People of all kinds – yes, people of color too – go abroad to live, love and learn. They study a language, they follow a partner, they go just for the heck of it or for a midlife crisis. Sometimes, they flee war or poverty, but not usually.
Tired of not seeing her story represented, Amanda Bates created The Black Expat – a media centering the stories of Black global citizens. In this episode, she discusses her TCK childhood between Cameroon and the US, the challenges of life in-between and who gets to be called an expat vs. an immigrant.
01:55 A TCK childhood
06:14 An American teenager in Cameroon
09:08 A Cameroonian student in the US
12:56 Why TCKs and first-gen college students relate
16:43 Minority students and the study abroad experience
18:34 How to become a Borderline member
19:40 Centering the Black expat experience
22:27 Blackness is not monolithic
29:07 Expat vs. immigrant and the power of words
Sources & credits
Transcripts are published for your convenience, but they are automated and not always cleaned up. Please excuses typos and occasional nonsense, and always check the audio before quoting.
Amanda Bates: [00:00:00] He was like, "I never thought of myself as an expat" and I'm like "right, because they always call you an immigrant."
[00:00:06]Isabelle Roughol: [00:00:15] Hi I'm Isabelle Roughol and this is Borderline.
[00:00:19] It's something I've touched on on this podcast before: I have reclaimed the term immigrant for myself. For one, Brexit for the first time really made me feel like one, having to justify my presence here in the UK and apply to retain rights taken in a vote where people like me were not allowed a ballot. A couple weeks after I'd just moved to the UK, in the autumn of 2016 when the referendum results were still fresh and raw – and when weren't they raw? – I sat at a dinner opposite a woman who had, it quickly became apparent, voted Leave. I wasn't keen to put the topic on the table, but when it came up I mentioned that no everything would not be "just fine", that there were long negotiations ahead with as yet uncertain results and that I could still be asked to leave the country. In fact, dear listener, I still could and I'll only find out at the end of this year. She paused and looked at me: "Oh you'll be fine dear, you're..." She stopped. "White? Wealthy? Not Polish?" I'll never know where that sentence was heading, but I'm afraid I do know.
[00:01:22] There's a lot of politics, and not the prettiest kind, in choosing the foreigners we want and those we don't. The people to whom we grant the non-threatening label of expat and those we call immigrants. I talked about this this week with Amanda Bates, the founder of The Black Expat, a site dedicated to the experiences of Black people living abroad. We talked about a lot more than that too, her childhood as a third-culture kid, the challenge of returning "home" after a long absence and the importance of telling joyful Black stories. Here is Amanda Bates.
[00:01:55] Amanda's third-culture childhood
Amanda Bates: [00:01:55] I was raised... well, I was raised a lot of places, but I was born in DC and my family originally came from Sub-Saharan Africa. They came from Cameroon. And I always make a point to say my, my, my family came from the English minority. And so they came to the DC area, DMV, so DC, Maryland, Virginia area. And like many Africans at that time, we're talking post-colonialism, so they are either looking to advance education beyond the education they had, or there were professional opportunities that kind of beckoned them.
[00:02:31] And so that's what brought my family here. And here being in the U S where I am right now. And so I, I grew up. At that time around a fairly large immigrant community. And parts of DC and Northern Virginia and Maryland are still that to this day, even though many of the, some of the, not many, but some of the immigrant groups have changed.
[00:02:54] And so at that time, lots of West Africans were settling in that area, a growing number of East Africans and a good number, actually very strong number of, of Latin Americans. So we're talking about El Salvador and Guatemala because during that time, many folks were fleeing from what was civil unrest and civil wars that were happening in those countries.
[00:03:17] Isabelle Roughol: [00:03:17] So that was like the eighties.
[00:03:18] Amanda Bates: [00:03:18] Yeah, it was seventies, eighties. My parents came in the mid seventies. And so that, as you know, that as all good wars sometimes go on way longer than they need to so it trickled into the eighties. and in some cases the nineties.
[00:03:33] Isabelle Roughol: [00:03:33] And, uh, and the nineties and you know, it's not like Salvador is, is all happy sunshine right now.
[00:03:39] Amanda Bates: [00:03:39] Right. Completely right. And so a lot of immigrant influences and, you know, my parents were educated and so for me, I loved reading books. I was already in a cross-cultural space and all those things were of interest to me.
[00:03:52] And so when I was 10, my parents decided to repatriate because at that time too, and this was the early, early nineties. They decided to make that move in the late eighties, and so we make the move in 1990. And like many West Africans at the time, and other Africans to be honest, there was the, "okay we think we've gained all this knowledge and this experience. We think we can go back to our home countries and kind of rebuild and support what's going on there."
[00:04:17]What was interesting though is that my parents made the decision to move to the capital city because my mom got an opportunity there. And my parents did not speak French. We were not francophone. We are anglophone, and the capital city is French-speaking. And so that was already a cross cultural challenge for me because I didn't speak, I didn't speak the... French which is the... Even though Cameron is bilingual nationally with two languages, English and French, French is the, that is the larger population.
[00:04:46] So I didn't speak that. And I was going to the American school, so I was going to international school. So there's that division. And then I did not speak either of my parents' tribal languages. So there was that division. And then, you know, we were living in an area where you had a lot of expats and so I have always been curious about people and places and stories. And, I was a big reader and especially when I moved the first year, I'd taken all my books and I, any book I could find, I would read because for me, I, it was a form of escapism.
[00:05:21]I was in Cameroon for what we call middle and high school here in the U S so roughly between the ages of 10 and 17, and then returned to the United States to start university at 17.
[00:05:37] And yeah, that, you know, a lot of the stuff that I do with The Black Expat was kind of built out of those formative years of not only stepping out of a Western, predominantly white environment, stepping into a African, predominantly Black environment, and then stepping back into a predominantly white environment and being a minority and having this international story.
[00:06:08] And that's where the seeds of The Black Expat came from. Those aren't the only ones, but that's definitely the foundation.
[00:06:14]Being an American teenager in Cameroon
[00:06:14] Isabelle Roughol: [00:06:14] So I want to pause on those teenage years for a moment. What was it like? So you have that kind of like that double returnee experience first, returning in your case, going for the first time really, to Cameroon as a young American child. And what is that like, stepping into an environment that yeah, sure, your parents are from there, but is very different from your reality growing up in America, isn't it?
[00:06:41] Amanda Bates: [00:06:41] Yeah. Like all third culture kids, those who basically have spent childhoods crossing borders, it was definitely a challenge because number one, I came from a place of privilege. Now I, I didn't have the terminology for it as a kid, but I knew it just because you know, like many folks, they look towards the U S being this big place and this great place. And in many ways it is, right? In a place of opportunity. And so the fact that my mannerisms were very American ish and my accent and just my knowledge. It stood out.
[00:07:21] And so the very first year I was back, I actually, I was homeschooled through my fifth year, my fifth grade year. And then my sixth grade year, I was in a local school. And that was a really hard transition. And it just, it wasn't a good fit. I just, culturally, I just didn't understand a lot of things. There were a lot of expectations that were different. And I was, you know, I was in a boarding school, so I was away from my family and it just didn't work out. And so when I was in seventh grade, I was put into an international school. And that's where I think I finally found my space because all of the kids there had some, like... The stories were not exactly the same, but there was some element of, we're all kind of flailing in a place, in places where we're not quite 100% a fit. And that's where I probably made some of my best friends, lifelong friends. And, and so it took me a while. Like it took, until I got into the schools that I went to for, the two international schools I went to, it was a struggle.
[00:08:18] And, and it was not easy. And there was still tension outside those walls, right? Because you look like the population, your names are like the local population, but... My mom worked at the US embassy and so that was already a thing. And so it wasn't easy. But I think like all good TCKS, you, you learn how to adapt. And I think that's a skill that I've taken with me as an adult.
[00:08:45] Isabelle Roughol: [00:08:45] It's interesting what you just said, because it's like, you're not obviously an outsider, like the way that you present when people first meet you, they think you're going to be the same. And then it's as you interact with people, they're like, "Oh wait, she's not quite the same." and so, so must have been jarring, for people in the other side as well to kind of adapt and, and understand who you were.
[00:09:08] Being a Cameroonian student in the US
Amanda Bates: [00:09:08] Yeah. I mean, I had the, you know, then I had the same experience in college.
[00:09:12] Isabelle Roughol: [00:09:12] Tell me about that. What was it like?
[00:09:14] Amanda Bates: [00:09:14] Once again, sound like the local population. Could be part of the local population. Didn't understand any of the cultural references because at that point, I've been out of the country for seven years. So there was some things I knew, like at the time Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was huge. Right. and also the show got translated and was disseminated around the world because every time I talked to people...
[00:09:38] Isabelle Roughol: [00:09:38] I watched the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in France growing up,
[00:09:42] Amanda Bates: [00:09:42] Right, exactly.
[00:09:42] Isabelle Roughol: [00:09:42] It was huge.
[00:09:43] Amanda Bates: [00:09:43] It was huge. I think we watched it in Cameroon... If you didn't record it on a VCR and bring it back, right, so all of us could watch it in English. I think we were getting it in French from France, dubbed. It was wild, but.
[00:09:57] Isabelle Roughol: [00:09:57] I'm sorry. I'm sorry. French dubbed shows are terrible.
[00:10:01] Amanda Bates: [00:10:01] Oh my gosh, every show I know I'm always like we watched that in French and I'm still confused as to what happened. But this was the nineties. And so what's different now for third culture kids is the internet. The internet, when I was starting to go to college, email was becoming a thing. Like, I, I mean, I remember it was becoming a thing. And then when I got to college, I had an email address because the university had issued one. But it wasn't, we didn't have social media, information didn't travel the same way it does now. And so people would make references and I'm even to this day and I, this is a long time ago, but even to this day, people will make references from stuff in the nineties here, assuming I would know, and particularly about Black culture, and I would say, "yeah, I was in Africa. I don't know. I don't know what you're talking about."
[00:10:56] Isabelle Roughol: [00:10:56] I so relate. I so you know, it was a couple of years later, but I, I was in the US for university and I came home to France and like I missed four years or three years of slang. And even just three years, the way people talk, there's expressions that I still don't use right, in my own language, just from having missed the years when that came into the culture and I could never catch up.
[00:11:22] Amanda Bates: [00:11:22] Yeah, no. And I, to this point, I just I'm like, you know, I'm old enough not to care now and say, "look, I was in Sub-Saharan Africa, so you're just gonna have to deal with that." People look at me and they go, "Oh, dang." That was like, yeah, exactly. I do not know what you're talking about. And so I came back and I had a hard adjustment in the States.
[00:11:44] And it was hard because I didn't even have, at least when I went to Cameron and eventually got to my international school, there was a community of folks who were similar, right? Not exactly the same, but similar and could understand. There's a shared cultural experience there. Didn't have that here. I went to a large state school where you know, because it's a large public school, the vast majority of the students are from the state, which means the vast majority have not necessarily lived anywhere else, at least during high school.
[00:12:16] Isabelle Roughol: [00:12:16] Where was that? What state?
[00:12:17] Amanda Bates: [00:12:17] North Carolina.
[00:12:18] Isabelle Roughol: [00:12:18] North Carolina.
[00:12:19]Amanda Bates: [00:12:19] Which is common with any state school, right, and I was an out of state student that got in and... so people would have peer groups from high school. Then on the weekends, they're like, "okay, I'm going to go hang out with such and such. We went to high school together." Or from their hometown. And I did not have any of that because where I went to high school and where I grew up took two international flights to get to.
[00:12:42] And so, yeah, college wasn't even... For me when people say college was the best time of their lives, I'm like, "what are you talking about?" College was terrible. Truly college was terrible for me until the last two years.
[00:12:56]The connections between TCKs and first-gen university students
[00:12:56] Isabelle Roughol: [00:12:56] So how, how did you cope? Did you have strategies?
[00:12:59]Amanda Bates: [00:12:59] Oh no, not at all.
[00:12:59] Isabelle Roughol: [00:12:59] Did you find a way?
[00:13:01] Amanda Bates: [00:13:01] Not at all. There was unresolved grief, which is common with third culture kids. Didn't know at the time. There was a certain degree of depression, I would say. I had my friends and my friends were all scattered throughout the country who were all going to college here.
[00:13:15] And most of them, if not all of them, were going through some form of that because we weren't really prepared for the transition. It was you're going to college, you're going West, but that was it, not the emotional part. What was helpful, was having friends where I could see and talk to, but they didn't live near me. And so it was a really rough thing because you have to also realize my family was also abroad. So I was here for a good portion of it. And it was halfway through towards the end where my family came back to the U S.
[00:13:49]No, it was terrible, but here's what I will say. This is what actually made me a really good person. Why I got the role I got, for a job down the road, which was working with first gen, which is first, you know, first ones in their families to go to college. And most of them were underrepresented minorities because I would... When I was applying, I think one of the things that was impressed upon the hiring manager was the fact that even though I was American, even though my parents were college educated, I understood what it meant to be an outsider.
[00:14:22] So for someone to step on a college campus and completely not know what's going on, even though outwardly, they look like they're part of the community. And when you are a student where no one in your family has gone and you don't know the lingo and you can't figure out where the dining hall is and you don't get the cultural references and norms, like it is a terrifying experience.
[00:14:44] And because I had that experience, it actually made me... is what got me this job, where I was working with students who were going out of their normal cultural spaces, and stepping into a new one where they're like, "Oh God, I don't even know what, like what's happening."
[00:14:59]Isabelle Roughol: [00:14:59] What kind of questions did those kids ask you? What were the things that, that, that preoccupied them?
[00:15:07] Amanda Bates: [00:15:07] Yeah. So there is always questions of "what am I doing here?" So there's an existential like "I don't feel like I should be here." " How can I find my people?" Cause I think everyone needs their tribe, right? What's the community that's going to make you feel safe? Some of them were just directional questions: I don't know how to navigate academic advising. I don't know, what is the study abroad thing you're talking about? What? Like a lot of it was just, I just don't know. Like they tell me this or that financially, but I don't understand it.
[00:15:38] And, I think growing up as a kid who grew up between spaces and this has just influenced my work throughout my life, I feel that one of the things you have to do to help people is make sure that one, that they're part of the situation and the story. And number two, that you help them to understand situations in a way that they can process. So that's a philosophy that I've kept with no matter what I'm doing. And I do quite a number of things that are very different from each other, but at the end of the day, people are trying to process their world. They're trying to process their environment. They're trying to process their career and their relationships and whatnot. And so I always try to find ways to help the students have reference points so that they can, they can make smart decisions, but they also understand what's happening around them because I remember what it was like to be 10 years old and all of a sudden being in this country and not know what's happening around me. And then to be 17 and to be back in the country that I supposedly knew and not understand what was happening around me.
[00:16:43] Minority students and the study abroad experience
And so that's something that I, that I carried with me when I got into this job. And so the funny part about it is, and this is what will bring it to The Black Expat, is that I would always tell students, because I was also, I was working predominantly with high school students who were going to university and I would say, "Hey, when this is all settled and you get your bearings, you should study abroad. You know, 95% of my students were students of color, right? Predominantly Black, some Brown. And they would say, "miss Amanda, I don't know anyone who looks like me, who studied abroad." And I would say, "Oh my gosh, I know plenty of Black people who live abroad and who have gone abroad."
[00:17:23]For them, their reference point was the military. That was the only way they knew someone who went abroad is because someone maybe in their family served in the military. And so part of the reason I created The Black Expat was to normalize that Black and Brown folks go abroad for a variety of reasons all the time. And it doesn't necessarily just have to be tied to military and warfare, right?
[00:17:48]Or, and it doesn't necessarily have to be tied to something negative in gen. Like, not that that's a negative, but just something negative in general. Like, you know, it doesn't necessarily have to be, always a refugee situation. sometimes people move to Germany because they want to learn German and it happens. And you can be Black and it's done.
[00:18:06] And so that's sort of where The Black Expat came from because I knew how much crossing borders had been important in my life and how much it had influenced my life up until that point. And I wanted to share that with the students I was working with. And also. I was also about to embark on moving to the Middle East and I've just thought, there's really nothing that just talks about being Black and being abroad. So that's how it came to be.
[00:18:34] Membership ad
[00:18:35]Isabelle Roughol: [00:18:35] Hey, it's Isabelle. Don't go away, this is just a super quick ad break.
[00:18:40] I want to talk to you about Borderline membership.
[00:18:42] Borderline is pretty much my full-time job. It's a hundred percent independent and a hundred percent funded by you, its readers and listeners. If you're enjoying this work, if you want to see more of it, please consider supporting it monetarily and becoming a member.
[00:18:55] Borderline members get every episode 48 hours early, often in a longer version with interesting things saved from the cutting room floor. They get an exclusive weekly newsletter with a curation of things worth paying attention to and a weekly zoom call with me and other global citizens to dive deeper and just hang out among friends. No pressure, no obligation, but I'm there every week.
[00:19:17] Most importantly members support independent, globally minded journalism, and keep Borderline available to all, regardless of means. I couldn't be more grateful.
[00:19:26] To join, simply sign up for the newsletter on Substack and choose the paid subscription option. Go to join.borderlinepod.com. Again, that's join.borderlinepod.com. And thank you.
[00:19:37] Now, back to our episode.
[00:19:40] Centering The Black Expat experience
So tell me a bit about The Black Expat, what it is and what it's trying to do.
[00:19:44] Amanda Bates: [00:19:44] Sure. So The Black Expat is a multimedia platform where we really focus on Black identity and international living. And part of the reason, I get asked this question quite a bit. "Why do we do this?" And I go, well, when you look at the narrative of expatriation, expat literature, there's very little that really considers the experiences of non-white individuals.
[00:20:10] And so, when you look at the resources, when you look at the blogs, when you look at the storytelling, even when you look at movies.. When I think of some of the movies that show someone moving across the world having a wonderful holiday, right? You think of Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love. Or Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. Like it's never, it's never anyone Black.
[00:20:32] Isabelle Roughol: [00:20:32] Usually, yeah. White, upper middle class woman, you know, fixing up a cute house in the Italian countryside of situation.
[00:20:39] Amanda Bates: [00:20:39] The Italian countryside is amazing.
[00:20:41] Isabelle Roughol: [00:20:41] It's amazing I would totally get a, get a, a cheap but wonderful house somewhere in Tuscany, right?
[00:20:45] Amanda Bates: [00:20:45] Oh, my gosh. Umbria. If I, man... Anyway, but yeah, you never, you never see storytelling, like study abroad experiences and even study abroad data in the U S that really shows folks who are not white. And so it literally was a, it started out as, Hey, this would be a great place for the students I work with to see. See people who look like them reflected. And it also became a depository of, there are so many Black books that have really cool stories.
[00:21:15]And we're not specifically Black American-focused. We're just Black and in a very inclusive sense, so Black from anywhere. And I was like, there's so many cool people who have really cool stories that are just normal. It's not trauma, it's not drama. It's just, you know, they move somewhere.
[00:21:33]And so the platform has existed since February of 2016. And so February is always our anniversary month and I don't know, it's funny in the back of my mind, I'm like, was I subconsciously thinking about Black history month in the US when I launched it? And that wasn't even the factor, but it's been around for five years.
[00:21:51] And so the site has been up. And in addition, there's a podcast attached to it that we launched late 2020 called The Global Chatter, which then takes an expanded view on some of the stories that we offer on the site.
[00:22:05]It allows me, as you know as a podcaster, to go a little bit deeper with stuff that you can't necessarily put in the written form. And it is, it's an ongoing conversation. So it's half conversation across mediums. It's half information, it's half resources. I probably get asked for resources more than anything else from folks for a variety of reasons.
[00:22:27] Blackness is not monolithic
Isabelle Roughol: [00:22:27] What kind of resources?
[00:22:29]Amanda Bates: [00:22:29] Well you know, the summer was really crazy following George Floyd. And so a good example has been a lot of folks who are trying to get connected to diversity, equity and inclusion, justice resources in international spaces. So those connections haven't necessarily even been Black folks. Those have been non-Black folks who are in organizations and in businesses where they've decided to take a serious stance on it and are looking to find who are the, who are the thought leaders and the movers and shakers in those spaces, who could do anything from consulting work to coaching work, to workshops, to whatever. And so that's a big thing.
[00:23:12]Employment becomes a big question when people are thinking about going abroad. So we get that. Folks looking for coaches, folks who, you know, I'd probably say the biggest ask is people trying to find community in specific parts of the world. And I've done this long enough. And I always joke, I know the site's called The Black Expat and people always are like, "you're The Black Expat." And I was like, "first of all, there are millions of Black expats, and I'm not even one right now but,
[00:23:42]you know, I ha I say that and I know it's tongue in cheek and it is true, but I've been doing it long enough that it's amazing how many Black expat communities around the world. And so folks will send messages and say, "Hey, I'm going to this part of the world. Do you happen to have any suggestions?" I'm like check out such and such and such and such. They're doing their thing in Hong Kong or in Mexico or in, France or wherever. Yeah.
[00:24:07]Isabelle Roughol: [00:24:07] I wonder since I know you're making sure not to focus just on Black Americans, but on the whole African-descent diaspora around the world. And are there kind of similar experiences that you're seeing in the stories that you're hearing and the questions that you're getting that kind of ties all of them together, despite such a variety of cultures and of experiences?
[00:24:34] Amanda Bates: [00:24:34] Yes and no. So one of the things I believe that makes us nuanced is that we've taken a very firm Black-inclusive stance. And so a lot of the resources available, great resources available, are very Western-centric and often very American-centric. The storytelling and the advice. And that's great. And, and it makes sense, especially from an American standpoint, we dominate media where there are large numbers of us. There's a lot of power in that, but.
[00:25:15] One thing that I'm always clear about irrespective of an interview or writing or whatnot, is that Blackness, like for example whiteness, is not monolithic. And so it would be ridiculous, right for us to assume such. So for example, no one assumes that a white German, and a white French person, and a white Brit and a white Czech person have the same exact experiences. And they don't. There's so much there. It's the same thing with Blackness, but because when we look at Blackness in the West and particularly because it's, we have systems that are so racialized, especially from North America, that always seems to be the lens which we look at.
[00:26:07] But the reality is, is that sometimes I have to tell folks, and this is to Black folks, that experiences are gonna differ also depending on where you started from. And so you may go into a community, you know, you're asking this question, "are they welcoming of Black folks?" I'm like, "well, they may be welcoming of Black canadians and Black Americans. But then they may not be as welcoming of Black Nigerians and Black Jamaicans." And so intersectionality is at play. It is. And I said, we can't deny it. Your passport has privilege if you come from certain parts of the world. Your language skills have experience, have privilege if you come from certain parts of the world, okay. Your education, your money, and all of that. And so we have to be real that the narrative is not the same for every Black person, which is why, especially when we are offering more the advice type of information, we try to crouch it in "if you are from this starting point..."
[00:27:17] Because I am not like I, it would be ignorant for me not to, I come from a family of mixed passport holders. I was the first person in the U S in my family, born in the United States, born in the West. And so I'm very intimately aware of what happens when you have a non-Western passport. And particularly if you have an African passport.
[00:27:41]The questions are a little bit different because I can almost always tell the questions, especially if people don't tell me their nationality when they come through. Because there's some questions that come through and I go, that's an American. That looks like that's a westerner. I can almost tell specifically if they're American. 100% time, I can tell if it's, if it's a Westerner. As opposed to questions for folks who are not Western right? Because I think if you look at the United States, and I'll just use it as an example, because of the racial history here, there are conversations that do tend to take more of a racial bent because people are looking for safety. They're looking for peace. They're looking for comfort. That's not the only reason why they move, but it's a factor, right? So they're more inclined to ask those questions.
[00:28:25] Whereas folks who are coming from other parts of the world, it's not necessarily at the forefront because they didn't necessarily come from a racialized society. They already know I'm leaving my country, for example, that's predominantly Black. So I already know I'm stepping into a space where I'm just not going to see people like me. Like that's so that's so, so, well, the way some of those questions are phrased, aren't even, it has less to do with, how many Black people are there. At the very minor it may be, "Oh, are there other Nigerians?" You know what I'm saying or someone else like from my country, but it's not necessarily completely a racial lens.
[00:29:07] Expat vs. immigrant and the power of wordsIsabelle Roughol: [00:29:07] I want to talk about the name of your brand "The Black Expat" that word expat is kind of loaded. And I know, and in an expat circles has been debated a lot. And so I wonder, how you think about it and, and kind of why you embraced that, that word.
[00:29:23] Amanda Bates: [00:29:23] So I think the site's name is really funny because I called it The Black Expat but like... I wasn't naive, but it's funny how much I have to explain the title. So
[00:29:34] Isabelle Roughol: [00:29:34] I'm sorry.
[00:29:36]Amanda Bates: [00:29:36] No, no, it is. And it's because... you've said it for all the right reasons, right? Calling it, The Black Expat was so political
[00:29:43] Isabelle Roughol: [00:29:43] It is. It is. That's what I love it.
[00:29:45] Amanda Bates: [00:29:45] And I was thinking, the reason I called it The Black Expat, is because if I didn't call it The Black Expat, Black people wouldn't find it. That was my baseline. Why is it called The Black Expat? Cause if I called it anything else, everybody else would think it was for them. And while I think it's great that non-Black folks, and we have plenty of non-Black folks who read The Black Expat and that's awesome. But it, it originally was really focused and centered on the Black experience. And so if I didn't call it that, if I used, you know, Expats of Color or something else, then I, it would be everybody else. And it wasn't about everybody else. This thing is unapologetically Black. Like it is what it is. You go on the site, all you see are Black people, okay? So, so it is what it is.
[00:30:32] And then here's what happened: I called it The Black Expat and two fascinating things occurred. I had non Western Black folks say to me, "Oh, this is for Black Americans." And the reason they ask that question is once again, if you grew up in a society where maybe you were predominantly, it was predominantly Black, you don't think about being Black, right? You think about your tribe, your ethnic group. You don't think about being Black cause we're all Black. And so they thought it was Western because they saw the Black in it and said, no, this applies to you. And then I got wait a minute. The other part too, what you alluded to about the expat is that I'd also say: expat applies to you as well because you fit this category. And I remember talking to a guy originally from Mali who had grown up partially in Saudi Arabia and then went to the Netherlands for school and then lived in France, the UK and somewhere else, and now lives in like Senegal, right? The man is a quintessential third culture kid, expat.
[00:31:34] Isabelle Roughol: [00:31:34] I like, how does that not apply to him then?
[00:31:36] Amanda Bates: [00:31:36] Because once again, when you look at media, Black people and Brown people are never centered on that experience. And so he was like, "I never thought of myself as an expat" and I'm like "right, because they always call you an immigrant." And so I said, no, I want Black folks to understand that this term applies to them as well.
[00:31:58] And it's funny because Black Westerners have never been hung up on that. Ever. It has never been an issue. They've never been confused. They're just excited that they see a site called The Black Expat. Non, non- Western Black folks, that's where the struggle has been. It's been like, "Oh, wait a minute. We can embrace this term too?"
[00:32:23] I'm like, sure. If you moved within five African countries, you're an expat too. I don't care why you 'expatted'. I don't care if it was for education, for love, for religious reasons, for persecution or war conflict. You just crossed borders. You're an expat.
[00:32:43] And then the interesting part then is then when you take it outside of Black folks in general. I think people at first were like, there's a site called The Black Expat and I think there's a little, "Oh my gosh. Is it politically militant? Am I going to be scared?" When they get on the site and go, wait a minute, wait a minute. I can jive with this. This is, this is, This is normal. I'm like, yeah. It's normal. What did you think was going to happen? Like this wasn't going to be the next coming of the revolution. I have too many things to do to start a revolution.
[00:33:13]Isabelle Roughol: [00:33:13] I think, I think the thing is I on purpose, refer to myself systematically, or I try to, as an immigrant. And I think I'm using the word immigrant for the same reason that you're using the word expat, which is as a white woman, no one ever thinks of me as an immigrant. And and actually I am. And so often the term expat, you know, is kind of loaded as essentially what the colonial population has become is the, is the expat. You know, small community of, of white people in Southern or Third World countries., And that's kinda what I want to break, and I think that's what you want to break as well. And just using two different words for it.
[00:33:52]Amanda Bates: [00:33:52] I think when people thought of expat, so they thought of someone, for example, on a business assignment or diplomatic assignment, they'd be there for a couple of years and then they would move. They don't intend on staying there, but I'm like, what do you do with all the white British people in Spain?
[00:34:03]Isabelle Roughol: [00:34:03] They're immigrants. Don't tell They're immigrants.
[00:34:07] Amanda Bates: [00:34:07] I was like, if you're going to start putting timelines on things, then how is it that they get to be... And I'm picking on them, there are groups all over the world, right? But why is it that you can't be an expat?
[00:34:20] First of all, the Black people who are moving for a variety of reasons, for short-term reasons, they definitely can get to be expats because I don't care. If they decide that they want to move somewhere and they want to be there for 10 years. Technically, yeah, they left from somewhere and they moved somewhere else. They 'expatted.' And guess what? And now they're an immigrant, so maybe, maybe an immigrant is just a type of expat.
[00:34:43] Isabelle Roughol: [00:34:43] That's true. Maybe an expat is a type of don't know which way.
[00:34:47] Amanda Bates: [00:34:47] Yeah. Do you see what I'm saying? So maybe there doesn't... It's just like to me, where you have third culture kids who moved to one country, that's what made them a third culture kid. And then you have third culture kids who moved to eight. I think it's a spectrum. But definitely when people think of an immigrant, they don't think of you. And when they think of an expat, they don't think of me.
[00:35:07]Isabelle Roughol: [00:35:07] I think also even trying to put, that sort of, okay. So if you do a short-term assignment, you're an expat and if you move your entire life, you're an immigrant. It just creates boundaries. That sounds all neat, but that's not how life works. Like you move somewhere and you think, okay, I'm going to try this. And then you wake up and it's been 10 years and you're still there. So it's not like, not like you can you know, really delineate people that, that simply.
[00:35:35] Amanda Bates: [00:35:35] I find that the people who are most committed to this term expat are just most committed to keeping the, the, the caste systems and the hierarchal structures that were there. And they just don't like that other people can enter them. Like they like that. They like being "I'm an expat," right? Because they don't want to include others in that story.
[00:36:01] I have seen it and it, and I'm not necessarily talking about white expats. I've seen it with other groups that, based on their standing in a country, they have wholeheartedly bought wholesale kind of that, that mentality. And to me, I'm like, these are just words. All I'm trying to say is: Black people, if you move around the planet, the site is for you. And that's the easiest thing.
[00:36:25] Because if I call it, here's, let's be honest. If I call it the Black immigrant... right?
[00:36:35] Isabelle Roughol: [00:36:35] Okay. It's, it's actually really interesting. Cause when you say it, all of a sudden your brain goes to a very different kind of brand. And that's the problem. But if we're being honest about it like that's what's going on in your brain.
[00:36:50] Amanda Bates: [00:36:50] Okay. Oh, totally. Oh totally. And you know what I mean? This might inspire me to write something about that. I think it's hilarious, but I'm like, yeah, if I call it The Black Immigrant, the glamor and the allure wears off.
[00:37:02] Isabelle Roughol: [00:37:02] I think you'd get a lot more hate too.
[00:37:04] Amanda Bates: [00:37:04] Oh, for
[00:37:06] Isabelle Roughol: [00:37:06] Like the moderation would be hell.
[00:37:08] Amanda Bates: [00:37:08] For sure. And here's the thing: even the glamor would wear off for Black folks, right? Because we've all we act as if we all haven't been for lack of a better term indoctrinated with some of the same ideas, right? We have. And I think that's part of the challenge too when Black folks from the West then move to places, like predominant Black places in the global South. There's a lot of things that you're coming with that are very Western and colonialistic and a little imperialist that you might have to let go of.
[00:37:38] I almost should run a poll and say, "Hey y'all, if I change, if I call the site The Black Immigrant, how many y'all would stay with me? How many y'all are ride or dies?" Cause I like stirring up trouble. I may ask that question.
[00:37:49]Isabelle Roughol: [00:37:49] Make it, make it a Twitter poll. I'd be curious. I think like people who know you, people who know the site and appreciate, we would probably stick around. But in terms of like the new audiences you'd bring in, um that'd be interesting.
[00:38:01]Well, this has been a really fun and interesting conversation. I loved it. Thank you so much for doing this.
[00:38:07] Amanda Bates: [00:38:07] Oh, my gosh, this is, we definitely talked about a whole bunch of things I didn't anticipate. So it's been great.
[00:38:13]Isabelle Roughol: [00:38:13] That, that those are the best conversations. Thank you so much.
[00:38:17] You can find The Black Expat at TheBlackExpat.com, all one word with the like the old school thefacebook.com for those of you ancient enough to remember that. Their podcast is The Global Chatter, which you can find on all the usual platforms and on Youtube with subtitles, as well as on Instagram. Again that's The Global Chatter. All the links are in the show notes.
[00:38:38] By the way, Borderline is also on Youtube with subtitles, on borderlinepod.com with a full transcript and the newsletter has condensed versions of the interviews. So if you have hearing issues, if English isn't your first language or if simply you do not like audio, and I know there's a lot of you, go get yourself some written words.
[00:38:55] And when you do that, you'll have the option to upgrade your newsletter subscription to a paid membership, which gets you more and earlier content, both written and audio, and helps me keep making Borderline.
[00:39:06] A big big thank you this week to the lovely Amanda Bates, and to two new Borderline members: Selda Shamloo and Justin Jackson.
[00:39:13] If you enjoy Borderline, there are three quick things that you can do to help. First please share it with a friend. That's how podcast grow.
[00:39:19] Then go to Apple podcasts or your favorite podcasting app, and rate and review us. Five stars are much appreciated. And finally hit subscribe so you get the next episode as soon as it comes out and you can help drive Borderline up those charts.
[00:39:31]Tell me what you think, share ideas, or just say hello. I'm at iroughol on Twitter. That impossible last name is R O U G H O L. And at borderline_pod on Instagram. I'm also very active on LinkedIn where Borderline goes live every Thursday. So look out for that.
[00:39:48]I'm your host, Isabelle Roughol. Music is by Ofshane. Borderline is a One Lane Bridge production. [00:39:54]
Join the newsletter to receive the latest updates in your inbox.