A Black Muslim African Girl’s Summer in America

I received the following message from a former student who was enrolled in my Writing & Rhetoric class. Our vision/daily mantra was: “to speak truth to power and write with an authentic voice while strengthening my ability to read the word as well as the world.” This message highlights her attempt to navigate complex systems and educational experiences without losing her identity. To me, this is what results when we value critical consciousness as a student outcome in our classrooms and school buildings. Read this…

“Dear brother Amouzou,

**This looks like it’s going to be a very long message so please be prepared**

First off, Thank You. Thank you for your teachings and the eye opening experiences you shared with us throughout the year. Without it, it would be hard for me to survive. About 3 weeks ago, I went to the US for a summer program at Yale on International Relations. I first stopped a few days in Harlem then Manhattan. The same day I landed, I saw on the news that a black men selling CDs were killed. The next day, another one!

Even though I was staying in Harlem, I felt like nothing even happened. Everyone went on about their daily habits. Still, I needed some fire because I was angry. I went to a protest from Union Square to Times Square and for the first time in my life, I felt like I was standing up for something, for something bigger than myself. I thought I was going to New York to be a tourist and pose next to the Trump buildings. But no, folks like me were being shot and going out would mean I might be the next Hashtag. I understood what fear and oppression meant from that moment. Anyway, I was still Ok.

Being a Black Muslim African Girl was a lot of narratives to carry in a place like this. Whenever I would say where I came from, people would ask, “Oh, how is it living in Africa? Can you teach me Swahili?”

When I arrived at Yale, I thought I was going to learn about global affairs, development and so on but no. I had 9 lectures all about American grand strategy, 4 seminars talking about American counterterrorism and Bush or Obama’s foreign policies. In my discussion sections, we were learning from a very imperialistic and nationalistic perspective: the American One. One week later, I was exhausted. Still, I was trying to stay strong. Being a Black Muslim African Girl was a lot of narratives to carry in a place like this. Whenever I would say where I come from, people would ask “oh how is it living in Africa? Can you teach me Swahili?” I went through this generalization of my continent as one single thing with zero diversity culture or entities. But the hardest part was going to class trying to find pride in who I was and freeing my mind from the hundreds of western habits and ideas I’ve internalized.

One day we had a seminar about race relations in South Africa and the US. We were 3 black people in the room, the rest were either from North Carolina or the East Coast. At some point, the instructor asked us (as black people) to share our experiences in regards to racism or injustice. I still remember the eyes of the rest of the students looking at us with that “Poor You” look. I believe we don’t need anyone to feel sorry for us.

That moment, I just became grateful for having you as a teacher. I can’t even tell you the number of homeless black people I’ve seen in the streets of New Haven. Even at Yale, the whole dining staff was black with a white woman as the head. The racial structure I’ve seen in this country is scary. I am not being pessimistic at all but this is what my eyes have seen. As I told you, I had a lot of identities to carry. And walking every morning was a fight against ignorance and single “storying”. But perhaps the funniest thing was during our last night, there was a party for international students (meaning Africans and South Americans mainly). The irony is that the DJ was a Ghanaian girl but kept on playing some horrible Taylor Swift the whole time. brother Amouzou, I’m not afraid of a white ignorant Brazilian girl telling me how privileged she was compared to me on our way to lunch. What I’m seriously afraid of is Africans or African Americans who are still conforming to this psychological and systematic oppression. I don’t know when and who will make America great again but I’m going back home with lots of questions: How much time do we need? How much time do we need to educate our fellows? How much time do we need to externalize and heal all of this?

I am glad I was your student. Without your meaningful lessons, I would tell a different story today.

Please know I also enjoyed my time in NY and Connecticut with more open minded people.

**this was probably one of those major assignments in the school of life**

Sincerely,

[Anonymous]

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I frequently receive these types of messages from students. After reading this one, I couldn’t help but ask the same old tired question of our broken education systems and the “reform” that is being touted as success. What is the purpose of education?

This post originally appeared here at with Ganas

Originally published at goodmenproject.com on August 26, 2016.

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