The Time is Now
When I returned home from a semester abroad, reverse culture shock hit me hard. As the headlines of Mike Brown’s killing filled the periodicals and news programs, I struggled to understand why countless killings of Black lives were still happening as if we were living during the Jim Crow Era. After being removed from American culture for five months, I found myself struggling to integrate back into society and to get a grip on what the media was showing. Maybe it was because I arrived back to the States with a new conception of what it meant to be Black in America. Living in Argentina, where my racial identifier and country of origin to a certain extent enhanced my experience, I wondered if my other Black peers could have the same experience. In that context, my Black American identity was something that made me unique and brought on its own sets of privileges. However, in my own country of citizenship, I faced unequal access due to systematic injustice. By exiting my home environment, I was able to see a different future for myself and for the Black community.
Enlightened and equipped with a new personal understanding of Black American, I questioned what I could do to help others understand that their Blackness does not limit their potential. In fact their Blackness could perhaps be viewed differently and positively in a new place, which could enhance his of her identity. Still, for this to happen, more of us take the challenging step to depart the States to recognize that Black identity does not always equate to “less than.”
Furthermore, Black Beyond Borders birthed from a desire to have more Black youth to actively enter and work in global spaces. As they visit new countries, they intentionally connect with the people and culture to engage in genuine conversation. In this questioning and shaping of personal racial identity, it not only enhances their own, but also can help dispel damaging misconceptions. It is my desire to see the Black community grow globally.
Although I experienced reverse culture shock, I am grateful for the opportunity to go. Going abroad contributed to my passion to travel, passion to connect, and passion to see how other people live and thrive within their cultures. Like Tyra, studying abroad helped me realize that my identity is fluid.
Taking a step back, I had to first comprehend that due to the divisions maintained by labels within the world, it will not be easy facilitate transnational growth. People often negatively judge by identity markers that should not be used to separate human beings. This causes rifts in understanding and appreciating other cultures. Ethnocentrism is used to determine what is valuable and what is not in other societies and cultures. Nevertheless, I have come to understand that it is possible to maintain a strong my personal identity and my culture, while I embrace others’. I must admit that it did make feel initially uncomfortable. However, throughout the experience and once I was able to push beyond the discomfort, sharing the realities of being a Black American resulted in others respecting my culture and my individual identity more.
The lack of opportunities, resources and even knowledge that manifest into fear and reservation of travel in the Black community will not help us solve this dire domestic and international issue of respect towards our race. There is an urgent necessity to become a global citizen and promote the authenticity of the Black America to eliminate biases and fallacies. By traveling abroad and showing the reality of Blackness, I believe it offers the world a better understanding of the holistic characteristics of the community. We are not all what media portrays us to be, for example: a rapper, an entertainer, a thug or an athlete. Indeed, we are scholars, activists, scientists, and people who come from a long lineage of fighters and believers. Now is the time for us to conduct more business, fill professional roles, work on social justice, and make more decisions on an international level. Simply put, it is time to put words to action transnationally.
As long as the systems of racism and bigotry exist and socially constructed oppression is around, I can never truly lose my Black identity--and nor would I want to quite frankly. However, what I can do is be self-assured by what I know, and take it with me everywhere I go. I’ve found that being abroad—being out of my comfort zone—has strengthened my identity.
Furthermore, existing as Black Beyond Borders is being confident in one’s own identity as Black American, but also being a citizen of the world. Black Beyond Borders is being able to enter a new space, being comfortable in one’s own Black skin, but ready to learn and integrate new ways and customs into one’s daily actions. Black Beyond Borders is something by us, created for us, and emerges with us as we share our stories.
Tyra and I, as the co-founders of Black Beyond Borders, aim to assist Black youth access opportunities abroad. The journey to leave is not always easy, but when one travels with a purpose, personal growth becomes inevitable.