Hands up! Don’t Shoot !

Ma Mami Eh!

Today, I did something out of my comfort zone and I have to say, I am proud of myself. Since I relocated to the US in 2010, I have constantly struggled with answering the question, “Am I Black or not?” I would be the one to pick “Other” when filling out forms and then write “African,” in the comment section. I was one of those Africans who was quick to say quick to say Akatas (African-Americans) are lazy. To be honest, part of it was, I didn’t want to be associated with the negative connotations that surrounded the African American race. I hadn’t grown up with that. Why should I have to deal with that in college?

That changed last summer when I had a conversation with a very interesting lady who helped me understand what it meant to be an African living in America. She told me,

“Imagine knowing that your grandmother was a slave, or was sexually abused by white people? Imagine constantly being blamed for crime, even when you had nothing to do with it? Imagine a history of your people being seen as inferior. How then, can you not understand that race is an issue in America?”

She was right. I had never taken the time to actually imagine what life as an African-American must have been like. I grew up learning Cameroonian, African and World History. How would it have been if Cameroonian history had been removed from all our textbooks?

I learned a very valuable lesson from this conversation: Until you can take the time to imagine what another person is going through, you cannot empathize with them. You cannot feel their pain. You cannot understand their views. Quite simply, you cannot understand why they are they way they are. Also, I can’t forget the fact that, if someone were to take one look at me here, they would not say, “Oh, she‘s not Akata. Maybe she’s African or Caribbean?” Maybe the kinks in my hair would give it away, but realistically speaking, all they will see is another black person.

Now let’s bring it back to the issue at hand: 2 unarmed black men- Eric Garner and Michael Brown were killed by police officers; however, the legal consequences of the police officers did not equate to their actions. My old self would have said, “Oh my gosh, these Akata people have started their noise again and are blowing up my Facebook newsfeed,” but I can’t do that anymore. Instead, I decided to read a bunch of articles about these cases and discuss the issue at hand with my friends and family. Death should not be the consequence of any crime, let alone no crime. I understood why people were so vocal about these issues and I had to do something to contribute.

Even though there was controversy regarding the fact that Mike Brown had shoplifted shortly before he was killed, I still think no one deserves to die in such a manner. The officer’s actions were most likely fueled by negative stereotypes associated with black males. This makes me wonder: Do our judgements and our actions perpetuate negative stereotypes?

Today, I was humbled to be a part of one of the most powerful things I have ever experienced. Standing in silence with fellow classmates, friends and faculty enabled me to do my part to contribute to social justice and equality. I participated in the protest because I can only imagine what the parents of these unfortunate men are dealing with, and because I agree with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie when I say from an outsider’s perspective, “Race is still an issue in America.” As future physicians concerned about the well-being of our community, we all took a step towards becoming future leaders of our community.

Today’s silent protest at Upstate Medical University may not have changed any rules or regulations yet but, my hope is that it has changed at least one person’s attitude towards discrimination as it did mine.

A few more pictures from earlier. Enjoy !!

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