I’ve decided to be honest. I’ve gained some clarity that has allowed me to express what I’ve felt for many years. It took leaving the US three times to find the words and it’s taken seeing the photo and caption below to find the courage and clarity to express what you are about to read. I feel unsettled here in the US. I feel anxious. I contemplate leaving often. The more I travel the more I feel compelled to leave for good. For now, I plan to live and work abroad by the start of 2018. This is lengthy and there isn’t a short summation at the end or bullet points to recap, but this is quite possibly the most honest reflection I’ve been able to share. The more I discover about myself, the better I am at articulating who I am.
To begin, I want to acknowledge that I don’t hate the United States, nor its people. I’m often frustrated and angered by it, but I don’t hate it. The words you will read hold some generalizations and may or may not apply to you. Whether it does or does not is not for me to say. That is something you must discover for yourself through experience and reflection. As a country, my existence as a black person has been contextualized by violence, oppression, poverty, systemic and interpersonal racism and injustice, self-hate that extended beyond self and into my community, and so many other things. All of which occur at varying degrees of severity. I’m saying this is what has contextualized black experience. I am black, thus making the aforementioned part of my lived experience.
Constantly trying to explain to yourself and people who look like you that you have value, significance, and are a contributor to your community and country while daily messages, physical surroundings, and broken systems communicate otherwise is painfully exhausting. It’s like habitually lying to yourself and those you love to give some peace of mind or paint a less grim picture. The pervasive barrage of messages influences everyone in some capacity. This place… this country taught me to hate myself and my people, while causing me to see them as less valuable or significant. It taught me to see context rather than person and I believe much of our society sees the same thing. The caption says, “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me… When they approach me they see only my surrounds, themselves, or a figment of their imagination – indeed, everything and anything except me.”
Damn if that ain’t a sad reality. Even as part of this community, I see us that way. I’m not speaking about friends, family, or colleagues who have taken time to build strong, interpersonal relationships, but maybe they see other black people that way. Either way, it’s the reality of my lived experience. I’m talking about immediate misconceptions and assumptions, preconceived notions, and avoidance. I’m talking about inherent fear, distrust and mistrust, hate, and distance that has been instilled in generations, in friends, and in me.
In American society, I am invisible. In every instance during my time abroad, I have felt seen, heard, validated, and valued. I was able to be deeply authentic, embracing all of my identity. Black, Native American, Scottish, and many other parts of my identity that aren’t confined to ethnicity. I’m stifled here. Something is keeping me from being open to learning and I believe it has to do with what I’ve held inside for so long. So I’ll leave for some time to learn, change, and find ways to create change. For several years now, I’ve been undoing the damage from how I’ve felt and what I’ve experienced. As an institution and country, this place never loved me and most of all it made me hate myself and people like me. Coming to these realizations enraged me. As my anger subsided, I found awareness and understanding. I am now searching for my place in the world while learning new ways to give back to others. One day it will help me give back here in the US. I am reconciling past transgressions against myself and others, while restoring my wholeness.
What’s next? I’ll be finishing up my grad program in May 2017, traveling around the world for three months to advocate and fundraise for those with multiple sclerosis, and then I’ll try to find a job in South Africa, Italy, or with the Peace Corps/an NGO. I understand the responsibility and urgency to rally for and fight alongside minority communities. Some may even say that I am shirking these responsibilities by moving away. Whatever criticisms and critiques you may have of my thoughts and decisions are perfectly acceptable. I’m sure they are informed by your lived experiences, which I will not question, but seek to understand. I invite you to send me a personal message so we can create understanding for one another.
If you’ve read this far, thank you. You’ve honored me by trying to understand me more and for that I will always be grateful.
*Photos Taken at the Art Institute of Chicago – The Invisible Man exhibit