This summer I had the privilege to travel to Saas-Fee, Switzerland to study at The European Graduate School. I had few expectations, and many apprehensions. I decided I’d be open-minded about the strange place and the new people, and I can say that it was a great experience. [I don’t like strange food, and by “strange” I pretty much mean almost everything, so there was that.] On the day my classmate and I met up with two of our professors in Zürich to take the train to Visp [and then the bus to Saas-Fee] one of the professors asked what I wanted to do after I finished my PhD. My response, as it has been for a while, was, “I just want to do cool stuff with cool people.” Of course, there were follow-up questions. When a professor who knows [and expects] PhD students should be working on some kind of elevator pitch asks, mine is hardly ever a sufficient response to that question.

It’s true, nonetheless, and Switzerland provided an opportunity to do just that. I’m doing now what I expect to do when I’m done. I now have a slight modification, however. One morning before class I watched the Dave Chappelle interview in which he told the story of his first meeting with Kanye West. He said Kanye received a phone call that he ended by saying, “Cause my life is dope, and I do dope shit[he was watching never-before-seen skits from Chappelle’s TV show]. It’s apt that I’d rather say, “I [want to] do dope shit with dope people.” I think this summer I did that. I wrote and recorded some music, sat in on some interesting lectures and took lots of notes I hope to get to look back at some time soon, and shot [with some other EGS students] and edited a video. I’d say it was pretty productive.

I took my Collected Essays of James Baldwin with me, because I told myself that since I was there I must read “Stranger in the Village.” Baldwin’s essay is written about Leukerbad, which is 1h 12m from Saas-Fee. The introduction to the collection, “Autobiographical Notes,” ends with [a paragraph that contains] a famous Baldwin quotation:

“I don’t like people who like me because I’m a Negro; neither do I like people who find in the same accident grounds for contempt. I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. I think all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one’s own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright. I consider that I have many responsibilities, but none greater than this: to last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done.
I want to be an honest man and a good writer.” [9]

This was a reminder that it would be important to not only take good notes on the lectures, but to attempt to honestly reflect on the experience as a black man from America. I wrote quite a bit, but I only have one quote from “Stranger in the Village” in my notes: “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” [119] Looking back over my reflections on the essay in my notes is poignant now, being back home.

Part of getting my bearings was writing and recording more. I’d been working on a project slated to kick off in the Fall, so there was attending to that. But mostly, I took the time to reflect. I think it’s all represented by what’s in this mixtape. But as I sit here writing this note to summarize my summer, preparing for the next school term, there are protests on TV, and varying opinions and commentary in my social media feeds. The very first thing in my Switzerland notes is a quote from an interview I watched of Ta-Nehisi Coates about his writing on reparations. He said, “What we want is a kind of colorblindness. We think that’s the answer. But colorblindness isn’t the answer. Color isn’t the problem. Racism is the problem, and being conscious of racism is the solution.”

In my summation of “Stranger in the Village,” after that quote I extracted, I wrote: If everyone is a nigger then no one is a nigger, but not everyone is a nigger, even if it seems that everyone wants to claim to be a nigger—or claim niggerness: being made nigger, [re]appropriating nigger, accepting by rejecting nigger, rejecting by accepting nigger. It will never be the empty adjective we want to make it, and we will never get outside it, especially if we spend so much time trying to get around it or pretending we have made our way through it. The slave made master is master and slave…the chains aren’t replaced, but bequeathed [and shared]. Knowledge is power, and we’re striving for mastery, right? Slaves to that, too. Wondering if a master is/was ever not slave to something.

The mountains, the air, the classes, new people, different points-of-view, interesting professors, an open mic performance, German rap music, hippies & hipsters, bar chats about philosophy and philosophers, seeing a Danish woman’s response to watching Boyz N the Hood, “parties” [where people drank wine or beer and talked about philosophy and philosophers], sheep grazing right outside the window—all these things qualify as Dope Shit With Dope People. But more than anything, reflecting on my time in Switzerland, and my summer in general, I’d say my take-away is I feel more like a stranger here at home now than I ever did there.

EGS and Saas-Fee provided some necessary perspective about life in America. Being a black American reading a sixty-something year-old essay about his home while in another country certainly helped. “[T]o last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done.” I can dig it. I’m trying.