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Black Beyond Borders

by Kali Ferguson

August 7,2008

I get out….

I of the universe.
Won’t be prisoner of your little world.
The mind is limitless…
We travel beyond the realms of expectations…

-Ziggy Marley

How can African Americans in Charlotte expand our consciousness and view ourselves as responsible participants in a global community? Why do so many of us stay in boxes built by mainstream opinion only to comply and complain all our lives? Do we get an accurate picture of our importance in the world from what corporate media machines (owned by whites, blacks, and others) and outdated school curricula offer? 

I grew up in Charlotte before there was anything to do uptown at night. I never dreamed it would change so drastically by the time I moved back in 2004. Some sectors of the city have become international contenders in their areas. Other parts of Charlotte reflect an unchanged Old South mindset of boxes and proper places and impossibilities. Unfortunately, much of the native African American community here holds that closed view. 

In many U.S. cities, Black people traditionally like to stick with what we know. We pick our favorite music based on what the radio plays. We eat only one sort of food. We dress according to the norms of our peers. In the South, things can be even more unmoving. Because we have only recently had immigrants move here in large numbers, it has escaped us that the world goes beyond U.S. borders. We only knew people from our neighborhood, our family, our state, our country. Many of us believed that was enough. This complacent mentality must change so we can participate in world affairs, not just watch them on television. 

In my 31 years I have done a little traveling throughout the country and the world. I have lived in San Jose, Costa Rica; Liverpool, UK; Brooklyn, New York; and Miami Florida. If I had stayed in Charlotte all my life (or North Carolina), I may have missed a well-hidden truth in today’s modern world: I am a black woman in the US who has cultural and political ties to millions of people who don’t speak English, who are misrepresented in the media, and who need my understanding and support. These people are more aware of me (or representations thereof) than I of them. They are just as significant and powerful as I, and some are now able to connect with me in ways not dreamed of twenty years ago. I must and will explore these connections beyond what news stations and traditional school textbooks provide. 

In my college years I traveled to Costa Rica and Liverpool, England. There I met young people of African descent who were painfully aware of US politics and canned African American culture. They accessed us through television and the music industry.  These young people were eager to embrace us and share their experiences as minorities. Who knew? 

However, in 2001, I attended the World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa. People of Color from everywhere came. They complained of the arrogance American Blacks displayed. Others were surprised to find that we even cared about them. They assumed we all were so well-off that “third-world citizens” like them did not concern us. I have encountered Caribbean immigrants who thought African Americans all talked like the popular rappers on the radio. I met a man from Togo who would not specify his home country because he assumed no Black American cared where it was anyway. All these encounters showed me the impact African-Americans have on the world. 

We can get so caught up in surviving that we do not look beyond our immediate environment. But nowadays, that environment spans the earth. Everyone relies on everyone else. Nearly everything we buy was touched by someone far away. We can use that knowledge to our advantage. More of us have the means to become true world citizens by exchanging honest information and friendship with other world citizens.  The Internet, local festivals, study abroad programs, conversations with neighbors and co-workers, must be seen as our global resources. A powerful global solidarity is necessary to create new possibilities in business, educational, and artistic collaborations. 

We must widen our view in order to see outside the walls that limit our lives.

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