Ever since we arrived in this country, there have been conversations about our departure. Movements, threats, incentives and every manner of effort by Blacks and Whites alike — from Paul Cuffee to Marcus Garvey, from James Monroe to Abe Lincoln — have been discussed and, in some cases, implemented to get Black people out of this country.
While there have been several prominent Black people who have left, there has been no mass exodus by Black people since the founding of Liberia.
In light of all that has happened to Black people in this country, in addition to what is occurring now in the new millennium, should Black people seriously consider leaving America? We have been here since the beginning, contributed more than anyone else to the foundational wealth of this country, sacrificed more than anyone else for this country — and yet we are still treated like the "three-fifths" they called us when they wrote their Constitution. Should we now walk away?
There comes a time in the lives of most people when they can no longer take seeing their people being left out, marginalized, mistreated, abused and murdered. They simply throw their hands up, pack up and leave.
Although many have followed the examples of Black musicians, artists and other brothers and sisters who simply yearned to "breathe free," as the inscription on the Statue of Liberty says, let's look at two Black men.
Those men are W.E.B. DuBois and Randall Robinson.
"After 95 years of the most courageous unflagging devotion to Black freedom witnessed in the 20th Century, W.E.B. DuBois not only left America for Africa but concluded: 'I cannot take any more of this country's treatment. We leave for Ghana Oct. 5 and I set no date for return … . Chin up, and fight on, but realize that American Negroes can't win.' " (An excerpt from The Future of the Race, by Louis Gates and Cornell West.)
In Amitabh Pal's recent interview of Randall Robinson, an eerie similarity to DuBois' words and thoughts came forth, as Robinson explained his reasons for "Quitting America," also the title of his latest book.
"I was really worn down by an American society that is racist, smugly blind to it and hugely self-satisfied. I wanted to live in a place where that wasn't always a distorting weight. Black people in America have to, for their own protection, develop a defense mechanism, and I just grew terribly tired of it.
"When you sustain that kind of affront, and sustain it and sustain it and sustain it, something happens to you. You try to steer a course in American society that's not self-destructive. But America is a country that inflicts injury. It does not like to see anything that comes in response, and accuses one of anger as if it were an unnatural response. For anyone who is not White in America, the affronts are virtually across the board."
Before you attribute this article as a call for Black people to move out of the United States, let me make it clear that I am not advocating such an action, but I certainly understand why it occurs. One day I may leave this country for good, but I am not saying all Black people should do so, nor am I saying we should stay here. I just want to use history, both old and recent, to stimulate thinking around what is happening to Black people in this country.
The latest cuts in initiatives that assist poor people, the elderly, veterans and college students, juxtaposed against continued tax cuts for millionaires, should serve as a very clear indication of how the majority of Black people are viewed. While we play the political game, and that's exactly what it is, others run off with the economic spoils.
If you choose to leave, no one can blame you. If you choose to stay, you had better prepare yourself for battle. The battlefield is the marketplace, the weapons are our pockets and purses and the bullets are our dollars. Fire at will! That is, if you have the will.
James E. Clingman is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati's African American Studies department.