When moving is a dramatic statement
There are things about the Civil Conversations Project of which I am proud. I’m proud that we have readers from every corner of the country. It has recently come to my attention that we have a small community of expat readers in Ghana, and I’m proud of that. In corresponding with one of them, I asked if she would write about her and her husband’s motivations to move to Ghana… a pretty dramatic change, especially late in life, and a pretty dramatic statement about America’s Race Thing. She agreed. For reasons of comfort and privacy she asked that her name not be used.
My husband and I are both retired professionals. I grew up in Washington DC. He grew up in Brooklyn NY. My husband received his bachelor’s degree from a prominent university in California and I earned my PhD from an Ivy League school. He went on to pursue a career in communications while I became a university professor. We have lived in several cities in the US, but ended up in Atlanta Georgia, escaping the snows of Pittsburgh. We had both traveled to, and worked in Africa during our younger years, and my husband had been wanting to return for some time.
When Trump was elected President by running a thoroughly racist campaign, I began to seriously entertain the idea of leaving the US and moving to Ghana, a country my husband and I had both visited and loved. The “dream” of America, as a land of endless possibilities with the promise of eventually living up to its stated creed that “all men are created equal” seemed less and less to be the real story. As Boston College history professor Heather Cox Richardson has noted, “For all its limitations—the Founders could conceive of this idea in part because they excluded from their vision women, Black people, and all people of color.” If the United States had lived up to its rhetorical promise, I would likely still be living in Atlanta.
The Trump election exposed the angry, racist underbelly of the country my family had called home for many generations – both under slavery and as freedmen. It became clear that many Americans didn’t believe that we had the right to be full and complete citizens of this country.
So we purchased oceanfront land in Ghana and built our new home. Looking over the waters I am constantly reminded that these are the seas on which my ancestors were taken away as kidnapped hostages. They had no way of knowing what awaited them at the end of the voyage if they, in fact, survived the Middle Passage.
We moved into our new home in 2022. Here, we call ourselves repatriates, not expatriates, because it’s such a feeling of returning home, not of leaving home. The Ghanaians call us Diasporans. Many of us have relocated here from all over the African Diaspora since Ghana became independent in 1957. Our numbers have been increasing in recent years, given the changed social and political climate in the US.
We often meet and inevitably get into conversations about the condition of Diasporans in the US. It has become clear to me that our views and opinions are in response to the lie … the invention, of race, particularly the dichotomy of Black, and White.
The concept of the Black and White race came into prevalent use in the 1700’s when the notion of the innate superiority of one race over the other needed to be invented to justify the inhumane treatment that was stomped onto the enslaved people. To keep humans, and their descendants, in permanent bondage while going to church on Sunday and feeling that you are absolved of any wrong-doing, there had to be a system that would allow the slave owners – members of the White race – to believe that it was their right, their privilege, to do this. And our destiny was to be enslaved – to become beasts of burden.
That puts us in the position, as descendants of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, to be reactive. So much of what we Black Americans think and feel is in response to the way that generations have been treated and the way that others see us. We are all too conscious of our race because we are ever vigilant of how others may be perceiving us. Here in Ghana, where we are almost all Black, we are freed of the burden of race, and we can just BE the humans that we were created to be.
Clearly Ghanaians know that I am not from here, but it doesn’t matter. We are just “mommy and daddy” (the respectful names that they give to their elders) and are accepted as welcomed new members of the community. But in the US we walk on eggshells, ever-vigilant, conscious of the fact that we can be detained solely because we fit the description of “black male or black female who committed a crime” with no real evidence other than that accusation.
The images of lynchings, with smiling white people posing to be photographed in front of their inhumanity, are burned into our psyche. The daily news does not provide any relief, regularly showing photos of random young Black men who are detained or wanted for some crime or another. Or killed by the state. This only reinforces images of us as the “other”, the boogey-man to be afraid of, not only for the white folks, but even for us as well.
One thing that has become clear to me living in Ghana is that Colonialism, for all of its horror and harm, didn’t do the one terrible thing that slavery did. It did NOT destroy the family; it did NOT interfere with a man’s (and woman’s) ability to provide for and protect the family.
The family unit is still intact. Communities are intact. People here are productive. You see very little idleness. People may not be rich, but there are many ways to provide for the family. No matter where you travel you see people selling and bartering goods in exchange for what they need. It may look chaotic, but it somehow works. People are allowed to work, live and survive. In the US that is not always the case. There are certain parameters that you must adhere to.
How does this impact life for many African Americans in the US? As a professor, I think the negative impact starts with substandard education. Although integration was well-meaning, as with so many things in the US, we take two steps forward and one step backwards. And oft time, one step forward and two steps back. Following integration came re-segregation, people moving to economically and often racially segregated communities, leaving others behind. The notion that education is the leveling factor was so often the case during the time of segregation where highly educated, motivated and caring Black teachers taught and nurtured Black students. Sadly this is no longer the practice. The economic status of your family often dictates the quality of your education and therefore stifles any efforts to rise out of that economic status.
In poor communities, while there are many dedicated teachers, there are many others for whom this is just a job to tolerate until they can move into a job in a more affluent community where the students are “easier to teach”. Poor outcomes are inevitable if the teacher does not believe in or respect the student. With poor education, comes low-quality or non-existent jobs, and the ability to provide adequately for your family is taken away. Turning to “creative employment,” as people in Black communities often do as a means to provide for family and self, inevitably leads to arrest, incarceration, and a continuation of “legal slavery”. Unfortunately it sometimes leads to death, as was the outcome for Eric Garner who was killed by a policeman for selling loose cigarettes.
Clearly some of us have been able to escape this cycle. Unfortunately, for too many of us, that is not an option. If you can make it through your formative years following the rules, being submissive to the authority figures in school, doing what you are told, you may be allowed to fit into the system – becoming another cog in the machinery and reaping some financial benefit for your work. However, if you question authority, step out of line, or feel the need to push back on perceived – and often real – mistreatment, the “school to prison pipeline” starts early for you. Amazingly some students are suspended from school in early grades – recent data has shown that half of kids expelled from Preschool each day are Black male students. Are the boys failing the schools or are the schools failing the boys?
So whether “racism” is the culprit or just a tool of the system designed on the notion of White supremacy (and Black inferiority) the results are the same. The solution will not be easy. But something needs to happen. America is in trouble and moving further from our founding ideals every day. Stirring up the anger of the White race to feel that they are actually the victims is certainly not the solution and is a very dangerous development that has been happening in the US in recent years. The rise in gun ownership and the epidemic of mass shootings does not leave one feeling hopeful or safe.
Moving to Ghana has given me and my husband the safe, peaceful environment that we crave, where our full humanity is recognized. My husband has commented that when he walks the streets of Ghana, for the first time he feels simply like a man… not a Black man, as he always felt in the United States. I realize that moving here does not solve any of the problems for those left behind in the US. I don’t know what the fix is. But I know it doesn’t have to take 404 years. That’s just a sign that the country and its citizenry aren’t serious about fixing the problem.
If you enjoyed this article and learned from it, please pass it onto your people. Ending America’s Thing With Race is going to take all of us. It takes a country.