Larry Mitchell has a retort for every white supremacist, racist and Internet troll who has ever told him to go back to Africa.
“If you want me to go back to Africa I will gladly go … you can help make your dream and mine come true,” he writes on his GoFundMe page. “Accepting all donations … KKK, Skin Heads and anyone else with like mind thinking are welcome to donate … Thank you … God bless you and America.”
He hashtagged the post #putyourmoneywhereyourhateis.
In a little over a week, the GoFundMe page has been shared more than 30,000 times, and backers have donated more than $1,100, which means he needs about $99,000 more before he goes.
Mitchell was born and raised in Indiana and says that things aren’t too bad in Kokomo, a city that is 83 percent white, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Looking back, though, the city he calls home has had racial tensions.
In the 1920s, Indiana had the highest number of Klan members per capita of any state — and in 1923, the city of Kokomo drew tens of thousands of Klan members for the induction of a new grand dragon, according to the New York Times.
The ceremony, on July 4, 1923, “is considered by many scholars to be the largest single Klan gathering in the nation’s history,” according to the Times.
‘Go back to Africa’
Still, he says he has a good life as a chef. He posts recipes on his blog and even has self-published a cookbook.
But things get ugliest when he goes online — especially, he says, when he tweets about black history or black accomplishments or, well, pretty much black anything.
“After a [Floyd] Mayweather fight, or after Serena [Williams] wins a tennis match, you go online and people say ‘go back to Africa,’ ” he told The Washington Post. “And instead of sitting online arguing with them, I just thought of a sly way to come back at them.”
Mitchell said he has “been hearing ‘Go back to Africa’ my whole life.”
An incident on the campaign trail highlighted how the phrase is now wielded. In March, Black Lives Matter demonstrators and other groups disrupted a Donald Trump rally in Chicago, which was ultimately canceled because of security concerns. Outside the venue, a bearded white man in a blue cap and a camouflage jacket repeatedly yelled “go back to Africa!” while he cursed at black protesters.
“You consider yourself an African American, go back to Africa,” he is heard screaming in a video that was widely circulated on social media. “If you’re an African first, then go back to Africa.”
Whether blacks should “go back” to Africa has been an undercurrent of American racial politics for almost as long as there have been black people in the United States. Supporters of the idea have argued for more than a century that returning to Africa is the best way to escape economic and social oppression. Others question whether blacks in America can “go back” to a continent they have never seen and to which they don’t have a cultural connection.
The Journal of Negro History, in a 1917 article, traces the origins of the back-to-Africa movement as far back as 1714. The article quotes a letter from Thomas Jefferson, who said that sending free blacks to Africa was “the most desirable measure which could be adopted for gradually drawing off” the black population.
In the 20th century, back-to-Africa proponents including Marcus Garvey, an early advocate of pan-Africanism, felt that the best way for blacks to escape economic and social oppression in the United States was to return to the lands of their forefathers. Garvey even started a shipping line that he hoped would ferry American blacks across the Atlantic.
Mitchell said he learned some of that history as a child. His mother and uncles always encouraged him to read, and they made sure some of his books were about black history.
“On Martin Luther King Day, we would have to read a book and then do a report,” Mitchell told The Washington Post. “We would study history, but my uncles wanted to make sure I knew about our history.”
Recently, he said, he has been reading more about the back-to-Africa movement.
Thousands of African Americans saw “returning” to Africa as a worthwhile plan, according to Fodei Batty, an assistant professor of political science at Quinnipiac University, who wrote in The Post:
Over the past 150 years, tens of thousands of African Americans have resettled in Africa. The United States has seen numerous “back-to-Africa” movements from the 1800s to contemporary times. For instance, Paul Cuffe, a prosperous former slave and businessman in post-colonial Massachusetts spearheaded one of the first back-to-Africa movements and helped return settlers to Sierra Leone in 1815.Beginning in 1822, the white-led American Colonization Society (ACS) resettled thousands of freeborn blacks and freed slaves in a region in West Africa, next to Sierra Leone, that became Liberia.
It’s unclear when the phrase shifted from a cultural what-if to an insult. According to Atlantablackstar.com, a news magazine that focuses on African and African American issues, the insult is steeped in “the assumption among whites … that Black folks should be happy to be in America, which, through its kindness and generosity, has rendered African-Americans the most fortunate Black people around. There is a perverse, outlandish assertion that Black people … should leave if they cannot appreciate all that white people have done for them.”
There have been incidents when a few angry people have shouted “Go back to Africa” at black traffic cops who have given them tickets, or to people during arguments on a train.
And people say it pretty frequently to Mitchell — and to some of the black people who have read and shared his GoFundMe post.
‘There are very few racists here’
“I’m not funding you out of hate. I love this and think you’re a bada–,” said Cristin Bolsinger, who donated $10. “Can you please take me, my husband and two daughters with you? Good luck!”
Another donor, Will Morton, who gave $5, said Mitchell should contemplate another move.
“You should move to Washington state, we would love to have you and there are very few racists here,” he said. “I hope you get your dream vacation.”
On his GoFundMe page, Mitchell posted a story from Africa Renewal online, a United Nations publication, which interviewed Jerome Thompson, one of 20 African Americans who had moved to Prampram, a city on the coast of Ghana.
“I was so ready to turn my back on the United States,” Thompson told the magazine. “We did so much for the U.S., yet they don’t want to see us as first-class citizens.”
Now, Thompson told the magazine, in Ghana: “The ocean helps me fall asleep and wakes me up in the morning.”
Mitchell faces a minor dilemma stemming from the campaign, which started off as a joke that he thought up in his living room with his best friend: Will he let the joke go, or would he use the GoFundMe money to finance a trip to Africa?
“I’ve been seriously considering it,” he told The Post. “Just to visit and see what Africa is really like.”