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 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 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. 

Comment by Donald R Barbera on October 7, 2013 at 9:51pm
Laura, I don't put much stock in the liberal or conservative categories because they are worthless as people indentifiers. The government of the United States is as legitimate as any other in the world and more so in many ases. Racism is alive and well, and it have not and will not forget it. Humans may be able to change, but change is slow, especially when change is not desired. Although race as a category is as much a social construct as well as a biological reality, at genome level it makes little difference. Nevertheless, in the words of Cornell West "Race a Matters," especially in this country.
Comment by Luara on October 7, 2013 at 8:46pm

what do you mean by "gently barred"?  Like very politely, coming up with some reason, but you're pretty sure it's actually about race?  Are there areas where you couldn't go for a walk in peace?  I've certainly experienced that.

The racial environment seems to vary a lot from place to place, from what I've seen.  I used to live in the greater Los Angeles area, and it was much more a multiracial environment than Ithaca is.  There was a lot of racial antagonism in Los Angeles, but people were also used to people of other races being around.  I was living there during the riots and looting over the Rodney King verdict - not in the middle of it, but there was smoke on the horizon, police cordons around the supermarkets locally, being glared at by black people ...

I went traveling a bit in the South - the northern South, Virginia, North Carolina, in the 80's and at least superficially, it was much more amiable than Los Angeles, I didn't sense any racial antagonism. 

As for leopards with spots - humans are incredibly malleable.  There is enormous variety in the ways that people think, and people have changed so much over history.  I think the persistence of black/white injustice and conflict is partly because of a self-reinforcing pattern, it is a dynamic thing. 

For example, in the liberal/academic environments that I've been in, most white people seem above all to be anxious about not being racist (it's disapproved of), anxious around black people partly through unfamiliarity - so they avoid dealing with it by avoiding the black people, or if they're around black people, avoid any mention of race as a risky subject ...  One lab where I worked, the lab manager needed to hire someone to wash the lab glassware.  A black guy applied, and I heard people talking in shocked tones, about how the lab manager said he didn't think he could work with a black guy, so he wasn't hired.  I don't know if the lab manager actually had any negative opinions about black people, but he was a very anxious person.  Now and then after I really got to know somebody, they would express overt racism, but mostly the dynamic seemed to be - don't want to touch the subject, it's too volatile - avoid if possible.  And white people in an almost-all-white environment can afford to have this attitude, but it just perpetuates the problem.  

I've also heard that among many inner-city blacks, that studying hard and learning is considered to be "acting white" - not approved of - that the black children don't have the motivation to learn.  This seems so self-defeating - again, it perpetuates being trapped in poverty, perpetuates stereotypes.  And I'm not sure where those attitudes come from. 

Ithaca is a very liberal college town, and too small to really have enclaves - I doubt there is any street here where either a black or white person would be somehow excluded. But I think because there aren't many black people, there's more of a tendency for the white people to feel uncomfortable around them. 

Anyway, I was originally asking - not really about race issues, but about human psychology - whether if the people around you are almost all of a different race, your concept of "a person" changes to look like that race.  Because we have different categories for ourselves as a person and for other people.  I guess that might be a lack of cognitive dissonance that the majority enjoys. 

I've never felt like it was "my" government and I still don't.  To me the government seems constitutionally unjust, like that's just what government does - distributes injustice unequally.  I suppose it's less outrageous than having no government at all - then, individual people can distribute injustice any way they see fit.  Which is pretty much the situation that children live in. 

Comment by Donald R Barbera on October 7, 2013 at 5:50pm
I have lived in places where asides from me and a few others, we made up less than 5% of the population. Also, 23% of blacks don't live next to each other. There are enclaves of blacks Hispanics and other ethnic groups all over the metroplex. Just as there are all white areas where blacks are not only unseen, but gently barred from even being in the area unless they work their as butlers, etc. A minority is a minority is a minority. In corporate America, I was often the only African American in many meetings. Did it upset me? No. All of my life I've been part of a minority and if I live another 50 years then I'll be a minority in a plurality.
Comment by Luara on October 7, 2013 at 12:43pm

Donald,

Have you lived for an extended time in a place that had 5% black people?  Dallas is about 23% black people, there are substantial populations of different races. I think that would be a very different experience from living in a place that is racially pretty homogeneous, where you are a different race. 

Of course it depends on whether the people are friendly to you.  I've heard that people are very friendly, very sociable in Africa.  If I went there I expect people would be friendly to me.  I'm guessing that my image of "a person" would turn into a black person, through being around almost all black people.  

So how do things feel different when you are in the majority?  and what do you mean "you better be aware" that you are in the minority?  Rednecks come to mind?

Comment by Donald R Barbera on October 7, 2013 at 11:16am

Laura, I have never been part of a racial majority except when I am in the islands. It is quite different look and feel when you are part of a majority and are aware of it. In Dallas, Texas (emphasis on Texas) you are always aware you are in the minority or at least you better be aware. Although I served in the military, was a part of corporate America and have benefitted from those connections, I never felt like I was a stakeholder in this country until the election of Barack Obama. I at least felt that I had a small stake in the country. That said, I don't Obama's election proved anything other than the complexion of the US is changing, but we've known that for years. I am distressed by none of this because I grew up with it and I am a realist. It takes time and an ocean of cleaning fluid for a leopard to change its spots. I am just more aware of it than others. I expect nothing and anything that is given is a gift and I am appreciative, but I am not so enamored to think there will be no more Trayvon Martins as well as more Barack Obama. Reaching civilization is a long and drawn out process. Will we make it? I think so, but only when we feel no need to have discussions such as this.

Comment by Luara on October 7, 2013 at 10:15am

Donald,

I doubt you are so much part of a racial minority in Dallas?  I was thinking more of the experience of being around almost-all people of another race, as Craigart might have been teaching in a historically black college and living in Africa. 

Or, in Ithaca where I live there are only about 7% black people (and 74% white), so a similar question would apply to a black person living here.  Just going around town, almost everyone they encounter will be white or something other than black. 

I've never been in a racial minority for an extended time - where almost everyone else is of a different race from me.  The closest thing I can compare it to is wearing a mask because of allergies, which does cause weird reactions, and people are less likely to get into conversations with me. 

Comment by Donald R Barbera on October 7, 2013 at 9:31am

Craigart:

I don't really know if it influenced me or not. Always being part of a racial minority obviously has influenced my perceptions to the point that I am no longer aware of it. I feel comfortable in just about any situation because of it. It has taught me to me more perceptive regarding motivations and even danger. For instance, there are places I know not to go in black society or white society that many whites might be unaware of until they found themselves there. I know I've become sensitive to things whites may overlook, not see or not care about. That's life. Do I like it? No, because it makes gaining difficult because preconceptions drag at you even when others think there are none.

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