Anna Leary – It was the spring of 2019 when I attended ‘Together We Win’ in Atlanta. I was putting in the work to improve my ally ship and learn how to be a better human.
One of the speakers was mesmerizing. I was drawn to her presence. Listening to her tell her story of being an unapologetically Black woman in America was a truth that I had never experienced. It put me on pause and I was checking myself.
Since that day, I’ve not been the same.
That amazing woman was Tina Strawn. She spoke of racism and how it impacted every facet of her life in ways I could never imagine as a white woman. She invited deep introspection, she offered moments of action, and she accepted everyone exactly as they were, and most importantly she spoke her truth.
Today, Tina is an expatriate, living her best life travelling the globe and sharing her Black experience of working to find freedom in the world.
Tina is the author of, Are We Free Yet?: The Black Queer Guide to Divorcing America and I am so excited that she not only helped us name this channel, The Black Experience, but that she was willing to be our inaugural creator.
Here are the 5 Key Questions we just had to ask:
VXT: What inspired you to take the leap and leave America?
Tina: Like so many other Black Americans, I have grown wearier and wearier watching all the Black death and injustice at the hands of the State and white supremacy. I finally reached a point during 2018 (after the midterm elections) and in 2019 (when I began my racial and social justice work full time) where I felt compelled to do something radical. So the desire to leave the states grew over time before I finally made the decision to make it happen. But the actual inspiration to leave came from all the Black Americans who I have seen and learned about who left in pursuit of peace and a better life, whether temporarily like James Baldwin and Audre Lorde, or whether permanently like those in the Blaxit community.
When I discovered Blaxit, the term that combines the words Black and exit that describes the resurgence of African Americans who have chosen to leave the US either partially or primarily due to ongoing systemic racism and anti-Black terror and violence, everything changed for me.
As I found and followed online Blaxit groups and Black expats who were talking and sharing about how they left the states and why, I realized that I wanted a chance at something that felt like freedom too. I was more than ready to escape the plantation.
So I got rid of all my stuff that was holding me back, gathered up my courage and a whole lot of faith, and left.
VXT: How did your family/friends react when you first told them about your plan and how did you respond?
Tina: All of my loved ones understood why I, as a queer Black woman, or any Black person for that matter, would want to leave the US, so everyone was supportive.
If anyone had doubts or disagreed with what I was doing, they kept it to themselves, probably because they knew how adamant I was and that I was going to figure out a way to make it work.
VXT: What do you believe America most doesn’t understand about The Black Experience?
Tina: In the words of civil rights attorney, author, and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson, on the cover of a December 2018 Newsweek magazine, “Yes, America is racist. Now what?”
I think America doesn’t understand how the country’s racist foundation and history is directly connected to the country’s racist present. There has not been a national recognition of truth and reconciliation or repair and reparations and so therefore, the legacy of enslavement and racial exploitation will continue.
From criminal justice, policing, mass incarceration, the school to prison pipeline, the racial wealth gap, the Black maternal mortality rate, voter suppression laws and tactics and so much more, the institutions and policies of this nation are systemically racist and until that is addressed, defunded and dismantled, we will not be free.
VXT: What has been the hardest part about expatriating?
Tina: This is a hard question to answer because so far, in the three plus years since I left the US and having lived a year in Jamaica and now a year and counting in Costa Rica, I haven’t found much to be very hard.
It was just a mentality shift and once my head followed my heart’s desire for more, divorcing America wasn’t hard.
Living in a f*cked up relationship with America was the hard part. I guess the initial mindset shift of deciding that I would make a lot of sacrifices to live out of the country mostly had to do with not having certain conveniences that most Americans are used to, like not being able to get Amazon deliveries easily and quickly, and not being able to just order Doordash any time I want, and just overall living with a lot less took some getting used to, but I wouldn’t call it hard. But that has more to do with my decision to become a minimalist so I can manage and afford my lifestyle than it has to do with expatriating.
I don’t have a car anymore; I don’t have a dryer so I hang my laundry out in the sun. I don’t speak Spanish but I’m learning and haven’t found that to be an obstacle to living in a Spanish speaking country.
So, the differences in the way I live outside of the US has presented challenges and adjustments, though I wouldn’t consider it hard compared to the way I was living in the US. Like thousands and thousands of other Black Americans who have made the decision to Blaxit and live abroad, expatriating for me has meant living a life of peace and what feels like the most freedom I’ve ever experienced.
While I understand that expatriating isn’t for everyone, and I’ve only been doing this for a few years so this is an ongoing experience that I’m living through, the rewards and benefits have far outweighed any difficulties so far.
VXT: What do you most want people to absorb from your new book, Are We Free Yet? The Black Queer Guide to Divorcing America?
Tina: I most want people to ask themselves what being an American, and what freedom, means to them. I want people to examine and interrogate the ways in which they feel free or not, personally as well as collectively, based on their social location and racial identity. I want people to absorb what being a liberation activist means and could look like for them.
To follow more of Tina’s Blexit journey, and learn about all of her anti-racism work, please visit her at Tina-Strawn.com. Also, do yourself a favor and go ahead and order from your favorite independent book shop Are We Free Yet?: The Black Queer Guide to Divorcing America.
Tina Strawn (she/they) is a joy and liberation advocate, activist, author of “Are We Free Yet? The Black, Queer Guide to Divorcing America” (Row House Publishing, January 2023), and the owner and host of the Speaking of Racism podcast. The heart of her work is founding and leading Legacy Trips, immersive antiracism experiences where participants visit historical locations such as Montgomery and Selma, AL, and utilize spiritual practices as tools to affect personal and collective change. Tina has three adult children, an ex-husband, an ex-wife, and an ex-country. She has been a full-time minimalist nomad since February 2020 and currently lives in Costa Rica. Tina travels the globe speaking, writing, teaching, and exploring where on the planet she can feel safe and free in her queer, Black, woman-identifying body.
Anna Leary is part of the Vexteo team and remains in awe of Tina and her amazing journey.