I asked my father what he thought of Sandra Bland. He said she should have not been so aggressive and flippant with a police officer. I asked him what he thought about Mike Brown. He asked why he was stealing from a convenience store in the first place. I asked him, but what about Trayvon Martin? He said he shouldn’t have been walking at night wearing that hoody. No matter the reason, no matter the circumstance, my father did not understand why these young black, American people did not know their place in this country. See, my father is a sixty something year old African man born in the era of colonial Cote d’Ivoire. He moved to this country with his wife, his four children, and his degrees, in hopes of creating a life in a country that wasn’t his. From as early as I can remember, we were taught that America wasn’t our country. My mother insisted on eating African food, listening to African music, and wearing traditional African clothes. My father insisted we study hard, work hard, and stay in our lane.
Between the two of them, my brothers and I lived in a weird vortex where we were to be African as hell but still be scared of being black. We were to be very obedient to all authority figures, because we were not African American but we were still black. We were to turn our cheeks to racist comments because we were not African American, but we were still black. We avoided eye contact, and spoke in low tones to ensure that we were not mistaken for disrespectful black children. We lived to differentiate and protect ourselves from a society that didn’t like immigrants, but seemingly disliked African Americans even more. It was a childhood of understanding our place, and never questioning it. It was a childhood of loving our Africaness but fearing the repercussions of our blackness at the same damn time. I grew to understand why we lived in perpetual discomfort, why my parents wanted us home all the time, why they didn’t want my brother joining the military, or my brothers playing high school football. They were living in a foreign land, with foreign value systems, and foreign prejudices that could be the death of their children.
This sense of not belonging is a privilege for Africans like my father, and it is to a fault. He can now look at murdered African Americans and place blame. “They should have known better,” they should have kept their mouths shut, they should have stayed indoors, they should have respected that police officer. But, how can you live in perpetual fear in your own country? The country where you were born, and your parents, and your ancestors who were children of those stripped from Africa. African Americans have a rage inside of them that is warranted and necessary. This is their homeland and they are treated as dangers to society. Black men are shot in broad day light and women ripped from their cars and thrown to the ground over broken tail lights. There is a rage inside of them that my father will never feel, a rage that many Africans will never feel because we do have a place we return to and even with the complete preposterous problems that the African continent faces, this form of deadly prejudice that has been institutionalized isn’t one of them.
My father can return to Cote d’Ivoire and know he is at home, that even if he doesn’t want to admit it, there is a peace there that he could never feel here in America. That is privilege, his ability to separate himself from the struggles of African Americans, is why many Africans don’t understand the Black Lives Matter movement. They do not understand that African Americans do not want to be ostracized in the nation where they are citizens by birth and heart. The peace we feel when we return home, that is what African Americans want to feel, and deserve to feel in this country. More support from the African community is necessary, and more visibility in speaking in reinforcement of the movement is key. And to be perfectly honest, a separation between African and black Americans is unrealistic and counter productive in 2015. For Africans to feel like they can live in the United States and turn a blind eye to the violent persecution of people of color ignores the critical fact that if it wasn’t for revolutionary African American people who spear headed violent and non violent movements for civil rights, Africans would not be able to enjoy the educational and professional opportunities that we cross oceans to access. With out the black panthers, Martin Luther King, Angela Davis, Stokley Carmichael, Malcolm X, life would still be dismal and Africans and African Americans would be using the same water fountain. Our struggles have been genetically linked since colonization and slavery ripped us apart, and our struggles should not be separated and classified now as we face new ways for society to dehumanize the black body.