Black Abroad

I traveled to Spain in 2014 and the first thing I noticed there, given the country’s high unemployment and stagnant economy, was the number of black vendors roaming the streets. They were migrants from Africa and much like the ones I met in Italy and France the year before, they sold counterfeit high-end handbags and souvenirs. What I did not yet recognise was that I witnessing a major social debate underway in the whole of Europe. The discussion surrounding migrant flow from Africa, and how best to address it, extended as far as Israel with the greatest and saddest of ironies given some of human history’s worst moments were against them. It was also the beginning of my coming to terms with the fact that I lived in the U.S. for so long that may have been psychologically stuck in the trappings of American society. Therefore, I lost touch with the plight of blacks around the world. I remember returning from Morocco to Spain and at customs, the official noticed Jamaica as my place of birth. He stamped and shoved my passport back at me before pumping his fists in a running motion as he yelled “bolt, rapido-rapido”. This was his way of telling me to move along. As for “bolt”? He was referring to the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, who happens to be Jamaican. It reeked of micro-aggression.

Everything came to a head when, in 2015 while visiting the Azores (autonomous region and part of Portugal…just don’t refer to Azoreans as Portugese), the African migrant crisis reached a fever’s pitch. I saw everyday coverage of African migrant deaths when a boat capsized in the Mediterranean. The European Union had and still have no real settlement plans as the resources of member states in which the migrants arrive stretched thin. They’ve had to press further north and if they were caught, they were sent away. This is still the case, three years later.

At the same time the drownings happened in Europe, in American media outlets, the City of Baltimore descended into chaos. Another unarmed black man was apparently assaulted and ended up dying on yet another police department’s watch. The citizens, enraged, took to the streets for days and riots ensued. I found myself living in two worlds. On one TV the swarming coverage regarding the plight of African migrants was on display.

On my mobile phone, America was swallowed whole by its own outrage over the death of yet another unarmed black man. The Black Lives Matter movement was still new to the powerful role it had amassed from the cold corpse of Michael Brown. I did not know for which side to be more outraged. Did I really have to choose a side? Besides, the story of African migration and the terrible tragedy it had become was drowned out, for lack of a better word, by the looming Syrian refugee crisis. The tide of the Syrian conflict was big enough to sweep across Europe and wash ashore in America. Eventually, all news black essentially faded to black compared with that of the refugee crisis, mostly because of the violent potential in the form of terrorism.

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