Tina Turner’s US Departure Not Uncommon Among African American Artists

Music legend and icon Tina Turner has relinquished her passport this week, choosing to leave Nutbush behind and to become a Swiss citizen.

Host Jamila Bey spoke with a panel of artists who think that Turner’s choice to leave behind her U.S. citizenship is much like the trend during the Harlem Renaissance.

Filmmaker and author Kenji Jasper, playwright and performer Dr. Kimberly Ellis and journalist and fashion designer Veronica Miller talk about how Europe for Black Americans has never really been that far away.

American pop icon, singer, actress and woman with two of the greatest legs I think have ever graced the stage Tina Turner is in the process of becoming a Swiss citizen.

Lady Tina Turner will be renouncing her US passport. In order to do so she says – “I’m very happy in Switzerland and I feel at home here”. She went on to say – “I cannot imagine a better place to live”.

I heard the story and it made me think back to some of my favourite writers who also were African-American people who decided to up and go to Europe and a few of them never came back.

To talk about the Harlem Renaissance and how Ms. Tina Turner and her decision to give up her US passport actually is not an unheard of thing to do I have with me Kimberly Ellis, she is with me from Pittsburg; Veronica Miller and joining us is Kenji Jasper this evening.

Folks, thank you so much for being on! I want to start with you Dr. Ellis. You are a playwright and a performer, and frankly you would like to get your travel on as well from what I understand, at least your Facebook page tells me as much. What’s your take on this?

In my description it is because I think that the question of American identity, it has often been the question of dual citizenship. I think that is what has dominated the popular minds, especially African-Americans, over the last 15 years and that’s largely because we were pursuing this dual citizenship with Ghana to the former President Jerry Rawlings.

But like you said, even before that, I mean throughout the Harlem Renaissance you still have many writers who enjoyed their times overseas, you had writers who became expats, I mean there is a whole back expat community online and many of us are living throughout the world. I think it is exciting, I think it is wonderful, I mean I think that it combats America’s xenophobia thinking that America is the only best place to live, it is simply not true.

And even with the black President I think one of the things that we’ve been able to see is that America still has that problem of the color lines that W. E. B. Du Bois talked about in his book The Souls of Black Folk. And he is someone else that decided in his later years to die in Ghana and live the last portion of his life there. So, this is not new for any of us. And I understand Tina Turner, she is having a wonderful time. I totally understand how she could feel at home in Switzerland, and I applaud her.

Now I’m going to go to Veronica Miller. Your middle name is Marché is French, so you know, that makes us closer to Switzerland. You are a journalist, a designer, a writer and a whole bunch of other things too. I want to bring you into the conversation as well.

Sure! I think it is exciting. Like you said, I do a whole bunch of things and a lot of those things involve art and entertainment. And of my lifelong models Josephine Baker and Nina Simone are also famous, talented black female entertainers who made their homes outside the US. And I think it is exciting and important. I’ve mentioned two young girls and I have a younger sister and I think it is important particularly for young black women to see these insanely talented and influential models making choices for their best selves, where they can live their best lives. So, it is like – let me go where I feel at home and where I feel celebrated, and where I feel accepted, and what feels comfortable for me, and if it is across the ocean – so, be it.

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