On Being a Black TCK/Expat: I Liked it Better When I Was Colorblind.

I have two decades of life under my belt. Yet, it took me coming to America 12 years ago to realize, Wow…I’m black! It took me until three weeks ago for me to realize that I’m a black Christian. Never before have I ever attached my faith to my race nor did I see the reason to do so. But with the recent event in the American judicial system and the hurricane of responses to it, with the numerous debates of justice and race, I found myself in the turbulent storm of it all, trying to reconcile my faith with the varied responses to the Zimmerman verdict. With some other recent bit of news, however, my world completely shattered. It all started at Starbucks in the Downtown area of my current city after a full day of summer classes. It was July 17th, a very hot  90+°F July 17th I might add. So to cool down, I made a great life decision and purchased a Very Berry Hibiscus Refresher and the guy who worked as the cashier and barista joint was especially kind and handed me my drink with a genuine smile on his face. But the whimsical atmosphere soon came to a halt when I sat down in my seat and found this in my Tumblr feed.

Darius was African American. John was white.

My plan was to leave Starbucks once I scrolled up in my Tumblr feed. But, instead, I sat there for another five minutes, trying to make sense of what just happened; trying to make sense of why the following was even something to consider:

“Jurors will need to decide whether Spooner intentionally killed Simmons, and whether Spooner was suffering from a mental illness at the time that prevented him from knowing right from wrong.”

At that moment, my colorblind contact lenses disintegrated. At that moment, my bliss was over. You see, I had always seen racism in moments. Like that moment when I went to the mall to shop for my 8th grade graduation dress and the sales associate cleverly denied to help me because of my race. Or that moment when I saw the KKK in person and they insulted me right to my face. But it was only until these past few weeks that it really hit me that racism is as permanent as my dark skin color.

I remember the first black man I saw when I left Starbucks that day. He stuck out to me amongst all the others sitting outside the Starbucks coffee shop. He looked like he was in his 70s, with eyes of tiredness that were slightly red. Despite the hot whether, he wore a grayish coat. His mouth was in a slight pout which emerged from his salt and pepper colored beard. In that moment, that man wasn’t just another person. He was my Ete Ete, my grandfather.

The somberness of that piece of news continued to affect me for hours that day. I finally arrived to my family’s home and told my parents about it. But when I slowly walked upstairs to find my brother, greeting me, I lost it. I hugged him tightly and cried. Oh, boy did I cry. I don’t remember the last time I felt that kind of heaviness in my heart and I don’t remember it manifesting itself the way it did in that moment. I finally told him the news. All he could do was shake his head. “Why us,” I asked him. “Why?”

My brother and I in Nigeria around 1996-97.

The frustrating thing about this is my brother is one of the very few that understands where I’m coming from. Other black folks would tell me, “Mary, racism against black people has existed for along time now. This isn’t news.” I know this already. But a lot of us black Africans don’t grow up to see race or racism as a systematic entities since we lived in (mostly) homogenous countries. As a result of the Trayvon Martin case and his death and the one of Darius Simmons, my vision was readjusted by force, and I didn’t like what I was seeing. That day, the scene of my brother being profiled before my very eyes about 5 years ago came to play. I remembered the policeman coming all the way from where he was just to ask if my brother’s backpack was his and if he had someone else’s hat. Coincidentally, he wore a large hoodie that day.

The brother and I in LAX right before he left for his adventure in Europe (Summer 2011)

Are you annoyed that I brought up the hoodie? Does the discussion of race make you uncomfortable? I can understand if it does. But do you know what makes me uncomfortable? Apathy. No, apathy from my friends, you know, the people that should be there for you. But instead, when the verdict was read on CNN, people that I call my friends said that we should just accept the fact that the judicial system is flawed; that our opinions lives don’t matter. Or people who never spent a day in the skin of a person of color speak with too much authority about the issue knowing how sensitive the verdict was to the black community. You know what’s worse? When this is also coming from Christians. “Let’s move on” they say. And to them I say that sure, you have the option to just “move on”; you have the option to click “X” at the top of your web browser or turn off the TV or leave discussions about racism. But there is no X button or off button for the stigmas that are attached to my skin color.

Seeing the apathy made me very upset. Seeing the ignorance and the unwillingness for some white people to just simply listen to where people like me are coming from made me very disappointed. But I’m supposed to forgive them, right? Because, Christ has forgiven me…right? I won’t lie. This is hard. And probably one of the most recent moments in which my faith has been tested. Now I realize that it’s hard to be a black Christian in America.

I wish race wasn’t such a huge issue. I wish our different hues and our different backgrounds were, by default, something to be celebrated. But the truth is, they aren’t. Like my friend Erika said, “To be colorblind is to ignore the fact that not all people are judged by the content of their character.” So I must be aware. But honestly I hate being so aware of my skin color in this manner.

 

I liked it better when I was colorblind.
*   *   *


July 21, 2015 (edit): When I say that “I liked it better when I was colorblind,” I’m saying that the ideas of systematic racism not existing and only a few bad apples treating black people as less than were appealing. It felt so much better to believe this way than the harsh reality that hit me while penning this post. I suppose this post marks when I woke up to the reality that racism is systematic, and when I realized that what I thought was a nightmare was actually real life. Two years later, I’m still awake and the nightmare still continues.

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