One of the traps of being African-American and exploring other places is the hope that somewhere beyond the oceans their lies a mystical "Land Without Strangers"--a place where the racism of America falls away and you can simply be human.
I know this mostly from reading about the comfort Paul Robeson took in Russia, and various African-Americans took in France. We've talked about this some in the comments and the upshot of course is that there is no such place, or rather if there is the African-American stranger is simply someone else.
I've been thinking about this re-reading Edmund Morgan's American Slavery, American Freedom. Much of Morgan's book is a history of indentured servitude in 17th century Virginia. But more than that the book tells the story of a kind of proto-slavery wherein you see Brits practicing the sort of violence on their own, which they would later perfect on us.
Men are kidnapped, sold and traded, heinous punishment is doled out, and sexual violence (violence period) against slaves goes unpunished. The early Virginia farmers are constantly scheming for ways to keep their servants reduced to a barely above slavery. It's depressing because you realize that your oppression isn't particularly unique, and your status as oppressed isn't unique. You are simply one Stranger among long line of Strangers.
As you guys know, I've been studying French. It is such a beautiful language and the need to balance the majesty of France with their human need to create Strangers is a constant thing. I thought about this watching the Hors La Loi. It's streaming on Netflix (as Outside The Law,) and I highly, highly recommend it. It details the independence struggle of Algerians in France and there is so much about it that felt familiar.
I'm a weird dude. I was telling Kenyatta early today that when we finally go to Paris, as much as I want to see the work of Rodin, I have to see the suburbs. I know, logically, that there really shouldn't be much expectation for commonality in struggle. But I feel it in my bones. I can't even logically explain it. It's like, as someone once said here, being "ethnically Christian." I'm like an "ethnic lefty" or something.
All kidding aside see Outside The Law. It's beautifully acted.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.
Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.