Every time I see queer or trans black people writing articles about going back to predominantly black nations, I always cringe.
Face2Face Africa recently ran an article that talked about going back to Africa, making it out to be this wonderful haven where possibilities are endless. I responded, “CAN WE PLEASE STOP ACTING LIKE AFRICA IS THIS DOPE MECCA THAT ALL BLACK FOLKS CAN GO TO????” It is not. Colonization has fucked up the entire continent for us. Going there would mean living in constant fear for our lives. There might be people of our skin color, but they are not here for us and would gladly burn us at the stake for it.
I definitely understand the reasons people yearn to go to African nations, or nations with a predominantly black population. The United States of America, from Brooklyn to Oakland, Louisville to Denver, has a massive problem with anti-blackness. If there wasn’t an issue with that, there wouldn’t be #Blacklivesmatter rallies. There wouldn’t be so many organizations dedicated to dismantling anti-black ideologies. In fact, if there were such severe anti-blackness, I would not have to write this article.
I understand why there are so many pieces about going back “home” (whether figuratively or literally). It’s exhausting to try to fit in a space that was not meant for your safety. You want to feel a sense of belonging, especially when you live in a place that consistently brings up old traumas or creates new ones. No one wants to exist in a place that was not meant for them.
Here’s the thing that people to tend to ignore or forget: going to the places our parents called home, or want to call home again, might endanger us.
As someone whose parents are not from an African nation, but instead from a nation that is still filled with the detrimental results of colonization (including queerphobia and extremely religious practices), even I struggle with this.
I am a Jamaican and Cuban American. However, because of the way my mom assimilated, I was raised as a Jamaican American. Jamaica is totally different than New York City or Somerville; it is mostly black. Whenever we drive away from the airport in Jamaica, I’m always startled by the number of black faces I see on billboards and in television shows. Because I am an American (who happens to have Jamaican parentage), I’m not forced to hyphenate. The weather is better for my mental illnesses — and for my knee pain. There is no such thing as winter there. I can go to the beaches near my father’s childhood home and embrace the smell and feel of the water, despite not knowing how to swim.
I could never live there.
Going to Jamaica to live my truth would be one of the worst things I could do. While my family in the States has accepted the fact that I am with someone who is not a man, a lot of Jamaicans would not be able to do so. I would not be able to hold my partner’s hand as freely as I can in parts of New York City or the greater Boston area. I would constantly fear that my life was in danger because of my transness.
Meanwhile, in the United States, I constantly fear becoming a shooting-practice target by law enforcement officers who get high off of their power. I fear being harmed because of white supremacy. But there, I can still be unapologetically black — even when I have confederate flags up in my face. I can hold my partner’s hand in some parts of the country and only have a slight fear that we might be harmed for being black, queer or trans. The United States is, in no shape or form, a utopia for me. Nowhere is. I constantly have to grapple with the tug-of-war of choosing between colonized queerphobia or white supremacy.
There are other reasons why I could never consider living in Jamaica. In 2015, I had a severe breakdown that was the result of an abusive ex’s response to statements I’ve made. This happened while I was visiting family, and almost ended my life. Coming back to the States, I realized that while the country’s mental health services aren’t the best, I could come back to my queer-friendly provider to talk about my emotions. Psychiatric issues are taboo topics in Jamaican culture. If I were to tell people there that I take meds, they would tell me to pray on it or try to summon it out of me. There, I did not have the space to talk about my toxic relationship with a woman; I would be told that it happened because I turned away from God.
When people ask me if I want to go to Jamaica to live, I constantly give them a “Hell no.” We need to hold space for the folks whose families have fled countries and would be killed if they came back. We have to stop acting like everyone has the privilege of affording a ticket. Ideally, I would love to live there with my partner(s) and embrace the culture I grew up with, but I can’t — and it hurts. It hurts because people sometimes guilt me for not being OK with living there — but I can’t.
My family might be going back there in a few years. I won’t join them.
No, my queer and trans ass cannot live there. But I can visit.
And that’s fine.