The Departure of A Black Man From His Native Land
by Randall Robinson
Publisher: Penguin Group USA
Copyright 2004 Randall Robinson
Book Reviewed by Carol Taylor
One of the marks/indices of a great book is what I call its "Reference Quotient," the number of times, after reading it, you find yourself going back to it for 'refreshers.' "Quitting America" has a quintessential "Reference Quotient." I found it refreshingly and continually stimulating my thinking.
However, right up front, I realized that Randall Robinson can't 'quit' America - (he went to St. Kitts, West Indies) - not with the increasing octopus-thrust of American tourism taking its economic and social toll in the Caribbean. (I lived down there for 14 years - he'll find out!)
For all of his lamentations about skin color degradation in the U.S., however, I don't understand why he didn't capitalize the word "Black." But, the book is replete with potent, descriptive, mind-stirring phrases; "National genetic illness of America," "Commodification of life," "memory-erasing slavery," "Prophylactic slaughter," "self-exculpatory charity," "hierarchy of the ignored," "spiritually countryless," and "laser smiles." He uses slicing, acerbic sarcasm and scathing descriptions of Blacks as 'America's parentheticals.' (And - this is hysterical - he informs us that the name of the Lone Ranger's sidekick 'Tonto,' means "stupid" in Spanish! (Go on, blow holes in memories of childhood!)
Robinson has crafted an ineffable literary shriek of agony, an agglomeration of angst, along with a paean to 'little St. Kitts,' all in very professional literary brushstrokes. He says that "Americans wrap themselves so totally in the coarse cloth of their own everything that they can see little else beyond the shores of their own unmarked, unseen --- insularity." He describes the United
States as containing a collective national psychosis (refusal to acknowledge its past in continually trammeling - almost exclusively - countries and people of color) - "...exploit, dump and bury..." However, he speaks of black and brown cultures - page 134 - and not red and yellow, in several instances.
"Democracy's a pipe dream...the United States was never a democracy...not for the poor, not for women, not for Blacks, not for other people of color." He speaks of "a race cross," (I would emphasize that it is "a color cross") - and on page 145 - "It is the important fortune, the interior defining condition, the ageless unfed black self that cannot flourish within the culturally intolerant space of self-absorbed white America." Further, he uses the term "transracial," (a 'no-no') however, his writing is redolent of a deep almost instinctive thirst for knowledge of his Black Self, which I believe is shared by diasporic BlackFolk, at some level or other.
Waxing even more stridently, Robinson says that the majority of Americans are lemmings, with respect to their allowing "...the president's 75 Billion Dollar War Fandango..." (note his consistent use of the small letter 'p' when describing Bush) In fact, he presents the bushites as 'killers,' Colin Powell as "...a Reagan rectal success of a conscience-dead (gutless) black man..."
At present, there are, Robinson warns, 59 wars being fought, forty thousand lives a month lost, - the poor killing the poor to benefit the privileged, the U.S. Army (of miseducated whites and misled blacks) is 35% Black, - "There are no checks anymore on American power... America loathes (Haitian Aristide) him enough to ignore - no - to destroy his democracy and kill his country's children for the collateral mischief of it. Haiti, you must see, is the North Star of our past and the open window onto our psychic renewal, our joining of a lost past, to a found future. The way out is the way back through. In this hemisphere, the Africa of the shining ancients lives nowhere as it does in embattled Haiti. The U.S. is strangling the democratic government of Haiti. Haitian blood stains American hands."
Robinson states that "white American DNA" reveals U.S. hubris/arrogance, from the presidency of Thomas Jefferson through that of Abraham Lincoln, from Woodrow Wilson through to the unfinished work of G.W. Bush. He gives the example of Republican Chuck Hagen's statement that, "America owns (my emphasis) Iraq," and describes how "African Americans love (Bill) Clinton and know little to nothing about Dominica." (Randall says Clinton "...wrecked the economics of several banana-producing Caribbean countries, including Dominica, which received 85% of its income from the export of bananas.")
Finally, Robinson says that he tried to love America - but America betrayed him. (I wonder how many other Black and people of color, not only in the United States but around the world, feel the same betrayal?)
"Quitting America" just might reveal the answer to that querulous utterance, "...wonder why they hate us so much?" - Who "they?"