Black Beyond Borders...I'll Sip to That
No, I am not a rapper, nor a basketball player, and Barack Obama is not my Uncle! I cannot dougie, “yeet”, or breakdance. No, I am not a video vixen, nor do I sell my body for the sexual pleasures of White men and an institution controlled by White heteropatriarchy. Oh, and no, I do not know Beyoncé.
However, yes, I am one year away from graduating from the number one HBCU in the country. Yes, I am among the approximately 5.3% of Black Americans that study abroad. Yes, I am a global citizen. And yes, you will most definitely want me, well, need me at your table.
I am Black, but my Blackness is not a homogenous identity marker. My Blackness is not defined by the stereotypes that have been placed on Black Americans through media perceptions and news outlets. Thus, I have decided the physical borders of the United States and the mental borders of U.S. hegemony and narcissism will not confine me. So, each time I go abroad, I strive to be understood, respected, and seen authentically without the stereotypes that have been placed upon me as a result of my race and nationality.
After traveling to Haiti and Argentina, I better conceptualized what it means to be Black beyond American borders. The reality is that my Blackness intersects a number of other identities I can never and will never abandon.
I am not just Black; I am a Black woman. I am not just a Black woman; I am a Black American woman. I am not just a Black American woman; I am a Black American college educated woman. I have found with each of these identity markers, brings an odd dichotomy of privilege and oppression when traveling abroad.
As identity is a socially constructed idea, in each new country and society around the world, the perception of my identity shifts and my agency in that new land alters as well. If it is not obvious upon your arrival in the airport of the country you are visiting, it will be after your first or second interaction with a local citizen. As I stepped outside of the airport in Haiti, I may be called white or only seen as a "wealthy American." Somehow through this identity marker, my Blackness seemed to dissolve. That "connection" I was seeking between the citizens of the proudly first Black republic was not automatically there. I was not perceived as being kin to a number of Haitians. My American privilege divided us. This division often left me indignant.
When I traveled to Argentina, it was my identity as a Black woman that seemed to be constantly referenced when interacting with Argentines! My brown skin, slight curves, thick legs, and full lips were also foreign to the majority of Argentines, well, except for the occasional Dominican and Brazilian women immigrants who were often seen on the corners of streets after being forced into sex labor. Immediately, my phenotypical “Black” features created a public assumption that I was a sex worker as well. Of course, that was the furthest from the truth, and once again, I was hurt! This time, it was a different type of hurt. It was shame. Why did my features that I have been raised to see as beauty, contribute to an assumed idea of hypersexuality. Suddenly, I felt that I needed to cover my curves, hide my skin, and be ashamed of my color. Only with doing so, could I walk around Argentina with the freedom that White women or White men may have. However, as reality often reminds us, certain aspects of our identity cannot and should not ever be hidden. Rather, the alterations need to be done within the oppressor; those who harm, exploit, and violate Black women’s bodies.
However, when I traveled to South Africa, I recognized the unity as well as the divisions that my Black race carries around the world. In no other country in the world did I feel so powerful in my own skin. In Cape Town, South Africa, I was part of the statistical majority, so each way I turned, it was easy to find a brown woman that shared a physical characteristic. However, the more I traveled throughout the country, I learned the pluralism and divisions that existed within my Blackness. On one side of town, I was Black, while on the other I was Coloured. Within a country still healing from the divisions of apartheid, it was clear that identity for brown people was no easy conversation. However, even with the divisions that continued to exist from apartheid, I still felt as if I belonged. In each population, I still felt as if I had a place and I could be seen beneath my physique. Finally, I experienced a certain amount of pride and belonging in my Black womanhood outside of the borders of the U.S. Even with the oppressions that come from being a Black woman within systems and structures that promote Whiteness, the affinity I have with knowing one’s history was filled through the experiences I learned about from Black and Coloured women of South Africa. Their experiences and love for their history gave me hope for learning my own history and finding my own roots.
I share these three very different experiences not to frighten or deter Black American educated women from going abroad; I share these experiences to inspire. These experiences have all been molded by continued stereotypes of Black women and Black bodies that will only be dismantled with an increase of Black American educated women grasping and creating opportunities to abroad.
As Black students, we do not have the privilege of traveling abroad and NOT informing people we encounter around the world of the diversity and complexity that exists within our authentic Black culture. It is with this continued responsibility I traveled abroad to South Africa last month with the Crafting Change Agents program to participate in discussions of racial identity with students at the University of Cape Town.
In the same vein, Black Beyond Borders celebrates the memoirs of Black students traveling abroad! We, as Black Americans who travel abroad are living examples of those who fearlessly live Black BEYOND our borders.