The Root's contributing editor Demetria L. Lucas recounts at Essence some bizarre international travel experiences and concludes that as African Americans, we need to do a better job managing our image worldwide.
I'm no stranger to how some non-Americans perceive Black Americans. I live in un-gentrified Brooklyn — Crown Heights to be exact. It's a Caribbean stronghold and ground zero for the annual West Indian Day Parade. With rare exception, my local Black friends are non-American.
For most of them growing up, when they acted out their parents would chasten them, "Don't act like a Black American." Half-joking, my friends will claim me as a native of their home country. It's their way of saying, in so many words, they can't believe I'm a Black American …
I would be upset about it, but I get where it comes from. One of America's greatest exports is its entertainment, i.e. TV, music, film. And unfortunately, American Black folk aren't always seen in the best light. More often than not, what non-Americans observe of Black American culture is us at our worst — raunchy performers, lowbrow TV/film and misogynistic rap lyrics. Some would say it's just entertainment, but it's so much deeper.
I was in London once, on the tube talking to another Black woman, when a group of guys started chanting, "Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!" at us, alluding to the popular circus-like talk show where Black folks (and, in fairness, lots of white people) fought with each other for ratings. The show was a national sensation and clearly, an international hit as well …
A few days ago, I'm at Tambo airport in Johannesburg, at the security checkpoint. The attendant, seeing my navy blue passport cover, says, "You look like Madea!"
Read Demetria L. Lucas' entire piece at Essence.
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