it wasn’t loaded. He used it in his role teaching in an outdoor skills camp for inner-city children. Kambon also had a license. The gun was kept safe in the trunk of the car.
Tiffanie Drayton knew: her family continued to be priced out of gentle neighborhoods in New Jersey. She felt that they were destined to be forever displaced in the US. So Trayvon Martin he was shot and killed after buying a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea.
Tamir Rice would be 18. Black teens making their mark in America from Tamir Rice
Baggette lives in Germany, Drayton in Trinidad and Tobago, Kambon in Ghana.
All three are part of a small cultural cohort: black emigres who, feeling trapped and powerless before persistent racism, police brutality and economic struggles in the U.S., they chose to solve and pursue their U.S.-born dreams abroad.
No official statistics cover these international transplants.
In Ghana, where Kambon is involved in a program that encourages descendants of the African diaspora to return to a nation where centuries before their ancestors were forced into slave ships, he says it is one of “several thousand.” Kambon rejects descriptors such as “Black American” or “African-American” who identify him with the U.S.
Tiffanie Drayton working at Pigeon Point Beach, Trinidad and Tobago, in January 2020. (Photo: Drayton)
In Trinidad and Tobago, where Drayton now works in his office overlooking the ocean and hummingbirds playing above the pool, there are at least four: Drayton, his mother, sister, and his sister’s boyfriend. There’s probably more.
About 120,000 Americans live in Germany, home to about 1 million people of African descent. But because, for historical reasons, the German census does not use race as a category, it is not possible to calculate how many come from the USA.
“There is 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 with her move.
He described the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 as a time when neo-Nazis and skinheads would “throw blackpeople off the S-Bahn,” the city’s subway system.
“But I still felt, and I felt better here – safer,” he said.
“I don’t have to think of myself as a black woman”
In interviews with more than a dozen black Expatriate Americans around the world from the Caribbean to West Africa, it became clear that for some, George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis provided new evidence that living outside the U.S. can be an exercise in self-preservation.
A 2019 study conducted National Academy of Sciences found black men were about 2.5 times more likely than white men to be killed by police. A Analysis 2020 of 100 million traffic stops across the country determined that blacks were much more likely to be stopped by police than whites, but this difference decreases significantly at night when it is harder to see dark skin. Black Americans face a far increased risk of being arrested for petty crimes. They represent one third of the prison population, but only 13% of the general population, according to Pew Search, a non-partisan “tank of facts”.
12 graphics, 1 big problem: As racial disparities persist between wealth, health, education and beyond
Drayton, 28, is writing a book about escaping racism in America. She said one of the sharpest illustrations of how her life has changed since moving to Trinidad and Tobago in 2013 is how comfortable she feels driving her children around the block to make them sleep every night without worrying about what happens if she is stopped by police.
“In America, your hands are shaking. You’re worried about what to say. You’re worried if you have the right id. You’re so worried all the time,” she said of the interactions her friends regularly experience with American police officers.
For other black Americans who have chosen what amounts to a form of foreign exile, Floyd’s death and the social justice protests that broke out in his wake have confirmed previous achievements: leaving may not mean a life completely free of racism and police brutality, but at least it seems a little more within reach.
Sienna Brown, fourth from left, and other black American expatriates during a outing near Valencia, Spain, in 2018. (Photo: Tanya Weekes)
“It was only when I left the U.S. to experience Spain that I really had a notion of what freedom is like. I was able to be 100% myself without having to worry about security and without having to have a very complex identity,” said Brooklyn, New York, native Sienna Brown, 28, who lives near Valencia in the Mediterranean Sea. Brown founded a company that helps American black women emigrate to Spain.
She said Spain is not free of racism and is not so 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 year of studying abroad in college.
“Here I don’t have to think of myself as a black woman and everything that comes with it,” said Ford, 32, who grew up in New Jersey and now runs his own communications company in Accra, capital of Ghana. “Here I am just a woman.”
Lakeshia Ford in Accra, Ghana. (Photo: Nii Okai Djarbeng)
She said that while racism in the U.S. contributed to her move 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 rich black people here. No one tells you that. I was very upset about it. I was also very intrigued,” she said.
“Come home, build a life in Ghana. You don’t have to stay… Africa is waiting for you.”
Barbara Oteng Gyasi, Ghana’s Minister of Tourism
Ford said that since Floyd’s death in May she has received several emails a day from black Americans asking how they, too, can make a new life outside the U.S.
“Go home, build a life in Ghana. You don’t have to stay where you’re not wanted forever, you have a choice and Africa is waiting for you,” said Barbara Oteng Gyasi, Ghana’s tourism minister, during a ceremony this month. marking Floyd’s death.
“In Russia I first felt like a complete human being”
Of course, black Americans, as expatriates of all races and ethnicities, leave the U.S. temporarily or permanently for different reasons: in search of a better quality of life, for job opportunities, to marry or retire abroad, for tax reasons, for adventure.
Earlier this year Essence, a fashion, entertainment and black lifestyle magazine, published a list of Black travel influencers who “walk to distant and sensual places” from “the pyramids of Giza” to “the souks of Dubai” while “we sit at our tables watching”.
But Kimberly Springer, a New York-based writer and researcher who spent nearly a decade in the United Kingdom, where she taught American studies at King’s College London, said that while “black people have always traveled,” and “we’ve been to places of good or ill will,” this trip is often connected in some way to an experience that isn’t contaminated by the countless ways black Americans find discrimination in the U.S.
“In America, I feel hypervised in ways I didn’t do when I lived in the UK,” said Springer, 50, noting that while racial inequalities in the UK, as in the US, are profound and widespread, they are linked to a history and tradition – in the case of the UK, her former empire – that she does not share. As a foreigner, despite being a black American foreigner, Springer said she felt she had a certain amount of isolamentthat of British racism, although studies show the British justice system it also disproportionately penalizes blacks.
Fact-checking: Ghana is not offering money, land to attract black Americans
“Our racism is not as lethal as yours,” said Gary Younge, professor of sociology at the University of Manchester in England. Younge, 51, who is Black, spent more than a decade as a correspondent for The Guardian newspaper in the US.
“In Britain I usually don’t walk around thinking I could be killed while in America in some places it’s not always the case,” he said.
Younge attributed this disparity to the availability of weapons in the U.S.
In response to a question about whether blacks should engage in tackling racism at home rather than leaving, he said:
“Why shouldn’t they live? If a white person leaves America and goes somewhere to work or better opportunities, no one would tell them they need to stay and fight for racial equality,” he said. “Black people have a double burden of being discriminated against and having to stick around.”
Black Americans have been trying to escape American racism from segregation to the specter of heinous organized violence, such as lynchings, for generations.
Of those we know – many do not know – there are examples among America’s elite black intellectuals, artists and prominent civil rights activists.
American novelist James Baldwin sits in front of his typewriter in the study…