Reflections… Chapter Six – Living in America Part 2

Racism in America

I dream of a better life every day. I pray for safety and peace. I study and strive for a brighter future. I yearn to be loved and appreciated. I cry when I am hurt and laugh when I am happy. I hope for a life in which I have food on my table, a smile on my face, and peace in my heart.

But, don’t we all?  

I believe that despite the numerous demarcations that we as a species have imposed on ourselves and the communities we live in; we are all fundamentally equal. To think that another person is any less of a human being based on their race, gender, religion, tribe, orientation, nationality, socio-economic status, appearance or any other subset is, to me, the pinnacle of idiocy, ignorance and the glorification of mankind’s darkest side.

I am an avid follower of international politics, technology and any related current affairs. I remember back home in Zimbabwe waking up early in the morning to watch the BBC News World News broadcast every morning. I was always so captivated by issues happening around the globe that I had to try to bring myself closer to unfolding events, even if that only meant sitting closer to the TV. Among those captivating issues was the issue of equality in America. I remember having animated debates with my own subconscious as I watched Stephen Sackur having equally charged debates with activists on Hard Talk. I had never imagined that I would actually live there – in the eye of the storm.

During my preparation for college, the most emphasized point by family and friends was that ‘things’ in America would be very different from what they were in Zimbabwe. I knew that one of the ‘things’ they were referring to was the fact that I was moving to a country where black people are fighting racism. When I arrived in America I made the decision to not involve myself in race issues because I am not an American. I now realize that even though that decision had a pinch of rationale in it, it only stood to stop me from expressing my opinions, which is one of the main reasons why I came to America in the first place – to be somewhere I could enjoy a liberal arts education and express myself fully without censorship. After a semester of education and self-discovery, I have finally decided to get out from behind the curtains.

Racism in America is all too real. Its sad that this is still debatable among some politicians despite America’s history with racism. Its astonishing to think that just 50 years ago in the great United States, a black person could not vote. To think that such a great nation which throughout history has advocated for peace, freedom and democracy once segregated people with darker skin reveals how America is still a long way off from the moniker ‘Land of the free’. Perhaps ‘Land of the mostly free’ works better.

There are those who claim that since the time of the civil rights movement, all things racial in America have been resolved. As a citizen of Zimbabwe, a country that gained independence from Britain 35 years ago, I can say with a modicum of confidence that it takes longer than that to resolve issues of racism in a country. Even if I don’t tell you that, I can always cite the insurmountable evidence of racism occurring at an alarming scale all over America.

Racism and my college campus 

The first (really the only) social environment that I have been exposed to in America is my college campus. Upon arrival, I immediately noticed the amount of sensitivity that people apply when dealing with potentially racial situations. I come from a country with a population that is 97% black, so such sensitivity was a bit surprising at first. A month into my first semester, a student wrote an Op-Ed critiquing the Black Lives Matter movement in a campus newspaper. This sparked huge controversy among students and resulted in a motion to defund the newspaper.

Personally, I was disappointed by how people responded because the article was indeed the authors opinion which I feel tried to balance both sides of an argument and still be objective. I did not agree totally with the author, but I thought his piece was a good way to incite a dialogue about an important issue. I understand that most racial minorities are angry because of the continuing racism in America, but alienating a fellow student who tried to voice an opinion will not help. Instead, it will only create an environment were people are afraid to speak about racial issues, almost as if they don’t exist at all. Such a façade can only become a fuel to the fire, spreading racism further into communities. From what I can tell, a lot of people genuinely have no idea what some oppressed minorities go through. Without this knowledge, they can never understand where the anger of minorities comes from.

As a Zimbabwean on an American campus, I always try to discuss my origins with my friends and share my own views and experiences from home. This has allowed me to form genuine and solid friendships that are not riddled with stereotypes, facades or no-go-areas.

“Hey Alvin, I once visited Zimbabwe and everyone I met had an accent. Why don’t you have one though?”.

I could have responded angrily to this seemingly ignorant question, but I didn’t. Instead, I calmly explained how people from the same country don’t all have the exact same speech pattern. Although it was rather ignorant, the person genuinely thought that every Zimbabwean sounds like the 20 Zimbabweans he met. One semester down the line and we are good friends despite our different races. I believe that even if there are ugly incidents happening everyday, our own campus can still be united. I applaud the activism and the campaigns for equality carried out by minorities on campus, but I also hope the day will come when all students on campus campaign for equality, standing together as the model of a united community that has banished racism and all the ignorant and idiotic beliefs that come with it.

My first experience of racism (ever)

For Thanksgiving Break, I went with a campus staff member (Ben) to his home in New Jersey. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, Ben and his friend decided to take me to New York. We got on a bus in Hoboken to take us to the Port Authority bus terminus. During the short ride, a lady who sat near us unabashedly stared at me, open-mouthed with a face full of disgust, confusion and and shock. I tried to convince myself that that’s just how she looks at people on a bus, but what I read from her eyes was, “You are black, so what are you doing with the mixed man and that white guy?”

She stared at me for the entire journey and even pointed me out to her friend when she thought I wasn’t looking in her direction. To be honest, I felt a bit angry at first. “She’s definitely seen black people before, so why is she looking at me like that?” For a short moment, I got a tiny glimpse of what it feels like to be a victim of racism. You’re angry because someone thinks your skin color makes you somewhat less of a person, but you know that logic is not only false but also very ridiculous. At that very moment, I started thinking about my life, who I am, where I come from, my struggles, my achievements and my goals. Then all of a sudden, the anger I had quickly turned into pity for the lady and her somewhat backward mentality. I guess amidst my unlikely triumphs in life and the fact that I was on my way to see the iconic New York City for the very first time in my life, I just did not have room for that lady’s ignorance, or anyone else’s for that matter. I’m glad to say that the highlight of that night was Times Square and the amazing New York food.

Racism and politics 

Right now, its impossible to discuss racism in America without mentioning Donald Trump, the Republican front runner for the 2016 Presidential Election. Trump’s comments on the campaign trail have attracted a lot of criticism and admiration, particularly those about Mexicans, Black Americans, Muslims, Kenyans and immigrants. Why does he say all those things? Is he racist? Most people say yes, but I say ‘not necessarily’.

Personally, I don’t think that Donald Trump would pass up a business deal with a Mexican, a Muslim or a Kenyan if he stood to make money off it. I definitely believe, however, that he would say offensive things about them to divide the electorate amidst the growing threat of terrorism and gladly scoop up the votes of those who happen to lean towards his side. It’s simple really, there’s a group of people that think Trump is bad news and another that thinks he is not. Unfortunately, the later is outnumbering the former.

Trump’s strategy has been working so far and he will continue to use it with the hopes of ‘insulting his way to the Presidency’ as Jeb Bush put it. Even though I think what Trump says (and does) is racist, I believe it is merely just a consequence of his untamed and corrupt ambition which drives him to achieve his goals at any cost. For Trump and many other people in the world, racism is just but a tool, as is sexism, religious discrimination and the other numerous forms of bigotry that Trump has pulled out of the ‘win-at-all-costs’ toolbox.

Even if you removed all Mexicans, Muslims, Kenyans, immigrants and Black Americans in America, Trump would still find a particular group of people to vilify and offend in order to win a nomination that he could never win on merit. He has proven this with the remarks he made about Megyn Kelly, Hillary Clinton and Serge Kovaleski. His disease is just ‘hatred’ with racism as one of many symptoms. I’m saddened and terrified by the fact that people like Donald Trump have supporters in 21st century America, the ‘model’ of freedom and democracy. I really hope that this changes as we approach the 2016 election or else my blog would have to take a completely new direction.

Racism and policing

People should acknowledge racism as an unacceptable reality that goes against the core values of America. They should also acknowledge the role that bad policing has played in promoting it. Unfortunately, some politicians think that racism is a myth, which is the very reason why they can’t be trusted to end it. The fact that the government is reluctant to act as hundreds of people die at the hands of law enforcement completely baffles me. I had hoped that I was coming to an America that had banished ‘Rodney King’-like acts, but lo and behold, those evil acts live on. Even in routine apprehensions and arrests, I see trained police officers rush to use open fists, choke-holds, wrestling-style take downs and downright aggressive language.

“Not all cops are bad”, they say.

I don’t believe that a bad cop is exclusively one who abuses his/her power but also one who watches this, stands by and does nothing. From the multiple cases of police brutality, I’ve reviewed, most have resulted in ‘no evidence of wrong-doing’ verdict by internal investigations when the dash-cam videos and eye witness accounts tell a different story. The evidence has proven time and again that bad cops will do bad things and the ‘good’ cops will do absolutely nothing. It’s a bit terrifying for me to think that a police officer can shoot me and probably carry on with their life because they ‘felt threatened’ by my terrifying black skin. It is blatantly obvious that Rodney King was beaten to disfigurement solely because of his skin color and that the officers who confronted Tamir Rice had no intent of resolving the incident without shooting him.

We all have a role to play in trying to understand each other’s struggles, standing up for each other’s rights, and condemning wrong doing when we see it. To the majority of police officers out there that do their job with honor and integrity, you have an obligation to serve and protect civilians, even from other officers that use race as a motive to abuse their power. As people continue the fight against racism, they must remember that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Even though I’ve only been here a few months, I am convinced that there are more good people than bad and that somehow, good will overcome in America.

6 thoughts on “Reflections… Chapter Six – Living in America Part 2

  1. Hi Alvin. Sorry I haven’t followed your blog for a while but will try to read it more frequently from now on. I’m glad to see you’ve settled in well and expanding your horizons. I hope you’re listening to more than just Coldplay! 😀
    Good, insightful article. It’s the human condition. We will always play up and disparage the differences and not realise how we are all basically the same, as your intro shows.

    Liked by 1 person

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