African-American Expats

Here’s a book that I’d like to read . . . as soon as it’s written.

The Center for Intercultural Dialogue is calling for chapters and chapter proposals for a proposed book with the working title The Hidden Lives of African Americans Living Abroad Series, Book 1: Articulating the Opportunities and Challenges of Living Internationally. The overview of the book includes the following:

While anecdotal data indicate that the experiences of African Americans living abroad qualitatively differs from those of European Americans, there is a substantial lack of scholarship that investigates the ways in which national and ethnic identities are expressed (and experienced) cross culturally by Black Americans living overseas. In many ways, the everyday lived experiences of African American expatriates living abroad remain unknown—and largely neglected by mainstream media and academic research. This series seeks to examine and highlight what life is like for African Americans living abroad.

And here are some of the suggested chapter topics that look particularly interesting to me:

  • What it’s like to be the only African American in the country
  • “But you don’t have blonde hair or blue eyes”: Encountering and overcoming stereotypes of the “All American” image abroad
  •  “How do they treat Black people there?” Addressing the pre-departure fears of friends
  • Perceptions of African Americans abroad
  • African American Image in Overseas Advertising
  • Returning to the U.S. and Readjusting to Home

As a White American, I’ve often wondered what it is like for Black Americans living overseas, with the extra challenges of facing stereotypes and prejudices . . . layered on top of and intertwined with the other difficulties of cross-cultural living. Hopefully this book—and the whole series—will draw together some good stories and research and create a meaningful discussion.

Go to “CFP African Americans Living Abroad” for more information and submission guidelines.

[illustration: “Blank Open Book,” by DonkeyHotey, used under a Creative Commons license]


Stories on a Bus

When we ride public transportation, we are simultaneously moving and stuck. As an American traveling in Israel, I have started to use this time to become unstuck—to understand more about the people living there instead of relying on stereotypes.

So begins a wonderfully written article by Ariel Katz, an American now living in England, who previously worked in Israel for three years in Israel-Arab relations. She tells about her conversation with a young Israeli military captain sitting next to her on the bus to Tel Aviv, and then with an older man who next claimed the seat. Words between the two men told Katz that the second man had “a story to tell about his relationship to the army, one of gratitude and guilt.” “Now I am determined to unearth the story of the man sitting next to me,” she writes. His answers to her questions revealed that his name was Roni, he was an ex-soldier, his father was a Syrian-born Jew, and his mother’s parents were from Iran. As a university student, his major had been Middle Eastern studies (the same as Katz), and he had later served as a Hebrew/Arabic translator in Taba, Egypt. Katz calls Roni “a living bridge between the two cultures.” “In him, Arabness and Jewishness resided respectfully.” She closes the article with the following thought, one that each of us could personalize by substituting Arab-Jewish with the names of people from other cultures, people with whom we often walk past but rarely rub shoulders.

I wonder if we relied less on conventional narratives of Arab-Jewish relations, and instead became interested in the person sitting next to us on the bus or train, that we might also move forward together metaphorically to arrive at our desired destinations.

I also learned a phrase from Roni, a phrase that I’d like to use someday in conversation. When Katz asked him his thoughts on the topic of Arabs in Israel, he replied with what she calls “the classic diplomatic Israeli answer”: “We are all sons of Adam,” he said. “We are all human.”

(Ariel Katz, “A Conversation Creates a Bridge between Arabs and Jews,” Common Ground News Service, March 20, 2012)

[photo: “Traveling by Egged Bus from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv” by David King, used under a Creative Commons license]

That’s What You Are, but What Am I?

We in America know what we think about Europeans, and we think we know what they think about us, but do we know what they think about each other? An interactive site at The Guardian shares the stereotypes that Europeans hold about their neighbors and then lets the labeled parties respond. In answering what the French, Germans, Italians, Poles, and Spaniards have to say about them, the Britons reply, “Despite everything, Britain is not broken. And if that’s hard for some of our European neighbours to accept, then they should hear what we say about them.”

(“European Stereotypes: What Do We Think of Each Other and Are We Right?” The Guardian, January 26, 2012)

[photo: “A Man from English Uniform Store,” by Yunchung Lee, used under a Creative Commons license]