Some may read this post and wonder what does Tina Turner have to do with the classical world. I want to share a video of Tina Turner explaining why she made her home in Europe (see below). As I watched it, I thought about why James Baldwin lived there, why Richard Wright lived there, why Miles Davis lived there or why Frederick Douglass lived there. Frederick Douglass said he was, “treated not ‘as a colour, but as a man’ there…I seem to have undergone a transformation, I live a new life.” Miles Davis said, “I had never felt that way in my life…It was the freedom of being in France and being treated like a human being.” They all referenced the same reasons that Tina Turner shares in this video. The respect…the humane treatment…the equity, was just a little better in Europe than in America. (I wonder why they didn’t go to Africa like DuBois?? That’s what I would have done, but I digress).
Maybe it is because the process to end slavery happened sooner than in America? From 1807 to 1838 the British empire sought to root it out. For more than 20 years after, America would continue to enslave Black people and even after it ended the battle waged to keep Black people in a place of subservience. When the Fisk Jubilee Singers traveled to Europe, they felt much more safe and appreciated there, as well. Some struggled to return back to America when a tour was over.
The land of Europe was a refuge for many Black people because somehow in its abolition of slavery there seemed to be more of an effort to also change the culture so that it welcomed Black people more. Western lands were not the only refuge for Black people, but so was Western literature. As we endured captivity, oppression and racism, for those of us who could not travel to Europe, we found a refuge in Western literature. Somehow it spoke to us and inspired us to embrace our equal humanity. It ignited a fire in us to fight vigilantly for our equal place in America.
Some will read this and think that I am advocating for dismissing the importance of Africa in helping Black people discover their true history and identity. This piece is not negating that, but it is also about looking at a positive perspective on the West that is often overlooked and dissolves in this war against the West. Historic fact is always what moves me, regardless of my frustrations with being Black in America. We can look at many of the stories of our ancestors and see stories of how the West was a refuge. Yes it has been oppressive but there is another story that should be told, because it is true. Maybe in learning about the fullness of the complex relationship between the West and Black people, the world won’t be so quick to reject it. I think Tina would agree (see link below for the video). Rest in peace queen. You were definitely an inspiration to this Black woman and you loved yourself, without rejecting the West. This is something I fully relate to.