Navigating blackness: Fresh off the Boat perspective
Since I left my country 11 years ago, to move to America, I have been on a journey of realizing my black identity.
See I did not grow up with any of this at all. I was born into a generation in Zimbabwe that is called the “born frees”, in reference to how were born after the country got independence and we did not experience any of the racist, apartheid rules that our parents had to live under. While my generation’s later years were screwed by my government, we still were empowered enough to have access to education and have ambition, pending social class, and when I got on a plane to move to the US on the wings of my full scholarship to the University of Chicago, I had never experienced anyone telling me you can’t be something because of my skin color, and I truly believed, still do, that the world in my oyster!
In a lot of ways America was good to me, and gave me a lot of advantages. With the education I attained, at the University of Chicago and University of Michigan I am now living my dream of building expertise in strategies to solve challenges to access to healthcare and health products globally.
However that does not mean in any way I am blind to the fact that a lot of people never had these advantages because they look like me. I learnt about the slave trade in more detail in college for the first time, and I asked my professor if I can be excused from reading the book because I was so traumatized. I then got my first glimpse of black America, when I spent my first summer at a job where I archived stories of Black Chicagoans, at the Chicago Black Historical Society, and my education has not stopped since.
I probably cannot do justice to this topic in a few paragraph or so, but I think many immigrants, especially black immigrants, we struggle with the question of where we fit into the story of America, especially the current narrative or racial discourse. My friends hold a spectrum of opinions on it, but the ones I argue with the most are the ones who think what black America goes through is not our problem.
To this view I say, first of all whatever happened to empathy? Just because an issue does not affect you directly does not mean it does not matter. Second of all when I get stopped by a police car, will I have time to whip out my African passport to prove some point about my identity in those two and half minutes of interaction? Probably not. The distinction those friends of mine thinks exists between us and Black America is in their heads. I discussed this with a white friend who is from Germany and we concluded, we have divergent experiences as immigrants in America. Black immigrants do not get a pass at all out of the socio- political issues in this country. We may hold on to the notion that we can always skip out on America if it goes awry, but a lot of us from conflict countries and troubled pasts, do not have that option.
We do not get to opt out of blackness.
I could go on and on, but I will say this. While I was living in America, I am a fierce advocate of social justice and I have intense respect for the fight over racial equity in this country, because I believe in well obviously being a good person duh, and most importantly I am not exempt from the black identity in this country. I also recognize that being black and being African is a double burden; caring so deeply for my continent and my people and worrying about my safety and that of my other people of color in this country. It means holding my Kenyan friend’s hand when there was a terrorist attack near where she is from, and also not being able to breathe when I woke up to the Charleston shooting of black folks in a church. It means spending a weekend calling up my African Muslim friends on the weekend of the protests against the Muslim ban.
I have embraced my dual identity, African and black. I will continue to use my success and access to fight for racial justice at every opportunity I get. I continue to be the lone person of color in a lot of spaces that I occupy. Most of all living in America has helped me to fully appreciate my black identity in all its forms.
tragic yet beautiful,
tormented yet resilient,
tortured yet hopeful,
most of all
tried yet defiant against all odds.