why don't more black americans travel to africa?
[caution: may be offensive to some viewers; moderate to strong racial views included.]
that's an interesting question. i actually have a whole lot of my own theories on this, many of which i've described in the comments on this particular topic posed by greg gross. Or rather, i *thought* i might have left comments there, but apparently, i can't find them. hmph.
anyway, what i normally say is that, well, black americans generally don't have the kind of jobs that can pay for the ridiculous airfare that it normally takes to get to most places in africa, and even if they do, they normally don't have the type of vacation time which would involve being able to make a two-day flight to various parts of africa.
that said, i'm acquainted with a few people online who disprove those particular theories, to a degree. [i've actually met fly-brother, most recently when i was on my way back to south africa from brazil.]
now the reason i'm writing this post is because of an encounter i had with a mutual fan of both myself and fly-brother. he's a fan of fly-brother because he's really into travel, and a fan of mine because he reads a lot of my political commentary on various websites, most notably thought leader.
i ran into this guy in a club last nite. it was strange -- he came up to me and says "did you ever have red hair?" i currently shave my head clean, since i sport the sherman helmsley look when i don't. i say to the guy, "yes, i did, a long time ago." so then this guy goes, "so you write a blog called kwerekwere is barbaros, not xenos?"
me: guilty as charged.
him: has anyone ever called you a nerd? you really split hairs on your etymology in your blog title. that's what's attracted me to your writing.
me: lots of times. [chuckle] thanks.
him: can i ask you a serious question?
him: how many african countries have you visited or lived in?
me: [thinks]... somewhere between 15 and 20. i'd have to sit down and think about it. [actual answer: 17, so i was in the ballpark.]
him: do you think it's because you look more african than most american black people? i can tell from your page that you have an american passport.
me: [not sure where he was going with this. also not sure if i should throw my drink on him or just ask for clarification. ultimately, i decide on the latter.] pardon?
him: i mean, you're dark. i've lived in and traveled in almost as many places as you have, and i have noticed that most of the black americans who are traveling are lighter-skinned, as if they would be called mixed-race in europe.
me: that's deep.
him: there's this one black american guy who i think follows fly-brother's page that is a facebook friend of a personal friend of mine. when i am with my friend, i read the guy's updates and i often think, "he spends so much time in europe, south america, and asia -- why does he never go to africa?"
a chill goes through my spine at this point. he can't be talking about who i think he's talking about.
me: what's this guy's name?
him: [exactly the person who i could not possibly believe he could be referencing]
i dropped my drink. damn this world is small. small in that i actually knew of the person he was discussing, and small in that i wasn't the only one to have this exact same thought. after i bought another drink, he goes on --
him: maybe he mainly is seeking validation from europeans or other lighter-skinned peoples than africans?
i start to grumble. i'm having a serious deja vu moment from the book our kind of people where lawrence graham, upon arriving in washington to do an internship, is told about the colorist bullshit that goes on in washington dc... by someone white.
me: if you read my writings, you know you're going to have to start explaining yourself very quickly before i get upset and curse you out.
him: yes, of course. what i am meaning is that maybe there is a subconscious in black people in america where while they might not particularly like the fact that they have white ancestors in there, given the chance, they will spend a lot of time with white people while abroad.
me: maybe i'll let you slide, just this once. anything else?
him: i mean, i know it's expensive to travel to africa, but iberia is always having a sale to many african countries. and at the very least, some airlines are flying from the usa to dakar, which is closer to most american cities than, say, berlin, athens or rome.
i swear this guy has hacked into my computer. i was pointing this out to fly-brother just last week.
me: oh, man. not iberia. it's a crap airline, and you know it.
him: yes, it is, but it's not too different than flying domestically on most US carriers, so it should not be a problem for them.
me: you might be right on that one. i've never really flown domestically in the US. when i have, it's mainly been on crop dusters. and i flew on southwest once when my brother got married.
him: i know. and you're not missing anything.
at this point, his friend rocks up.
him: look, we have here mundundu from thought leader.
friend: i've always wanted to meet you. i see what you write on thought leader. you're very well travelled. were your parents diplomats?
friend: were you adopted by germans as a small child maybe, and this is why sometimes you say the things about white people that you do?
me: [nearly dropping another drink] no -- and that's a new one. why do you ask that?
friend: well, you are always saying that you are in these out of the way places and there are always germans there.
me: well, there are.
friend: yes. this is why i am asking. maybe you are raised by german people to travel like this.
me: wow, i think i might have to blog about this tomorrow. this is too much.
i felt the booze starting to really hit me, so i left. fortunately i live in the city centre, 800m from said club, so it was no big deal to get home. [even tho i did happen to, um, party on the way home. but that's for another blog. :) ]
i stupidly did not get either of these guys' names. and yet, if the one follows people i know on facebook, they know mine, which i try to keep off of here for the time being. maybe they'll drop me a message.
but this did actually get me back to a post that i had been writing before, but had mothballed because the opinions contained therein were some pretty hot shit. basically, it's far easier to be a light-skinned black american travelling through europe or latin america [ie to look like the americans i referenced in this post] than to look like me. you can identify as black all you want, but the societal treatment is where it's at [vos no lo sos o no pareces]. i've had enough racist bullshit happen to me in europe, north america and south america for it to be a major reason for me to be living in south africa right now. the "being followed around the store because people think i'm nigerian" is so much easier to deal with than the very real shit that i've had to deal with on those other three continents.
many people would look at this one guy i know and basically be, "well, one parent is from somewhere else, but the other one is probably local" and he'd get much better treatment than i would. there is still a sense of "he is one of us, despite being mixed with foreigner" that works out to his advantage. i've mentioned having to go nuclear in the uk, and don't get me started about france. i purposely no longer speak french in france, because every time i do, i'm an african who must be deported [or at the very least, whose papers must be closely examined] as opposed to everybody's black friend when i'm speaking english. the thing is, i don't particularly like to speak english, which is one of the reasons i can get by in ten or so other languages.
but i know that i'm different. maybe not unique-snowflake different [who am i kidding, unique snowflake would indeed be appropriate here], but eish, man. i really hate having to give off "american" in order to avoid drama. when i'm in my most comfortable accent, people think that i'm a west african who lived in the states for a while, and i do nothing to discourage this. when i was living in senegal, a few people thought i was from togo or benin or cameroon -- my french was too good for me to be nigerian or american -- and those people who did know i was american often asked me if i was peace corps because of a) the level of my french and b) the facility with which i was picking up wolof. my boyfriend's family and i had a sham going that i was from bissau because a) i spoke portuguese and b) my wolof was nowhere near good enough to be senegalese or gambian. but never, ever american.
the reason? it can be found, among other places, on pages 40-41 of black gold of the sun: searching for home in england and africa by ekow eshun. the black americans that *do* go to africa, and anglophone africa in particular, have a really bad rap. i've heard basically the same opinion from ghanaians who i've met here in cape town. and many of the black americans that i've met here in cape town are almost, to a person, that bad. i purposely try to avoid them at all costs, to be honest. local south africans who i know that have attended the black american church in johannesburg have given me the same, "you're not like them" stick that i've gotten from white people about black people in the usa.
in eshun's book, he tries to defend black america by telling the tour guide that not all black americans are like that. i can further that a bit in saying that it's a social class assaholic thing rather than a race thing. but if that's all you encounter, it tends to form an opinion and stereotypes.
in that vein, i often tell black americans who are making plans to come to africa to start with west africa first. or, to be honest, any sub-saharan country other than namibia or south africa. the social engineering of the 1950s and 60s makes it harder to perceptualize that one is in africa instead of latin america. it's not that the "real africa" [whatever that means] doesn't exist; one of south africa's tourism mottoes is "a world in one country" -- it's that since mass transit pretty much stops at nightfall, it can be problematic if you take mass transit to various parts of town and get stuck. and hiring a metered cab comes with its own set of difficulties: many cab drivers won't even go to the townships under any circumstance. many cab drivers aren't south african, and collectively speaking, south africans, at all races and socioeconomic levels, don't like foreigners very much -- things that led to the very title of this blog.
wow. this has been a lot. i could write a lot more, and probably will during the week. but it's midnite and a few bars are calling my name, not to mention my phone has been ringing all night from brothers who want to hang.