I am a black naturalized American citizen that is married to a black American. She and I some years ago lived in Europe. A few days ago she and I were talking about our shared experience in Europe and she mentioned how much she loved living there versus our current home in the US. Given our different origins we picked at that thread together.
The thread unraveled when we agreed that the experience in Europe she and I had was tied to the visceral belief that whatever land we were in, belonged to someone else. The streets, cafes and vistas were in the hands of historical Europeans who had walked the streets long before us. We enjoyed the frank conversations we had with a lot of the people who we were surprised to find to be inclusive and thoughtful. At the time we did not give too much credit to the fact that the people we spoke with were people who spoke English in a country that did not have that language as the prime means of communication. But now we see that this weighed heavily in the background. The government there had invested enough in the people that most of people spoke English.
It hits us that when we came “home” to the US we were not home. We returned to the uneven playing field of just being. We had to put on the old mask again and revive the developed radar to survive and maintain a future. But even deeper than this, there was a difference in the experience between my wife and I. She was “home” home and I still had my Caribbean roots and therefore for me I was merely in the land I now called “home”.
I am no different from most non-white immigrants over the last 60 years here in the US. When we first started living into this country; we knew that the US did not belong to us and that we were here as an opportunist visitor with hopes of making this a new home. Our joint realization was that for my wife while in Europe she felt no homebound love. Systematic racism has robbed my wife and her fellow black Americans the entire concept of home that I felt when I first came here.
I understand this feeling of mine was and is a false narrative as there is oppression and systematic racism where I came from. But my mind plays tricks on me and some immigrants about the comradeship and joint struggle of way back then, and we use the distance of time and the economic realities of a struggle for a future of our bodies that we still have a “home” elsewhere.
Black Americans, I realize, have no real “home” that they feel cares for them as citizens, that recognizes that the country was built on the backs of their forefathers and they have a piece of the future because of that recognition. The experience of “home” for a black American is in the bones different from that of most non white immigrants. This experience is more stark when I read the following from one black American (Hilton Als) in his article on June 21 in the New Yorker. The hope is that:
“for black people …, in America, not to forever be effectively refugees—stateless, homeless, without rights, confined by borders that they did not create and by a penal system that killed them before they died, all while trying to rear children who went to schools that taught them not about themselves but about what they didn’t have.”
Though non-white immigrants are now by their color also ascribed the same role of our American brethren, this feeling has been there for the blacks in this land from the time they are born. From the discipline of their parents to the games they played, to the bravado a young person shows, it is bone-deep that they were never “home”; they, for many (especially after being on the wrong side of the criminal justice system) will never be.