For generations, black Americans have moved abroad, citing a wide range of reasons ranging from seeking adventure or love to seeking a better quality of life. For many others, however, it was the desire to free themselves from the weight of racism in the United States that ultimately motivated their departure.
Within the black community, the past few years have sparked increased interest in overseas travel, especially following major events that further shed light on persistent racial inequalities in the United States. For example, #Blaxit, a parody of the term Brexit, created a joke space for black Americans. and, in many cases, seriously discussing the possibility of building a new life abroad as a means of escaping racism and police violence. The term was in vogue immediately after the 2016 election and often peaks when new high-profile cases of police brutality emerge into the limelight. This year alone, the peak use of the term came during the summer months in the midst of Black Lives Matter events.
What is often overlooked in this expat narrative, however, is that the United States isn’t the only country where anti-black racism is problematic.
“Don’t expect traveling abroad or moving abroad to be your one-sided solution to avoiding racism,” says Nathalie Calderon, who has worked as a college English teacher in and around. Seoul, South Korea for five years. “[Discrimination] is rooted in many cultures, whether it’s based on racism or colorism, so it’s something you’re going to deal with.
In Korea and other Asian countries she visited, Calderon could often smell people watching her in public and strangers touching her hair without permission “at least once a month.” She also found that some of the more common micro-attacks she faced overseas were rooted in the same stereotypes that plague the experience of black Americans, such as linking black people to crime or a aggressive behaviour. In a country where marijuana is highly illegal, Koreans have approached Calderon randomly on several occasions to ask if she knows where to buy the drug. It’s a question that his local colleagues said would never be asked of another Korean in such a brazen way.
“It fits the stereotype of blackness as one. I think this is a big problem in homogeneous societies. They don’t understand and don’t see the rainbow of darkness, ”Calderon explains, adding that the world’s appetite for consuming American media contributes to this problem in Korea and beyond.
This is all in addition to centuries-old images like the hypersexualization of blacks, which still play a role in how they are treated in the United States and abroad. Thea Duncan learned this with her own eyes when she moved to Italy almost 18 years ago and quickly learned that people sometimes mistook black women for prostitutes. Meanwhile, Courtney Spence, who has lived in Spain for a decade, says he often feels fetishized in the dating world and has been asked more than once if “it’s true what they say about blacks “as a failed attempt at flirtation or gossip.
“In general, people love that they can categorize you based on their own stereotypes and prejudices, and they won’t hesitate to point out that your behavior, personality, or ways don’t match their ideas of you,” says Spence. Although his experience in Spain has been very positive, Spence has always faced a myriad of racism, ranging from micro-attacks to more overtly discriminatory behaviors, like women hugging their purses around him or people pushing back. question its legal status.
Despite the demonstrations of racism abroad sharing some characteristics with the American variety, for many expats the differences significantly exceed them, which is a strong justification for staying abroad.