I grew up in a Pentecostal Holiness church. I know a thing or two about scriptures that encourage us not to be weary in welldoing because, one day, we will reap if we don’t quit. Black women in particular have waited patiently in line because payday is coming after a while, or so we’ve been told. It is expected of us to bear burdens for our families, friends and loved ones. But once the pandemic hit, suddenly we began to realize that we were closer to our breaking points than we knew—at least I was.
I turned 45 this year, but the last two years of my life have felt like a run-on sentence. Many tears were shed in those early pandemic years. Many bonds were tested, and some failed. By the end of 2022, I decided that for my own health and wellbeing, I’d need to find a path to freedom for myself and my children because everything I saw and heard around me looked hopeless and unchanging.
As a Black southern woman, l’ve seen women I love withered by decades of oppression and disenfranchisement. Faced with my own middle age and growing frustration, I could easily see myself going down a dark path that would eventually threaten my mental and physical health. This could not be all there is for Black life to do.
As I imagined what freedom needs to look like for my family, I began to realize that it was vital that I do everything possible to travel outside of the United States. Chattel slavery did a number on more than just the enslaved, and there is a distinct difference between this country—built on such an evil enterprise—and others that are not.
I learned that this difference can be felt on a soul level.
Visiting my husband’s country of Dominican Republic for the first time in 2021 was the moment my imagination opened to what was possible. I’ve since made three more trips to the country, each one leaving me longing for more. Our Dominican neighbors were in the streets, dressed up, singing, dancing, drinking, and celebrating the New Year. On our block in Dominican, everyone knows everyone; even the couple across the way who argue loudly on a nightly basis are well known, and their arguments ignored. Minding the business that pays you and holding space for your neighbors was almost more than I could emotionally take in. Blackness is constantly being reminded of just how quickly presence and public joy, or anger, can be criminalized in the United States.
Our Dominican neighborhood is loud, it’s busy, and it smells like exhaust from motorcycles and roasted chicken most days.
And I can’t wait to go back.
Dominican Republic is not a flawless nation. Their policies against Haitian immigrants are oppressive and widely criticized. Colorism is a major issue there. While governmental systems often hold on to oppressive and racist policies, there are Black people living within those systems who are loving, laughing, working, and resisting within their music, dance, and worship practices. The island itself is breathtakingly beautiful and lush. Multiple things can be true at once and all of them must be held in tension. There are very few predominantly Black and Brown countries that have not been impacted by colonization to some extent.
That does not mean America must be our only option.
King Solomon said it’s better to live on a roof than with a contentious spouse. And in my opinion, it’s better to take cold showers and have rolling black-outs than to have to deal with the constant strain and drain that is the American brand of historic racial oppression and microaggressions.
I’m not in the business of telling people what to do, but I don’t mind making suggestions. As we continue to struggle to get this country of ours to live out the true meaning of its creed, I’m inviting us all—and especially Black women—to begin to reimagine what freedom can and should look like and to put most (if not all) of our available resources towards bringing it to pass.
Leaving isn’t for all of us, but neither is staying. The Dominican Republic is my family’s country of choice, but there are hundreds more to choose from. The blessing of emancipation has been that unlike our enslaved ancestors, no generation has ever had both the knowledge and means to leave the place of their enslavement should they choose to like ours can. It is understandable that many, if not most of us, will stay. But I’m curious to know what will become of Black people in America as whole, and this nation in general, as more Black people discover that we do have options; that generational wealth can be established in other countries and not just this one.
Freedom for Black folks doesn’t have to be defined just on America’s terms. Freedom for Black women should look like many different things, including the freedom to choose one’s own path and homeland. If we are to do more than merely survive as Black women, we must begin to reimagine our own liberation and fearlessly and unapologetically pursue it.
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