top of page

ARTE NOIR EDITORIAL

BLAXIT: A TAPESTRY OF LONGINGS, NUANCES, AND UNCOMFORTABLE TRUTHS

By Guest Writer, Béné Bicaba


A familiar melody plays on the radio, "There's no place like home," it hums. But what does "home" truly mean? As a Burkinabè immigrant living in Seattle, Washington, this question resonates deeply within me. While I hold a deep connection to Burkina Faso, the land of my birth, the United States, with all its complexities, has become a home in its own right. For many Black Americans, the lingering effects of systemic oppression have ignited the "Blaxit" movement, a phenomenon where Black individuals choose to leave the U.S. for the African continent in search of a home free from racial prejudice.


"Home is not a singular, fixed location; it's a complex tapestry woven from experiences, relationships, and a sense of belonging."


While my journey differs in specific ways from the African American experience, I find myself empathizing with the yearning for belonging and freedom from constant struggle. The narrative surrounding Blaxit is often reduced to a simplistic tale of escape and return to the motherland, Africa. This portrayal fails to capture the multifaceted tapestry of Black American aspirations, the challenges faced by host nations embracing Blaxit, and the potential for unintended consequences. 


Now, who has the "right" to return "home"? This question is a complex one, especially when considering the varying perspectives within the Black community itself. Some individuals may genuinely see Blaxit as the only viable solution for themselves and their families, while others may prioritize fighting for systemic change within the U.S. or embrace a more nuanced approach that acknowledges their multifaceted identities and potential belonging in multiple places simultaneously. Recognizing this diversity of perspectives is crucial for fostering understanding and engaging in constructive dialogue about the future. By overlooking these complexities, we risk perpetuating harm and missing an opportunity for genuine progress towards a liberated and free world.



Grounding this conversation in historical context is equally important. It allows us to learn from past ideas and avoid simply rehashing them for the modern world. So, with a clear understanding of the present, let's delve deeper into this complex conversation by grounding ourselves in the past, as it relates to repatriation movements.


Grounding the Narrative in History: Was Liberia a Blueprint or a Cautionary Tale?

History offers a cautionary tale and provides a richer historical context for understanding the motivations and potential challenges associated with large-scale migrations and repatriation movements. 


In the early 19th century, the American Colonization Society (ACS) sent freed Black Americans to the colony of Liberia in West Africa hoping to establish a self-sufficient Black nation.(1) This act, while seemingly benevolent, was rooted in the desire to remove Black people from the United States and maintain white supremacy. By facilitating the migration of freed Black Americans, the ACS aimed to address the perceived "threat" posed by a growing Black population and uphold the dominant white social order. The consequences were far-reaching, creating ethnic tensions and failing to address the core issues of systemic and structural racism back home.


The establishment of the colony of Liberia, instead of fostering a thriving Black nation, had “unforeseen”(2) consequences. The ACS's selection of elite Black Americans to be sent to Liberia ignored the diverse experiences and needs of the broader Black population. This, coupled with the imposition of Western political and social structures onto the local communities, led to ethnic tensions and internal conflict within Liberia.


We must learn from Liberia's story and ask ourselves: 

  • Is advocating for Blaxit a way of escaping the fight for systemic change in the United States, rather than confronting it head-on? We must learn from history to avoid repeating past mistakes that absolve the U.S. of its responsibility to address systemic racism.

  • In seeking acceptance and belonging in new communities, could we unintentionally recreate the harmful dynamics of "othering" that we ourselves experienced?

  • How can we learn from Liberia's history to ensure that future endeavors for racial liberation address these crucial concerns effectively?


Beyond Individual Needs

I am both intrigued and concerned by the Blaxit movement as I contemplate returning to Burkina Faso. While the individual pursuit of a better life is a legitimate aspiration, Blaxit cannot solely focus on escaping existing problems in the US. It must also consider the impact on host nations and the potential for replicating harmful social dynamics. For example, before opting to participate in another country’s political and social fabric, emigrants ought to understand whether the host nations in Africa are equipped to handle the influx of Black emigrants, especially when many may not possess the skills and experience readily applicable to the social fabric. In addition a fair self-assessment on one’s impact should be conducted.


"Many nations, like my homeland of Burkina Faso, need a wide range of skills and experience, not just people looking to retire, or start another social impact not-for-profit organization."


A quick analysis of social media trends and mainstream media coverage, including platforms like Instagram, suggests that Blaxit emigrants may skew towards individuals who are retired and Black Americans with greater financial resources compared to the average African resident in their countries of origin. These emigrants are able to buy land, build on said land for a fraction of what it would cost in the U.S. As highlighted in an article on Blaxit by the New York Times, the Bradleys live in planned communities. These “homes range in price from $70,000 for a 430-square-foot one-bedroom to $750,000 for a 3,000-square-foot oceanfront villa. With the money the Bradleys would have spent on one home in Los Angeles, they were able to buy their three-bedroom, two-bath townhouse; an investment property; and a home for two of their sons to eventually live in”. While the recent New York Times article argues that retirees bring investment and knowledge, my concern lies in the high potential for gentrification and creating retirement communities instead of fostering mutually beneficial partnerships. Additionally, navigating the diverse socio-economic realities across the continent can be challenging for Black Americans choosing their new African home, further exacerbating my concerns. 



It's crucial that Blaxit doesn't stall the social and economic development of African countries. We need to avoid situations where Blaxit leads to gentrification and pushes out lower-income residents, as has happened in some places like Zanzibar where resorts are emerging at a rapid rate. Many nations, like my homeland of Burkina Faso, need a wide range of skills and experience, not just people looking to retire, or start another social impact not-for-profit organization. The responsibility lies with both African countries and those participating in Blaxit to find a balanced approach. While retirees can be a valuable asset, their contributions shouldn't be limited to philanthropic roles or simply consuming goods and services. This could undervalue their diverse skill sets and hinder long-term economic growth for their host nation.


Beyond Skin Deep Integration

The Blaxit movement sells the notion of integration with kinfolks with similar skin hues as Black Americans. However, integration into communities requires more than just physical presence. I invite Black Americans seeking refuge from racial prejudice on foreign soils to practice the art of "unsettled empathy". Unsettling empathy can be done by actively seeking to understand the experiences and perspectives of new neighbors, community, home, and acknowledging the potential for friction and navigating it with compassion and respect. This requires engaging with local communities, participating in civic life, and resisting the urge to recreate gated communities that perpetuate social divisions. Unsettled empathy requires sitting with the uncomfortable truths as well as the beauty of a new environment. It empowers us to move to action. In the context of Blaxit, this means addressing the root causes of leaving the US while acknowledging the legacy of colonialism and imperialism abroad.


"Unsettling empathy can be done by actively seeking to understand the experiences and perspectives of new neighbors, community, home, and acknowledging the potential for friction and navigating it with compassion and respect."


The responsibility for dismantling systemic racism in the US extends beyond Black Americans. It is a collective global effort requiring mutual accountability and demanding change within individual societies. By supporting each other, we can build a future free from oppression and discrimination – a journey towards liberation for all.


Home: A Tapestry Woven in Love and Resilience

The very notion of Blaxit presenting a binary choice between the US and Africa is a fallacy. Home is not a singular, fixed location; it's a complex tapestry woven from experiences, relationships, and a sense of belonging. It can encompass multiple places simultaneously. It's a yearning for a space where one can exist authentically, free from the constant struggle against marginalization.


Liberia, whose origins are connected to similar aspirations for contemporary Black Americans, exemplifies both the challenges and potential of movements like Blaxit. While the path forward is complex, I believe there is hope. By acknowledging the nuances of the Blaxit movement, engaging in open dialogue, and fostering empathy across borders, we can move towards a future where everyone, regardless of their origin, can find their true home: a space where love is cultivated, dreams are nurtured, and resilience thrives. 


The journey to “home” requires courage, self-reflection, and a willingness to confront uncomfortable truths. But through it all, let us remember the words of Maya Angelou: "Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all people cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends."



 

  1. Stevenson, R. (June 2022). American Colonization of Liberia. Salisbury University. Retrieved March 1, 2024, from [URL

  2. I added quotes here because it is unfathomable that the ACS did not foresee some of these consequences. Perhaps they had already decided it did not impact them, thus, not seen?






ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Béné Bicaba is a Burkinabè American currently calling the Pacific Northwest home.


Her early teens were marked by a life-altering move from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, to Blair, Nebraska. This experience sparked a wanderlust that has taken her across the globe, from the landscapes of Africa, Europe, and Asia to the Americas. She's experienced both mainstream luxury and the need to boil water for a hot shower. She received a master's in health policy, planning, and financing, while living in London then used her knowledge and privilege to support social impact work in West Africa.


She is the founder of Empathy Travels, a collaborative approach to transformative travel.


Comments


bottom of page