By K. Astre
Almost five months ago, I got on a plane and flew to another continent to see what life looks like outside of the bell jar of unapologetic jingoism. I was tired of being erased, tired of the microaggressions, tired of living in a city where anything below six figures was considered low income. Tired. Over it. Unimpressed and uninterested in continuing to carry on with the meticulously-designed, soul-crushing grind disguised as the American dream. I wanted culture. Blackness. Depth. Purpose. And I was ready to see and experience the world with more of a global lens.
From the moment I started telling people I was moving to South Africa with my family, I would constantly get, “Aren’t you scared?” I could tell people were concerned for my safety, but most likely they just imagining moving to South Africa themselves and projected the fear that fantasy evoked.
“Isn’t it dangerous?” they’d ask. “What about the crime? What about the sexual assaults? What about the poverty? What about the government?”
Crime, poverty and danger are all present in the United States. They are all happening in your city right now. Right down the street. All of those things happen everywhere. Should I exit the planet or just conveniently continue living in the white supremacist illusion of America as the best and safest country in the world?
My first real outing in South Africa was a visit to Pretoria at the Marabastad Market. I saw mamas with sleeping babies artfully tied on their backs, women casually sauntering around with heavy baskets of goods expertly balanced on top of their heads by their stiff necks and sturdy hands. I saw men and women in resplendent shades of brown and blue-black I’ve never seen before. I saw incomparable style, effortless swag, infinite culture.
“Aren’t you scared?” one shop owner an older woman who had noticed my inconspicuous accent asked with one of those silent chuckles where your shoulders do the laughing and a smirk.
“Of what?” I asked, looking into her sweet face. “Ummm, should I be?”
I looked around. There hadn’t been one moment where I felt afraid. It was just Black people all together in one space.
“I don’t know! You Americans are taught to be afraid of us!” She laughed out loud now, a big one. “We’re very dangerous.” A few other sellers near her started snickering.
“I’m not scared.” I told her.
“Good,” she said and squeezed my arm.
Since moving here, lots of South Africans ask me the same question—“Aren’t you scared?”—but there’s a joke in their voice, a laugh beneath the surface of their genuine curiosity.
Wherever there are large concentrations of Black people, the world has created a message that you cannot be safe there.
There is supposedly some heightened element of danger simply because Black people are together. Whether it’s Oakland, Chicago, Kigali or Johannesburg, these narratives loom over cities with high concentrations of melanin. I understand there is jaw-dropping crime, unspeakable poverty, potential danger, peril, fire, brimstone in places that have seen concentrated anti-Black violence. I also understand that these are only a fraction of all the evils that are available on any part of the globe, whether in the United States or on another continent.
These beautiful people thrive here as they have since the beginning of time, despite the spirit-crushing grip of colonialism and whiteness trying to infiltrate their rich culture through apartheid. They eat, sleep, live, learn, work and play here. They raise children and nurture their families. They love and fight and make mistakes and do all the things everyone everywhere else does, all while navigating the inescapable reality of what it means to live among other humans.
If I had told people I was moving to Canada or France or even Germany, no one would ask me if I was scared. But, that’s not what South Africans are really asking me about when they make this inquiry.
They are really asking me how I unraveled myself from the brainwashing, how I managed to deprogram myself while in the belly of the matrix. How I dare to live among them after a lifetime of being taught to be afraid of “the other,” of their unapologetic Blackness, of the African resilience that secretly scares the rest of the planet.
My answer is: because my soul—that is made up of that same Blackness, that same resilience—knows better.
And here I am.
K. Astre is a bi-continental writer who loves pretty things, naps, Eartha Kitt and good rice. She lives in South Africa with her wife and kids.