As an African international student in the U.S. and in a white-dominated institution, my daily lived experiences are shaped by both overt and covert displays of racism. I experience racial microaggressions in the ways people respond to my questions or to the contributions I make to a discussion. People move their bags closer to their bodies when I hop onto the train or on the bus, and people move to a different seat when I sit by them. The truth is I see it, I feel it, and I am traumatized by these experiences. There are days that I choose to table these traumatic experiences so that I can keep my sanity to live. On other days, I cry over why White America cannot see me as HUMAN! A human blessed with MELANIN.
In the wake of the current Black Lives Matter protests for George Floyd, a Black man who was murdered at the hands of a white police officer, I have had to sit with myself to think through the mistreatments and injustices I have experienced as an African student. I have been tailed and stopped by the police, I have been racially profiled at the airports, and I have been asked questions that would never be invited to a White student. Yes, I am African, I am also Black. My melanin is a threat to White America. Anytime I see the police, I wonder if it is another day I will get stopped, frisked, or sadly, shot in this “land of the Free and Home of the Brave.” How ironic is that, huh? The land of the free where a race of people is treated by the military rule: “obey before you complain.” Remember, George Floyd died because he had to “obey” before complaining that HE CANNOT BREATHE! So was Eric Garner and Freddy Gray. All they see is our melanin, and it scares the hell outta them, so they impede our ability to breathe. Why should this beautiful sun-basked dark skin scare you, White America? Why should I desperately beg you to live?
I am angry, I am hurt, I am worried, and I am afraid for every second of my life that I spend in this “land of the free.” Being Black in America means being in constant fear of untimely death at the hands of systematic racism and injustice. Over 150 years after slavery was abolished in the United States of America, Black bodies continue to be treated as enslaved people who were punished and killed at the snap of their masters’ fingers. Why should Black people continue to protest for basic human dignity and racial equity in the 21st Century?
Today, while many have the ‘privilege’ to protect themselves against COVID-19, Black people are forced to risk this deadly pandemic to protest an even more lethal epidemic shrouded in centuries of injustices and Black massacres. I protest, too, because those charged with carrying weapons to protect and serve do not see me as an African, but as a Black body, which threatens their very existence.
I had some White friends ask me why I was not out there protesting with Black people. The U.S. laws give rights to international scholars just as U.S. nationals to join protests or peaceful assemblies. Yet there is more than enough evidence to show that governments and police can violate this right using mass arrests, illegal use of force, and other means intended to silence free public expression.
I, just as many international scholars, are reluctant to attend protests because being arrested will mean immediate deportation and termination of our academic pursuits. It is critical to understand that if I am arrested, I have fewer legal rights than U.S. nationals. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is not welcoming to foreign nationals with arrest records, even if that arrest is from a protest begging for Black people to breathe. As an African woman on a non-immigrant visa, the need to keep my background records clean conflicts with my desire to protest overtly.
Instead, I protest in many covert ways. My protest is in the form of sharing anti-racist resources, keeping myself educated about the historical contexts of racism in the U.S., and pointing out daily instances of anti-Black racism I encounter.
Until Black lives truly matter, and until there is racial equality and justice, I will not stop protesting! I will protest by reading radically Black scholarships, donating to organizations that support Black lives, and writing academic papers that challenge White supremacist ideologies about Black people, and the African continent. I will continue to challenge this racist system by proudly wearing my melanin.
I will breathe, Black people will breathe!