Inheriting america’s violence: an immigrant kid on home and leaving
Perhaps this makes me ungrateful, but I know that as america stands today, my citizenship cannot save me. I have been talking with friends about using our american passports to fly somewhere far away where we can make a new home and begin our lives as expats. We will not be known as a refugees, though the state of violence against Black people and Blackness in the u.s. is genocide and has been petitioned to the U.N. as such.
I know that being born into my americanness is a privilege. I did not have to risk death to arrive on u.s. soil, I did not have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars in a taxing and never-certain process. Even though there is a place my parents call back home, I do not have to fear harassment and deportation. Still, despite having been born and raised in “the land of the free” I am concerned deeply about death.
I have scrolled past countless articles detailing Black death in america. I have glanced over them and lowered my head. I am exhausted by the news. I worry that I’m silent and yet don’t know what to say about the death abounding, the murders made of hate, so many Black lives taken, so many trans lives, muslim lives, so many children, elderly, and ill individuals murdered. I have a friend who is very certain of one thing: he is finished with the u.s. and I do not blame him.
Although I’ve dreamt of it, I am less certain than he is when it comes to leaving america behind for good. As the daughter of Ethiopian immigrants I carried a rasta-esque ideal vision of back home. I considered it a place to escape to. I wrote this poem called “abandon” because I thought as Ethiopia stretched her hands to God, she would scoop me up, cradle me in her arms, and keep the u.s. from eating me alive.
In December 2015, I visited Ethiopia for the first time and will spend my whole life reflecting on what my first trip to Ethiopia meant, what every subsequent trip is going to mean. I feel there is so much I cannot say, only having glimpsed a bit of Ethiopia during my four-week stay in the capitol city. I will say, that for all the promised land dreams I had, I always knew, even if vaguely, that Ethiopia has its own violences.
There I was in Ethiopia, loved, cared-for, blessed. Also, undeniably a foreigner and a guest. I went for many reasons and quickly realized I could not be saved from america or my americanness, it was embedded in me. In fact, that I feel refused full citizenship and rights to healthy, happy, and uninhibited survival within the u.s. is part of my americanness because of its history and what was built long before my family ever arrived.
In my father’s house, CNN is always on and when Trayvon Martin was murdered, his face, constantly in the news cycle, became part of our living room, like a portrait. One day, my father said, “he looks like your brother.” This moment of admittance said aloud what I knew to be true the moment I began filling forms and naming myself as I have always felt and been seen, as Black/African american. I knew these dangers could befall our family, no matter our names or our origins, no matter where we came from.
I dropped my head when I read about the tragic loss and violent murders of Taha, Muhannad, and Adam, three Sudanese american boys who were shot execution style in Fort Worth, Indiana. Though police have said their murders are not a hate crime, the deaths of these three boys are being attributed to racism, anti-Blackness, Islamaphobia. Their lives existed so deeply in targeted intersections it makes sense to suspect a hate crime. While we wait for more information to arrive, a petition for justice exists. The petition demands the Fort Worth, Indiana authorities to conduct an active and thorough investigation.
When I learned they were Sudanese I couldn’t help but think of their parents and if they ever imagined the land of opportunity would eat their children like this. Did their fathers see a young man slain by white fear and think, “he looks like my son?” Afaq Mahmoud, my friend and the cousin of Taha and Muhannad, asked her own questions in a statement that has been shared on the Our Three Brothers Facebook Page: Do you know what it takes to run from war? Do you know what it means to flee from one war zone only to land in another? Do you know what it means to flee to “safety” and have it swallow you whole?
Beyond grief my life consists of archaeology articles and labs, surviving on a white campus, and working to remember Black Joy. In the midst of this all I eagerly await a moment to read something away from my course work. A copy of Ta-nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me sits on my bookshelf. I’ve yet to read it but I’ve listened to interviews, I know the reading is required. I know he tells his son, “This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.” I know this to be a truth of my own life — america is my country no matter how I feel about it and no matter where I go.