What Living Abroad Taught Me About My Blackness
26 countries in 5 years and no plans of slowing down.
I don’t remember exactly why I left in the first place; soul-searching—maybe; work—that definitely played a factor; boredom—quite possibly; fear—of what? I’m not going to rule that one out just yet; so for right now let’s just leave it as unresolved. While I may not know why exactly I left I do know what leaving has taught me.
You are not a criminal
Despite what we often hear, our pigment is not a crime and this melanin of ours does not warrant suspicion. Black people are loved and adored around the world. To some we’re the curious unknown, the first person of color that they’ve ever seen in person, so, yeah, we get stares or picture requests or the occasional head rub. To others, we’re superstars- nicknamed after the hottest musicians, athletes or actors of the year. In 2012 I was Obama; 2014 I heard Russell Westbrook nearly as often as I heard my own name; this year, Steph Curry.
Since living abroad, not once have I had to relive the embarrassment of trying to shield my blackness to comfort the young woman walking down the street, clutching her purse so hard that even from three stores away I can see the blood rushing from her knuckles. Nor have I felt the need to reassure myself that the reason family crossed the street when they saw me was because there was more shade on the other side. I've never once felt discriminated against because of my color outside of America. In fact, the only time I’ve dared to consider my complexion a burden is when I'm back "home."
You are an inspiration
Though you may not realize it, you are a role model and lots of people are looking to you for inspiration. With every place that you visit, every photo that you post, every post card that you send home, every status update, tweet, video, or story that you share, someone is there watching in awe at the man that you are and have become. One little brown boy or girl will see what you’re doing and because of you, they will know that the world is open to people who look like them.
There are people that miss you and will never say exactly how much so, because they understand that your place isn’t with them, but right where you are so keep doing what you’re doing. And though the Skype calls aren’t as frequent any more and you may sometimes go days or weeks or months without hearing from them, that does not mean that they aren’t watching your every step and admiring you from afar.
You are free to feel
Black men often feel this immense pressure to be uber-masculine. We’re encouraged to internalize our emotions and suppress, so-called, soft feelings. We’re taught to hold everything in and “man up” when things get tough and we’re insulted when we don’t. I didn’t feel like I could call things beautiful, cute, or lovely, without being embarrassed. Instead, I’d just say, “it’s cool,” often with a quick head nod and an air of nonchalance before quickly and quietly changing the subject.
When I began traveling I saw that other men around the world were free to express their full range of emotions and could show affection to one another with no attached stigma. Friends could hold hands and hug if they wanted, not because they were attracted to each other, but because they were expressing their friendship. It’s so popular in Japan and Korea that it’s called skinship.
By traveling I’ve learned that we’ve been denied the ability to express our full range of emotions and I got tired of it. We are free. Free to dream, free to be indecisive, free to be spontaneous, free to dance, free to be afraid, to be sad, to cry, to laugh. We’re free to be complete people.
You are interesting
There are not many people like you and that, in and of itself, is special. You made it out of your city and you defied the odds. Though your Instagram pictures may barely break double digits those likes on social media don't determine your self worth. You know how interesting you are and that’s all that matters.
You are important
There needs to be more people like you. You are strong. You are loved. You are important.
This was originally posted July 3, 2016.
Patrick Springer is the founder of The Black Photographer's Union and the co-founder of CP Travels, with Carl Hill. He is on mission to inspire others like him and encourage young people, especially those of color, to go out and see the world. No matter where he is, he can always be found with a camera in hand, a smile on his face and a long rambling story for anyone willing to listen. You can follow his adventures on instagram @Proliphic