Like Nina Simone
This election wasn't the first time people threatened to leave the country if a particular political party came to power. It's a threat uttered often; but is rarely intended. But what would happen if the threat wasn't empty? What would have to happen to seriously compel people to pack their things?
Darnell Lamont Walker has been a creative for years. All you have to do is look at his long list of books, his IMDb, or follow the musings on his blog to see that. But just a short year ago, he added documentarian to his resume.
With influences such as James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni, it’s no wonder he references a Nina Simone quote when talking about the subject matter of his documentaries. “As an artist, your art has to reflect the times,” Walker said, “And that’s what I’m doing.”
The idea for his documentary Seeking Asylum was an accident. Walker, the constant traveler, was scheduled for a European trip just days after the 2015 Freddie Gray murder in Baltimore, Maryland. The outrage over yet another death of an unarmed African American at the hands of law enforcement prompted his friend to ask, “What are you going to Norway for? Are you seeking asylum?”
Walker grabbed his camera and he and a few friends set out on a trip through Oslo, London, and Amsterdam. Along the way, they discussed their feelings of leaving the U.S. in search of safer grounds and their fears of staying. They also took to the streets and asked Europeans their opinions about what’s happening in the U.S. and how it's different in their country.
Racism is a concept that many people understand all too well. Despite what some media pundits may say, most people of color live with some sort of racism almost every day. And it’s clear that this documentary has struck a chord with many black Americans.
Still, there are members of the white audience who don’t completely understand where Walker's coming from. Although there have been only a handful of times where people have walked out, a majority, Walker says, are still supportive. “But,” he adds, “they watch it from a place of privilege.” It’s this seat of privilege that may cause some of them to ask him why he hates America so much.
To that he responds, he doesn’t hate it; he’s indifferent towards it. He likens America to a sort of foster mother of black Americans who, at any time, can give them back. And, although the opening scenes of the documentary are of the multiple high-profile police brutality cases, he says he very much feels like America treats the black community in the same violent and unfair ways. And, he wonders, why do we stay somewhere that we’re not wanted?
Walker does acknowledge that the U.S. does not hold a monopoly on racism. His travels have led him to believe that the world is anti-black. Citing examples like Black Pete in Amsterdam and Cape Town’s racism toward Africans by the Afrikaans, he accepts that racism is a world problem. But in other places, he says, “If I get stopped by a cop, I won’t all of a sudden tense up, be nervous, and fear for my life.” This freedom from fear does exist. “And that was all of the places that I’ve been except America,” he says.
A current resident of Johannesburg, South Africa, Walker practices what he preaches. Seeking Asylum is kind of his story. Although, he doesn’t know if South Africa will be the place he puts down roots, he does say that there are many countries worth exploring. “[The U.S.] isn’t the only place to have a dream.”
So often, the lens of the world is on the United States of America. But Seeking Asylum turns the lens to other countries and asks them what they see of the U.S. while delving into the depths of a complex set of feelings that many African Americans feel about their own home country.
With such a vast and diverse audience in the seats, Walker said he wants them to get “that [the U.S.] isn’t safe for black people. And I want them to be able to stand against racial injustice toward all people of color; and the mistreatment of anybody.”
I don’t fangirl for many people. But Mr. Walker is starting the conversations we should all be having and pushing us to ask ourselves some deep questions. And I’ll always jump at the opportunity to post about his new endeavors.
(Hint: I'll be posting about his newest documentary in a few weeks)
To follow Darnell Lamont Walker, check out his blog here.
And while you’re at it, watch Seeking Asylum here and start your own conversations in your own communities.