Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa (Book Review)

I Read “Out of America " when it was published several years ago, but I felt it was time to bring it out of the closet with the human rights problems currently going on around the world to show that this phase is nothing new and represents a part of Africa most African-Americans know nothing about or try hard to ignore. "Out of America" is a candid and sometimes chilling look at the "Motherland" from another person’s eyes.

It  is a dark and disturbing book depicting a continent where morality is a strange concept, where morally bankrupt "big men" pillage the continent's resources at the expense of millions while bringing new killing fields to its already war weary residents and destroying stability while at the time becoming rich "welfare kings" from the misguided foreign dollars siphoned off into foreign banks. The book exposes thugs who run countries, rob and rape the resources and people, according to brutal and savage methods to silence opposition, including torture, imprisonment and murder. 

As a black American and journalist, Mr. Richburg thrusts a "no holds barred" view of black Africa into the reader's face and dares them to look at the Africa he lived and worked in for three years as a foreign correspondent for the Washington Post. It is a difficult picture to view. The smell of death and decay scent each page transferring the horrifying images of genocide, madness and utter hopelessness directly to the reader's psyche.

At a time when "Afrocentrism" is fashionable and popular among large portions of the United States' black population, black academicians, "leaders" and pop culture, it would be easy to dismiss “Out of America” as a "popular journalism" tome and write it off. But, that is to entirely miss the point and shrug off an important piece that brings current reality and raw truth to a sensitive subject that has been overly romanticized revealing an Africa that no one talks about.

Although “Out of America” is only one man's view of the continent, it reveals much. Of all the confrontations presented by life there are none so tough as confronting the truth about ourselves and the author admits it. Mr. Richburg makes no pretense that he has all the answers or even that he knows the questions. However, what he does present is an intensely personal view of a subject that most blacks or whites would shy away from ever saying anything in public much less write a book about it. 

Mr. Richburg is candid about where and how he grew up, who his friends are and his early influences, so much so that some might want to write him off as non-representative, but Mr. Richburg never makes that claim. It is his story about his personal reality on a continent that suffers from an unrealistic romanticized characterization and overwrought surface embellishment.

For readers with an open mind and a willingness to peer beneath the surface, “Out of America” is provocative reading. It is a book that is certainly worth the effort for those who wonder about the people who look like them—in the "Motherland." 

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Comment by Luara on October 17, 2013 at 9:31pm

Yes, human beings have done just about anything - in some circumstances.  People are incredibly malleable, created by our culture and circumstances, human nature is protean.

The immigrants from Africa who I've met have been very warm, kind people.  They also have something that allows them to emigrate, perhaps more money than most Africans.  The woman who cuts my hair came to the USA from Ghana, she's been here maybe 20 years or so.  We talk about food a lot, like the tropical roots that people eat in Ghana and Latin America.  She does say there was a lot of poverty there, parasites like the worms that burrow into one's skin - but doesn't seem to feel it was a disaster area. 

Comment by Donald R Barbera on October 17, 2013 at 7:47pm
I think you have some good points. African Americans are sparse in the United States. Perhaps, the only African American I am familiar with is the President of the United States. His father is truly African and his mother is white American. Truly an African American. Richburg's account is numbing. The thing that bothers me the most is the savagery, that allows men to do things that are off the chart of civilization. Of course, in Vietnam the same thing happened. In fact, in just about any place where war is ongoing the same things; the only difference is scale.
Comment by Daniel W on October 17, 2013 at 7:28pm
Sorry for typos. Fat fingers, little key pad, bad eyes. :)
Comment by Daniel W on October 17, 2013 at 7:26pm

Richburg is critical not only of the big men / brutal autocrats, but also of the passive masses. He also mskes the point repeatedly that this is Africa where nobody counts the black bodies, anonymous and emaciated or nloated, floating in rivers and mass graves. but if 'the people' rise in protest, the will wind up more anonymous bodies in mass graves, uncounted snd unknown.

- I thought about the idea of ancestral homeland. Richburg also repeats his theme that while black in America is challenging, isolating, frustrating, and oppressive, black in Africa is so much worse. And he felt much more out of place and isolated there, than here. I kmos there is a desire for a motherland, but in reality most Americans are American more than the places of their ancestors. He does make the point that there were Africanslaves - and I think some free people - in the Americas before the Mayflower, and American culture is signicantly a product of the descendents of Africans. Both in oppression and freedom. I know I would be woefully out of place in the various countries that contributed to my DNA and family lore.

- in the end Richburg leavs us without hope. That enev the few relatively bright spots are likely doomed too. That there is no way out. Not from the masses, not from their leaders, not from the west or north. maybe he is right. I hope not. Could it be the Chinese? He mentions an increasing Chinese presence. No one can blame China for past or present oppression in China. China does not owe Africa anything. mExcept their presence might be a push for pragmatism over tribalism, and accountability over scapegoating. Richburg cites successes in Asia and asks why those same successes are not seen in Africa. Could an Asian presence spark a different kind of psychology.

Anyway thanks again for the recommendation and review of this important book.
Comment by Donald R Barbera on October 17, 2013 at 7:20pm
You are correct in your assessment of life in certain parts of Africa. And, yes, colleges are bringing African students from elite families on the continent. Perhaps, the thing that bothers me most is bringing religion to people fighting for their lives. They are a captive audience. Bringing American style Christianity does not help--it hinders.
Comment by Luara on October 17, 2013 at 7:09pm

A slightly more optimistic note:  I've been reading that colleges have been getting black people by admitting African foreign students.  These students are rich and privileged, from the upper classes in Africa.  A lot of Nigerian students. 

When they go back to Africa (if they do), hopefully they will have training that will help Africa with its problems.  So it's a good thing to have these foreign students. 

Africa isn't completely composed of starvation, corruption and slaughter.

Comment by Donald R Barbera on October 17, 2013 at 6:59pm
It is a depressing story. The good news is . . . Well, it ain't all bad news, but it is still going on and the noted exception of Chrtian missionaries that might be as bad as any brutality they face. With burning young girls as witches, killing homosexuals and kidnapping women everything else is just peachy keen.
Comment by Daniel W on October 17, 2013 at 6:50pm
OK Don. I read this book. Now Im so damn depressed I dont want to care any more.

Actuslly, none of the themes and few of the events were new to me. richburg just puts it together in one pkace.

I have a few thoughts.

- In the big picture, anything, anywhere is just a snapshot in a moving picture. We are in a similarly hopeless seeming time in north korea and much of the middle east. Within our lifetimes it has felt hopeless in many places that pulled out of a morass.

(more to follow..... )
Comment by Luara on October 9, 2013 at 4:07pm

Btw somewhere in Sowell's writings there was something about what a great position Europe was in, having contact with many different cultures - that the size of the cultural universe was very important.

I thought reading that - look, now there is the internet which gives us contact with humanity all around the world.  If it's true that it's crucial to have these many contacts, the internet might be an incredible thing for us.

Comment by Luara on October 9, 2013 at 3:16pm

Thomas Sowell makes a lot of interesting observations. 

"Race Matters"

But why? It seems to be a self-perpetuating memeplex.  From my experience there are a lot of attempts to fix things in a top-down way, white people being told they were Wrong somehow, trying to avoid the accusation of racism by acting right and toeing the line.  To play it safe they avoid the subject.  And, if you try to act "the right way" rather than coming from yourself, you become decentered, anxious, and less friendly.  For me during the 80s associating with the separatist-feminist culture which emphasized "political correctness" (PC was dead serious at the time, not yet a term of mockery) resonated with the shaming, domination, anger and control in my childhood. 

But I've seen this sort of thing so often in white people.  For example I got a CD of Marian Anderson's singing, and I told a white person how extraordinary her voice was - and the person tensed up, got a frozen smile that said "you are saying something positive about a black person, so I'm required to agree in order not to be racist".  I could see that Marian Anderson being black was paramount in her mind due to the social pressures, and took away her ability to say what she really thought, and leaving little room in her mind for my comment about her voice, and likely leaving little room in her mind to hear Marian Anderson's singing if she were to listen to it.  The stuff about race is abusive in many ways, abusive to white people as well as to black people.  It's like there was a mentality that tried to fix abuse of black people by abusing white people. 

People also have unexamined attitudes that they got from their parents.  Many people are very unconscious of their own attitudes, never explore or understand their own psychology - they just carry on as adults with whatever resulted from their training as children, including the racial attitudes. 


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