Well, it's pretty understood that this year has altered the idea of everything we thought we knew about being prepared. Between a global shutdown, to the White House's occupants believing that them not bumping into walls is a means for celebration, 2020 has straight up laughed in our faces, and continually proved that each month will progressively get even more ridiculous than the one before.
Add a layer of melanin on the year, and the essence of wanting more for ourselves as women who are minding our business and living in our blackness in peace, whilst expecting the same in return from society, leaves us exhausted and plain ole sick and tired.
I recently read a story via USA Today, featuring the amazing Lakeisha Ford, who'd chosen to relocate to Ghana to run her communication firm in Accra. She spoke so assuredly about her decision to move, so fearlessly.
What drew me to her, was that her decision to move wasn't solely based on the berating racism in America, it was just a mere contribution. She was mostly intrigued by Ghananian culture.
"Here I don't have to think of myself as a Black woman and everything that comes with that. Here, I am just a woman."
This made me wonder, how many of us have considered leaving America behind? Is moving to another country the answer?
Well, for some, the answer is absolutely.
We found a group fabulous ladies to tell us their stories about their why; why they chose to leave America in their rear view. Here's what they told us:
Phelicia Deorrah | Relocated to Montego Bay, Jamaica:
Photo Courtesy of Phelicia Deorrah
Originally From: Atlanta, GA
In June of 2017, I affirmed in my journal that in 12 months, I would finalize my move to Jamaica. At that point, I figured I would stay at least one year and then return to the United States if things didn't go as planned. During my preparation phase (2017-2018), I held a couple of full-time jobs to save money for my relocation. There was actually one job that I'd landed in early 2018, that actually made me consider postponing my plans to move to Jamaica, because I'd found a "good job". The benefits were good, the salary was adequate – but after working there for a few months, typical corporate America "issues" happened and I decided to quit abruptly and move forward with my plan.
Less than a month later, I was on a plane to Jamaica.
My younger sister, Crystal, was actually the first person I told about my plan to move to the island. I was sitting in Atlanta traffic after a long workday – tired, hot, and uninspired. My plans to barter art in Jamaica had failed and I had been trying to figure out a way to travel back to the island consistently. I called her up and said, "Crystal, why don't I just move to Jamaica?!"
And her response was, "Do it!"
From here, my affirmations were solidified. I knew that building my business in Jamaica is what I would be set on doing.
In the beginning, the unspoken cultural differences (the things a book or the internet can't teach you) and constant patois were overwhelming. It was a culture shock not being able to speak the language (yes, Jamaicans speak the Queen's English – but patois can be very hard to understand when Jamaicans speak to each other), so when people all around me were communicating, it was very overwhelming. I was on high alert all the time, because I never knew when people were talking to me; everything always sounded like shouting. Now that I understand most of what people are saying around me, AND I even know how to respond – it makes it way less intimidating.
It was also extremely overwhelming adapting to the fact that in Jamaica, as an American, I am automatically considered to be privileged– which is truly an out-of-body feeling, because I have never felt that way in America. So, I've learned to live more moderately and be extra careful of what I do, with what I have.
Other than that, I just try to take in all aspects of my new reality. I remember the first time I went to the local beach (no tourists) and I realized that it was my first time ever seeing all Black people at a beach. It's one of those things you never knew that you've never seen until you see it.
As far as the current events in the U.S., although I had moved prior to chaos, it all still affects me. I seem to be watching America from another world. I am happy to be in Jamaica, BUT I am still affected and traumatized by what's going on in the States.
People may think that I am lucky and I can "turn it off" or avoid reality because I am in Jamaica – but the truth is, when you are Black, you do not have the privilege to avoid your Black reality. Period.
Through it all, I've learned that I had to stop expecting American service and behavior and understand that I am the foreigner/outsider now. I've learned to adapt and embrace the differences. I am an empath, so seeing a lot of poverty and people working for next to nothing (the minimum wage of $7,000 JMD per week is equivalent to about $56 USD per week) affects me more than I anticipated. But, I started a charity called The Traveler's Contribution that helps me feel like I'm contributing more than just coming here and taking. I've learned to continue helping where I can, with what I can.
And lastly, I've been reaffirmed that what you put into the universe, you will get back. I followed my heart to relocate, and God has provided for me. I believe if you're stagnant, sometimes God will push you into a circumstance that requires action. Sometimes we have the faith, but we don't want to act – we have to follow through with our dreams and act.
Demetria Brown | Relocated to Puerta Vallerta, Mexico
Photo Courtesy of Demetria Brown
From: Long Beach, CA
At the time, I was somewhere between being fully aware that no country was exempt from racism or prejudice, and standing in my personal determination of finding true racial and gender freedom. I wanted to show my people that we can thrive abroad and that we don't have to follow the social standards that others think we should stick to in order to do so.
Honestly, it had always been a desire to live outside the U.S., not because I hate America, but because I wanted peace from constant chaos of the society and the rat race that we are accustomed to.
But most of all, I wanted my daughter to see real life courage; to have the ability to excel in a way others believe we were never supposed to.
The path to arrive in Mexico has taken me 42 years. And believe me, it was muddy, rocky and grim the whole way. But now my route is laid before me. God and the universe has the stars aligned like a seasoned GPS system, creating the best navigation possible without any permanent road blocks--just for me.
Now, I feel as if I'm in a perfect place. For once I am not looked at as weird for hugging and showing affection towards others. I'm not looked at as strange for saying, "Hola" or smiling at people who may not know me. My kindness for humans is reciprocated. I am not judged by my occupation, complexion, shade, or gender. I am loved and accepted just because I am Meechie--and that is absolutely incredible to me.
The best thing I have discovered, honestly, is owning my time and creating new experiences that are beyond explainable with my new Mexican family and friends is what makes me happy. And not everything has been great, believe me.
Have I been overwhelmed? Oh my goodness, yes! For the longest, I wasn't sure of myself while here. I was second-guessing if this decision was a smart one. I didn't have proper resources available to assist me due to the pandemic and obviously relocating during it had its own challenges. Also, leaving my home, my family, my friends, my career...everything I built for so many years behind (I have an adult son who doesn't agree with the move and a teenage daughter who loves it and will soon join me), man, it was rough!
But I now know a bigger love. Home isn't your address. Home is a state of mind where you're comfortable and your skin shade is unapologetically safe. Home is where you are loved. Home is the epicenter of the heart.
And mine resides here in Mexico!
Before you make the decision, understand that moving away, whether across the street or to another country, doesn't solve internal problems--it just exposes what's broken in you. So, before you think you're escaping the pain of your current situation, be sure you're healed and ready to tackle the battle that lies before you.
Shar Wynter | Relocated to Lisbon, Portugal
Photo Courtesy of Shar Wynter
From: Detroit, MI
At age 29, I made my first move overseas to live in London through a temporary job relocation assignment. And my time in London was AMAZING. It enlightened me in so many ways, including broadening my perspective on race relations whilst comparing being Black in London, to being Black in America.
When I compared the two experiences, on average, I was treated better and with more respect in London on a social and professional level. As a result, once I returned back to the U.S., the constant microaggressions and ill-treatment that I had previously normalized--and been desensitized to--became unbearable. This sentiment coupled with a series of traumatizing events (some which were racially rooted) motivated me to quit my job of ten years and leave the U.S for good (in 2019).
My goal was to travel, do some soul-searching, and find a new country to live in.
A few months into my search, the pandemic hit so I decided to stay in London for a few months, and then eventually landed in Portugal. Throughout this time, whenever a new Black Lives Matter hashtag emerged in response to the unjust killing of yet another Black person, my decision to leave the U.S. was further cemented. And guys, my life and health became significantly better. Also, there really isn't a price that you can put on the peace of mind that I get from being able to exist in peace without the heavy cloak of racism on my back.
And yes, I'm fully aware that every country has race issues (both the UK and Portugal have their fair share) but the difference is that the probability of me, or a loved one, losing their life because of it, is lessened. When I think about all the times when my life has been in danger, they all occurred in the States.
In London, the cops seemed less militarized. Most do not even have guns. I remember seeing the police dancing with the crowd at Notting Hill Carnival. I can also vividly recall the cops peacefully guiding protesters during a Black Lives Matter march. It was shocking to me to see the cordial relationship that cops had with citizens.
With respect to Lisbon, one major cultural difference is that the people in Lisbon seem to have a stronger level of respect for others by adhering to the rules and safety measures put in place as a result of the pandemic. For example, most people in Lisbon are wearing their masks without issue, they use sanitation stations, and do whatever's necessary to help protect the well-being of others. It's not a major point of contention.
Sometimes, my relocation does get the best of me, though. Yes, I'm a huge advocate for living abroad, but being away from family and friends, and learning how to navigate your way through foreign spaces, is not for the faint of heart. For example, it took me an entire week to learn how to use a microwave/oven because the manual was in Portuguese. Also in Lisbon, I have to go to multiple stores sometimes to get everything I need when grocery shopping so it's an entire three hour ordeal. The grocery stores don't carry everything all in one place like they do in America.
Ultimately, you really have to be open-minded and flexible because it's easy to get overwhelmed and frustrated, especially in the beginning, but the experience overall is totally worth it.
I say all of this to say that choosing a better life for yourself is possible. I was very surprised to find that there was a relatively large community of Black people living abroad and our footprint was worldwide. Connecting with this community transformed my overseas experience and made my life abroad so much more enjoyable. This inspired me to create an effort called XpatChats to spread awareness about the Black expat community. Highlighting experiences and stories of Black people living abroad, given the current social climate, and sharing the stories of us living freely all over the world, has empowered me because living freely, is a form of resistance against oppression.
You can do this, ladies. Just map it out and go for it.
Nicole Files-Thompson, Ph.D | Relocated to Hanover, Jamaica
From: Baltimore, MD
I have always loved Jamaica, and Jamaican tourism. I remember the first time I visited, it felt like home. It was so refreshing to be in a Black country, seeing people who looked like me--on Billboards, on TV, as news anchors, in advertisements. Over the years, I fell in love with the culture and have brought many of my students, friends, and family around the country to fall in love with it like I have.
Currently, I am a professor at Lincoln University, PA and I moved here on a Fulbright grant through the U.S. Department of State. Though my stay here is not yet permanent, it is indefinite, dependent upon grants, my ability to teach online etc. I am working on making it permanent within the next 5-7 years.
My spirit is settled here. My favorite thing to do is take a drive and stop at small beaches. There are so many beautiful beaches in Jamaica that you can have all to yourself.
Everything moves at a much slower pace; patience was a huge learning curve. There is a lot of "paper" and face-to-face required to handle business affairs. The attitude of just letting things go fills the air. Culturally, there is an understanding that many things are out of your control, why worry about what you can't control.
Jamaica, no problem.
There's also an incredible sense of community, everyone knows everyone where you live. There are no strangers. I have six mango trees in my yard, and people coming and collecting them in the mornings. Something that might make people call the police in the U.S., but it's normal here. The trees bear more mangoes than I could eat in a year. So they are for everyone to enjoy.
Basically, adaptation requires patience and going with the flow. I've had to change my consumption habits: electricity is expensive, so even though it is hot, I can't run the AC all day. My diet has been altered; I instead eat fresh or farmed foods instead of packaged.
Given the recent events, I feel much safer in Jamaica, in comparison to the political, public health, and racial climate in the U.S. The decisiveness of the government to protect the health of its citizens alone, stands apart from what I've heard about the issues in America.
Moreover, though Jamaican citizens are not all in agreement about the measures that the government takes, they adhere to those measures.
I've gained a new perspective I have gained about "Americanness" by being on the outside looking in. I'm even embarrassed by the way our government and many citizens have behaved during this pandemic. In terms of BLM movement, it has been difficult to watch from afar, as race is shaped much differently in Jamaica. However, the movement has sparked support from even the Jamaican Prime Minister who addressed police brutality in the U.S., and George Floyd specifically.
And although, I haven't necessarily felt overwhelmed, I've admittedly felt unprepared or lonely. This was such a strange time to be living in another country. But I have learned that I am strong and I can adapt to any situation. I've learned that I can be flexible, I can figure things out, and family isn't only blood.
My Jamaican family looked out and cared for me too.
Feature image by Shutterstock
Originally published on July 21, 2020