A Traveler’s Thoughts About Race in America

Trayvon

When I heard about the Zimmerman verdict I was in shock. I really thought that this would’ve been a slam dunk. Racist man admits he stalked a teenager. He gets out the car, shoots and kills said teenager. And admits it.  So when I read “not guilty” I just stared at my phone. And then the opinions started coming in. “This isn’t surprising.” “I saw this coming.”  How could you have seen this coming? And then I realized what my problem was. I’ve been outside of America for too long. I had the privilege of not thinking of this kind of racism.

Oh sure… I listened to the Oscar Grant story from my smartphone. Or the murder of the 68-year-old Kenneth Chamberlain murdered by police while I lived in Beijing. But it was a different reaction than BEING home when the shooting of Amadou Diallo occurred.

Don’t get me wrong, there is RACISM in other countries I’ve lived. But I would never have to ask my brother, for example, to police how he looks before leaving the house for fear of getting shot. I mean, not for racial reasons…

Racism takes on many forms. The kind I dealt with abroad was people constantly touching your hair. Or being asked repeatedly to stop your daily activities to the pose for the camera for someone. Or a cab not stopping for you until you’re it’s assured you’re European friend is coming along. Or people just making stupid comments.

[NOTE: The stereotype of the hypersexualized Black female still lives in certain countries. I just gave myself an idea for another post.]

Why don’t we just all go back to Africa…

There have been interesting suggestions as to what to do next. I read this from Akon’s instagram account after the verdict:

Interesting. I’m all about connecting to the continent. But I’m not sure if I look at Africa as the Black (Wo)Man’s Utopia, either. I think Akon, and others, have a point about re-connecting and investing in the continent. I think more of us should do that whether its through reading history, traveling or living in a chosen country or investing resources. But I don’t think moving to Africa will solve discrimination. What about marginalized African Americans who are marginalized? Gay African Americans. Disabled African Americans. Mentally ill African Americans. I know some people say they would hate to be Black in America, but I would hate to be Gay in Uganda.
America struggles with it’s marginalized communities and countries in Africa are no different.

Black and Privileged

 In certain countries, there s a privilege that comes along with being an American, whether you like it or not. Ironic, as African Americans are not thought of being privileged. But when you rest on the case that you’re American, you will have more opportunities. People will treat you differently. That apartment building will magically have space when you stress that you’re an American (true story). And it is a struggle to think how you’re privilege effects locals.
The sad fact is, unlike some other countries, racial discrimination is woven into the making of America. African Americans live in a country that was not made for them; it deliberately and historically excludes them. So from slavery, to lynchings, to racial profiling, African Americans are always thought of as a problem. Trayvon Martin wasn’t a kid trying to make it home; Trayvon Martin was a problem that needed to be dealt with.
The Elephant Raffle

An example of a historic reason Blacks are seen as a problem (Civil War). “Congratulations, Mr. President, you just won yourself a bunch of Negroes! Now what are you going to do with them?” – as said by Dr. Yohuru Williams

Black vs. Black

I think when you’re an immigrant you look at America differently. First, you had the crazy idea to leave your country to an unknown land. And second you’re not burdened with this legacy of racial discrimination in the US, so you don’t internalize this racism. It may be the reason why some pit African-Americans against Black immigrants like West Indians and Africans. “Well, look at them… they came to this country and worked hard and look where they are now.” But if you’re not burdened with the legacy of racial discrimination, you won’t see it as an obstacle (at times). It can be even be seen as a privilege. It also doesn’t speak to the narrative that some Black immigrants are, in fact poor, and some African Americans are wealthy, or successful. I tip-toe in both worlds, where I am a child of immigrants, but was raised in America, learning about African American history in school, and having people interact and see me as African American.

Welcome “Home”

I was paralyzed what to do next after the Zimmerman verdict. I wanted to DO something, but I didn’t know what. Attend one of the protests or vigils? Continue reading the news? Partner with someone to organize a meet up? Because I’m a digital native, I asked this on twitter. My friend Jerome simply answered, “write.”
I don’t remember tackling racism on this blog. I’m not very introspective, but looking at it now it’s probably because this blog itself is about the global black experience… I talk about Black people all the time and it’s supposed to be positive, lol. But I started the blog abroad, where I wasn’t in direct contact with the unique construction of race in the US. I have to re-wire myself to an aspect of being Black in America. Here’s hello to an old friend.

 

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8 Responses to “A Traveler’s Thoughts About Race in America”

  1. Efo Dela says:

    I was stunned when I heard the verdict. I’d been following the case since last year and I thought this was a sure conviction.
    I am not sure I can fully understand the import of racism as I live in a country where that is not an issue but I do understand to a point. I do understand discrimination
    I do understand that some times people are jUST not used to other races.
    My sister lived in China for 6years and she told me about how people would always stop her just to touch her hair. She found it amusing.
    Africa also has issues with discrimination. Not necessarily racial. Hopefully one day it would all end.

    • Roxanne L. Scott says:

      Awww man… I need to talk to your sister about living in China, lol. I’m having flashbacks of people reaching for my hair. I think what you said about understanding is key; for some there is no understanding or empathy for “other” people for many reasons. I agree with you and hope that we can take this time to reflect on our thoughts and judgements to create change within ourselves, which leads to widespread change.

  2. @AbbanBudu says:

    the verdict didn’t go down well with me either, and i think this will help rewrite a line in the history books. thanks to the internet, blacks have got a voice. we’ll keep writing.

    • Roxanne L. Scott says:

      Thanks for stopping by Terry. :-) Even before the internet, we’ve had a voice. I think now we can definitely reach more people with blogging and social media, but we were also able to create change in the past before these tools. I agree that this has sparked something in the states, as movements are created with ideas and moments. This is definitely a moment in our history, and with thought leaders, I hope we can figure out what we can do next.

  3. Jerome says:

    I’ll reserve my opinion on the trial and the ruling. Not being African American I don’t understand how it feels to be part of a society that doesn’t want you there. And Akon’s assertion is ridiculous at best.

    I’m hoping that this ruling will lead to a wider debate on murders of young black people. The media shouldn’t be the guide for outrage.

    • Roxanne L. Scott says:

      Hey Jerome… no need to be reserved. You didn’t hold back on our first conversation on Ghana Decides, I don’t expect any less of you. Aren’t you the one that “went in” on Black Twitter :-P Besides I’m just one woman with an opinion.

      I was interested in thinking what you thought about Akon’s post. Outside of this, I do like Akon, by the way.

      I agree that the media shouldn’t be the guide for outrage. I’ve been learning this week that change is sparked by moments and ideas. This is definitely a moment. And I suppose it will take thought leadership to discuss next steps.

      Thanks for encouraging me to write. I now understand when people say, to change the world you have to first change myself. Simply writing this post has got me thinking what else I can do. I don’t have the answers (secret: I never really do), but this was a better option than avoiding twitter, lol.

      • Jerome says:

        remember our conversation on a true black medium? this is needed more than ever! the onus is on black journalists like yourself to set the agenda. Trayvon’s case is tragic, but I think there are equal tragedies that will stir black people as much as this, but no one’s heard of them….yet.

    • USA says:

      It’s not society that doesn’t want us African Americans there, it’s white people, or in other words, white society. Don’t pass the blame on the whole “society” pinpoint the real issues.

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