Why Thrillist Editor Andy Kryza Bought My Black Expat Story

Or, how I get paid to be annoyed.

I write a lot about my lived experiences that dovetail with larger social trends. Often these are experiences that piss me off — like displays of white privilege.

I almost never have the snappy comeback ready for Becky when she starts with her shit. But that’s OK because I can always write about it and actually get paid for that emotional labor later.

A potent combination of annoyance, trend awareness, and expertise helped me land this story at Thrillist. It wasn’t my first for them, but it sure was one of my favorites to write.

People started talking #Blaxit after the 2016 election. Ironically, at the same time, I was busy doing the dull and thankless work of managing white expat friends’ election-related emotions and listening to them blather on about how they just didn’t recognize America anymore, blah, blah, blah — and this was on top of my regular Black Friend and Race Educator duties!

This nonsense was just one of the many details about living while Black outside America that no one really talked about. So when I noticed #Blaxit trending again in 2020 — buoyed by the explosion in Black international travel, no doubt — I had a lot to say.

The Pitch

What it’s like to be a Black expat in Turkey

In 2019, Gallup reported that a “record number" of Americans want to live outside their home country. Black people, in particular, are traveling more than ever before, and the upswing in Black expat Facebook groups and blogs suggests that many of us are choosing to live abroad, not just visit. And that was before a global pandemic and George Floyd's murder.

Historically, Black folks of means could escape old-school racism overseas — a fun fact that white expats like to remind me of while denying my lived experience with racism in Turkey. [Insert appropriated James Baldwin quotes here.] In my experience as a three-time expat, today, we're just as likely to experience the same implicit bias and microaggressions abroad as we are at home.

People in other countries interpret my heritage (and that of others) in a weird decontextualized way, through the lenses of global pop culture and local sensibilities — occasionally with bizarre and off-putting results. In Istanbul, street performers in feathered headdresses play the didgeridoo for change on Istiklal Caddesi, a main shopping thoroughfare. “Zenci örgüsü” (box braids) are on trend for young Turkish women. "Zenci" refers to a region of Africa where the Ottomans sourced slaves and is also used as an epithet.

Then there are other American expats, most of whom are white, affluent, and before moving overseas likely never friends who were different from them. Their existing white privilege is amplified because a majority of expats (particularly in development and international teaching) receive higher compensation and better benefits than locals who do the same work. At the same time, they are confident in their multiculturalism because, after all, they're so work* that they live in a brown country.

Their naiveté and privilege show in how they talk about POC and LGBTQ+ and how they interact with me. This means that, at the end of a day running around a city where I can barely speak the language (my bad!) and visibly stand out because I’m Black, I still have to be “on” when I’m with other Americans.

All that being said, there’s one reason that I love being an expat and I think other Black Americans would to: we’re damn good at it. We show up empathic and agile, able to adapt our attitudes, behavior, appearance, and vocabulary to new situations, and with minds used to thinking in at least two languages. We are uniquely suited to achieving deep, transformational experiences. Being a Black expat is hard work, but I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

*Yep, that’s a typo! Should be “woke.”

Why Andy Kryza Bought It

Andy and I had already worked together on a number of articles. We have great email banter and a shared Michigan connection. Here’s what he said captured his imagination about this pitch:

“I know full well what a capable hand you have in taking a personal narrative and emerging with a perspective that readers can see in themselves. Your experience here is specific, but it’s not a stretch for an expat in another country to see themselves in you and your broader themes.

It’s also an essential rebuttal to the happy-go-lucky, ultra-privileged expat narrative that’s been spun ad nauseam across travel media (including here at Thrillist), but exists less as a middle finger and more a call to action that not just brings to mind a generally narrative shortcoming across the media landscape.

More crucially, it shows us how to do this right, acknowledges different tiers of privilege, and leads a conversation, leaving it open for others to really look inward and assess their own experience, whether as a Black expat or a white one who doesn’t fully grasp the extent of their privilege. That conversational tone, mind you, is crucial, and makes this a much more nuanced take than simply (and rightly) calling out the problem.”

If you like what you just read, please…

Share Pitching for Polka Dots