Black Americans leave US to escape racism, build lives abroad


Tamir Rice would have celebrated his 18th birthday this week. The USA TODAY Network spoke with 31 Black teenagers about growing up in Tamir’s America.


Anthony Baggette knew the precise moment he had to get out: He was driving by a convenience store in Cincinnati when a police officer pulled him over. There had been a robbery. He fit the description given by the store’s clerk: a Black man.

Okunini Ọbádélé Kambon knew: He was arrested in Chicago and accused by police of concealing a loaded gun under a seat in his car. He did have a gun. But it was not loaded. He used it in his role teaching at an outdoor skills camp for inner-city kids. Kambon also had a license. The gun was kept safely in the car’s trunk.

Tiffanie Drayton knew: Her family kept getting priced out of gentrifying neighborhoods in New Jersey. She felt they were destined to be forever displaced in the USA. Then Trayvon Martin was shot and killed after buying a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea. 

Tamir Rice would’ve been 18: Black teens making their mark in Tamir Rice’s America

Baggette lives in Germany, Drayton in Trinidad and Tobago, Kambon in Ghana.

All three are part of a small cultural cohort: Black emigres who, feeling cornered and powerless in the face of persistent racism, police brutality and economic struggles in the USA, have chosen to settle and pursue their American-born dreams abroad.

No official statistics cover these international transplants. 

In Ghana, where Kambon is involved in a program that encourages descendants of the African diaspora to return to a nation where centuries earlier their ancestors were forced onto slave ships, he says he is one of “several thousand.” Kambon rejects descriptors such as “Black American” or “African American” that identify him with the USA. 

In Trinidad and Tobago, where Drayton now works in her home office with a view of the ocean and hummingbirds frolicking above the pool, there are at least four: Drayton, her mother, sister, and her sister’s boyfriend. There are likely more. 

About 120,000 Americans live in Germany, which is home to an estimated 1 million people of African descent. But because for historical reasons Germany’s census does not use race as a category it is not possible to calculate how many hail from the USA. 

“There’s a lot of institutional racism in Germany,” said Baggette, 68, who has lived in Berlin for more than 30 years. Years later, Baggette feels conflicted about his move.

He described the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989, as a time when Neo-Nazis and skinheads would “throw Black people off of the S-Bahn,” the city’s subway system.

“But I still felt, and feel, better off here – safer,” he said.  

‘I don’t have to think of myself as a…

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