When Black Americans Migrated to the Soviet Union
What if Black Americans decided that fighting institutionalized racism in America was a lost case, and migrated abroad? This might seem like a totally outlandish proposal, but it has happened before.
We live in days when chants of “Black lives matter!” have spread across the United States and solidarity rallies are being held in places large and small. And yet, despite the rising crescendo, the attacks on Black, Brown and poor people, continue. Is this the new “normal?” Are parents and older loved ones going to have to continue to have “the talk” with their children for fear they might not see them again? Trayvon, Michael, Eric, Tamir, Jordan are some of the names burned into our memories, not because of our personal relationships with them, but because of the trauma of their senseless deaths. Some people wring their hands in despair that things could have gotten so bad; others rise up in anger that things have gotten so bad.
But what if people decided to leave? What if Black Americans decided that fighting institutionalized racism in America was a lost cause, and migrated abroad? We’re so used to hearing the stories of South Americans crossing the border to seek work and financial opportunities in North America, or people from the Global South migrating north and west. But what about the other way around? Is this the only “Greener Pasture,” or is possible that people might look to another place as their land of opportunity?
This might seem like a totally outlandish proposal, but the truth is that we have been here before. There was a time in the early 20th Century when Black people, targets of hatred and indifference, sought refuge outside of the US. Some did this simply to survive, while others left temporarily to learn the tools needed to continue fighting the fight back home later. The poet Claude McKay so aptly spoke for this new attitude, when he wrote in 1919, “If we must die, let it not be like hogs / Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot / While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs / ...Though far outnumbered let us show us brave / And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow! /...Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack / Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!” Talking back to the rabid headlines, this was, indeed, the “Red Summer of 1919,” and that “red” invoked not only the red of the flames devouring the ghettos, or the bloodshed, but also the growing heart of those bold enough to question the status quo.