Traveling Back to Myself…The Problem of Looking Through Whiteness
I came back to America to finish my final semester as an undergraduate English major. I wore my experience like a badge of honor, because I, the black boy from Brooklyn, NY who was originally from St. Croix, USVI had lived in Europe and studied British Literature and History, Shakespeare and Drama at the University of Richmond in Kensington, London UK. The university was situated right across from Hyde Park near Kensington Palace, which was once the home of the late Princess Diana who had died a few years before and people were still leaving flowers at her gate.
American culture seemed less decadent, interesting, and vibrant. It depressed me to be back and I looked up a phenomenon known as post study abroad depression. No one knew how immensely out of place I felt being back and it wasn’t just because of the romantic feeling of being in Europe. I felt, in my early twenties, American culture had nothing to offer my growth and development as a black gay man. It is no surprise I wrote my Master’s Thesis on Richard Bruce Nugent and spent so much time researching the black male writers of the Harlem Renaissance. They too spent time in Europe finding themselves. I have since visited London many times thereafter and even just as recent as last Christmas I made the trip to London, Paris, and Barcelona. While traveling trough Europe, I always try to find something to explain my fascination with European culture. I probably fancied myself being a sort of Rick Steves; a wonderer in search of the ultimate hidden treasure. The quaint bed and breakfast in Paris that only a handful of people know about makes it a hidden treasure and my discovery.
Even with all this exposure, I still come back feeling empty. For years I thought it was America, but in retrospect it’s not just American society that creates this tension. I am in search of a part of me I cannot find. For a boy who grew up on an island to a mother and was raised by my stepfather and women who worked together to raise children. There is a longing to feel whole. Accepting I did not have my father is one thing, but accepting that you are constantly in between places, cultures, societies, communities, and none of which function the same can be hard on anyone psychologically. What I want in going on this journey is to help give myself more of an opportunity to feel whole and to do so I need to go to places that reflect images of myself that are positive and reaffirms by history and imparts self love. I loved The Palace of Versailles, but I do not see myself in its history; Louis XIV may have called himself The Sun King, but it had nothing to do with a history akin to my own. I did see myself in the royalty of Haiti and it felt good. Like I was strangely proud of their moment, though brief; there was a new image of black royalty close to me that I had not yet seen or heard of. Which now leads me to believe my years of formal education have been mostly Eurocentric leading me to find myself gravitating towards Europe?
In my most recent post as a Professor of English at a historically black college I have spent three years watching some of my students grow into some amazing men and women. The curriculum being more Afrocentric has shaped, in my mind, a different kind of student. They are more certain about their purpose and the historical contributions to society that blacks have made, and it has been endearing because in being educated at predominantly white schools I always felt out of place or fighting to prove that I belonged instead of feeling I actually just belonged. I was so encouraged by my time teaching at a black college that I finally completed my journey of becoming a member of the First African American Inter-Collegiate Greek Lettered Fraternity.
W. E. B. Dubois said the problem of the twentieth century would be the color line. I do not think it was simply meant to say race relations are going to always be problematic. If you read Souls of Black Folk in its entirety he talks about the problem of how blacks see themselves. So as I take on this journey moving into the twenty-first century I hope to get closer to an identity not so fragment. I believe that traveling to black destinations can help our youths feel included in the historical narratives that we are left out of. I believe it gives black parents and influencers a way of teaching black folks morals and values that make them prouder of who they are and how to love themselves. I am so ready for the task to get closer to that feeling and I share it with you honestly and openly. I encourage you to make it a mission to plan a trip to a destination you think deserves your support and adds to your perspective of you as a black male or female.