The green card. That was everyone’s dream and scoring one was like winning the lottery, but better. Growing up in rural Kenya 2 ½ hours drive outside Nairobi, we spoke of America in reverent tones. America was generous. She was kind. She sent plenty of USAID in corn oil and dried yellow corn to keep our bellies full during times of drought and famine.
America also sent missionaries to look after the orphaned and the destitute, some doing God’s work, some using the trust that goes with the territory as a cover for more sinister motives. And when the AIDS epidemic hit crisis levels in early 2000’s, America stepped in through PEPFAR with ARVs, nutrition and health education. As a result, AIDS ceased to be as scary and a HIV diagnosis was no longer viewed as a death sentence. America was great. We all wanted a green card to go to wonderful America where corn and corn oil would be on tap, and we’d never go hungry again.
Why am I here? My husband rightly observed that I have not blogged for a long time, to which I replied that I have been in mourning and lacking in inspiration. You see, after I wrote about the immense anger gliding the globe, I set out to educate myself about why people were this angry. Because it seemed to me that the anger had been simmering for a long, long time. As soon as there was a catalyst, it rained anger, and poured anger, and as it thundered, its reverberations were felt in every continent.
I therefore decided to come here to process my mourning. If you remember, writing is what I do to declutter my mind, a mind currently clouded by an overwhelming sadness over the America I have discovered in the last two weeks. It is an America that got me wondering about the politics of power and diplomacy that drives a country to solve another country’s problems while working hard to consciously (it seems) create greater problems in its own home-base. I want to think of America as the benevolent, all knowing ultimately good god-father of my growing up years. An imagery that now, like Humpty Dumpty, lies scattered in pieces, with no prospect of being glued together again.
I speak of America’s systematic injustices to her Afro-Americans. These are deeply embedded in her difficult history bolstered by human capital and therefore too complex for me to explain. But the 13 year old village girl inside keeps asking me; “Why did America cross oceans to ‘save’ Africa while grinding the Africans in America to the ground? And where is the moral integrity in traversing the seas in search of poor Africans in need of help, while systematically impoverishing the ones at their front door?”
I thought it sensible to hear what both black and white Americans have to say about race at home, and how glorious America found herself in her present social disarray. So I listened to Dr. Carol Anderson, a Charles Howard Candler professor of African American Studies at Emory University who researches public policy on race, justice, and equality. I thought to myself, ‘She is an academic and not a newsman piecing this and that story together. Besides, since race, justice and equality are her areas of expertise, what she says must have some credibility.’ I can only say that the sprinklings of humour in her talk makes the shocking statistics and stories she tables out easier to absorb.
I also listened to Paul Vischer, a writer and animator who has raised many American children through his Veggie Tales franchise. His info-graphics brought Dr. Anderson’s stories and other statistics to life in a way that makes one simultaneously mad and sad. I had never heard of these two people prior, but they are resolute about fighting racial inequalities and injustices in America. They also thrust me into mourning the America of my childhood and brought me here, with you. What a pity that it is presently against the law to give hugs, almost across the world!
At the height of the George Floyd protests, I remarked to some friends how whenever police brutally occurs in America, people protest but nothing ever changes. I wondered whether all that was needed was another Martin Luther King, another human rights movement to address current challenges.
But as I engaged with the information in these videos, the American problem intensified. Because if these statistics, backed by the policies of the very government that passed the human rights bills into laws are anything to go by, then a 21st century human rights movement of the 1960’s magnitude might not accomplish much.
The situation is almost comparable to the infamous British colonial rule. In Kenya for instance, the crown left when it was good and ready, though we Kenyans like to believe that it was because of the fight for independence. Similarly, when British India was no longer a viable colony, the Brits left in haste. Such was their haste that their exit triggered social chaos and bloodshed of unparalleled magnitude during peace times, dividing British India into the present day nations of India and Pakistan, along religious lines.
My proposition therefore is that, in the same way that the British relinquished their colonies by choice, and not because their colonies resisted colonial rule, the U.S government of the ‘60s were forced to pass human rights laws they were not prepared to uphold. They therefore immediately made new policies to frustrate those human rights gains and crush the Afro-American fighting spirit.
If that be so, then what is needed is not another human rights movement. It is for the American government to honour what the ’60s accomplished. It is for this government to begin valuing the lives and livelihoods of its African population and reflect that into its policies on education, housing, employment and the rule of law. It is for the same government to care when black schools rank at 10 out of 140 points in infrastructure, resources, and curriculum delivery and invest into these schools programs that can bring learning to par with most of the white schools. Because if education is power, then this power has been systematically taken away from Afro-Americans by the very government that purports to protect them.
And the US federal investment into the brutal war on drugs and the problems created by that? Inside, it plays out like the most strategic conniving by any government against her own citizens. It exemplifies an American-made social problem, created by them that have power and sustained by that power. I’m sorry if I have lost you, but one must engage with the content by Vischer and Dr. Anderson above to understand what Americans believe is the problem with ‘the war on drugs’. I did not make it up.
Understandably, there is a direct correlation between the war on drugs and police brutality towards Afro-Americans. And Although there are public demands to demilitarise the American police that is in my view, hardly the complete solution. True, it might bring a semblance of safety to Afro-Americans in the streets, but it will do little to keep them economically empowered and therefore psycho-emotionally safe in America. This is an enormous problem! And hence I am in mourning.
And what exactly am I mourning?
I mourn all those Afro-American hopes that have been dashed to pieces, crushed into pulp by ‘the system’.
I mourn all those loves that could have thrived in safety and plenty, the healthy thriving families that might have been, had things been different.
I mourn for all those hearts beating arrhythmically, in both fear and despair.
I mourn the loss of lives, both physical death and psycho-emotional death.
I mourn the concept of American freedom on three levels: a freedom to subjugate others and a freedom built on the subjugation of her own citizens. I mourn this faux freedom that seems a mockery of the very people that ought to feel liberated by it. And that in the land of the brave and home of the free!
And I mourn the realisation of this metaphor; that the white policeman’s pressure on George Floyd’s neck that deprived him of air and eventually led to his death, that pressure has been, metaphorically speaking, applied to Afro-Americans on all aspects of life, suffocating their dreams, their purpose, their ambitions and their contributions to society in full view of everyone. And even so, the world might still find ways to blame them for having had the nerve to suffocate.
I do not wish the world to be colourblind, for colour enriches and beautifies! But for the world to see each colour in its beauty and brilliance on the mosaic of life. Because if the world were a mosaic with the racial inequalities as they stand, it would be a pale, unfinished monochrome.SOMETHING2GIVE.COM
While in Brooklyn, New York, in 2009, a Caucasian American came to say hello but really talk about my braided hair. I had landed in JFK airport that morning on my way to Colorado. And if you are in America for the first time and in New York with an 8 our lay over, you get out of the airport and see New York. So I did.
The admirer of my braids deduced from my accent that I was not an American and said; “You know, they’ll respect you more if they realise that you are not an African American”. I am only now beginning to understand what he meant then, and it makes me extremely sad and ashamed to think that at the time, I thought of his comment as a compliment.
Will the Africans in America ever have a fair chance to feel sufficient? Will they ever have a fair chance to feel significant? Will they ever have a fair chance to feel secure? Will they ever have a fair chance to aim for satisfaction? These people who built America, will they ever have a fair chance to belong? When I listen to Vischer and Dr. Anderson and then ask myself these questions, I mourn. I do.
We have neared the end, where one might feel compelled to remind me of all the merits of America. Thank you, but I am all too painfully aware of them and that is why I mourn the perfect America I so romanticised in my childhood. For the America unfolding in my adulthood causes me grief.
Let us therefore save America’s merits for a time when we can think of them untainted by this mourning. Because grief, as you know, is linear. That is to say, if life was a circle, then grief would be the thin line of diameter. American merits would be the circumference; momentarily connected to the diameter and their chief purpose would be to define this grief, to set its dimensions in place.
With the 4th of July celebrations still fresh in our memories, I hope that you toasted to the America that the world awaits with baited breath; America that is brave enough to make herself, for the first time in four centuries, the land of the free.