The title of this post is a rephrasing of an article I read today written by a Trinidad-born woman who, following graduation from college, had decided to return to Trinidad. Her thoughtful piece
details how, despite living in different areas of the country in different environments, among different cultures, she never felt a sense of belonging.
As a genealogist of 30-plus years, I have discovered that I am a fifth-generation American. My children are sixth-generation Americans and my grandson, a seventh-generation American. My family has been in this country longer than many, if not most, European-Americans. This doesn't include those ancestors who were Native Americans. Yet, like the writer of the referenced article, I ofen feel that I don't really belong. Yet, there are many here in this country who still don't see black people as "truly American." Yet, for the most part, we remain "the other." Yet, my educated, standard-English-speaking, non-baggy-pants-wearing sons are deemed suspicious, dangerous, worthy of being followed, attacked and even killed, solely because of the color of their skin.
Kidnapped, stolen, enslaved, beaten, lynched, stripped of native culture and tongues, Africans were bought to this continent literally kicking and screaming. The retelling of the conditions and treatment in which the kidnapped Africans were encased is unnecessary. We know, or should know, the history. We even have many who would tell us that, "We need to get over it." "That was a long time ago." "My grandparents never owned slaves." Yet, America won't "get over it."
We can educate ourselves at some of the finest institutions. We can gain employment at excellent organizations that enables us to purchase homes in gated communities, send our children to excellent schools, enroll them in extracurricular activities to build their character and help their communities. Yet, we remain the other. We still don't belong.
I've heard the question asked, "why do we keep trying to belong to a country that doesn't want us?" I can understand the sentiment. It's like the child who continually seeks his parents' approval, yet never gains it. It's like the abused wife who, despite her best efforts, can never satisfy the unreasonable demands and expectations of her husband. Dare I say it's like the cotton-picking slave, whose bleeding hands and feet traverse the cotton fields from sunup to sundown furiously picking the bolls in an effort to avoid the lash of the overseer, yet never seeming to be enough, do enough, be something other than the other, seeking favor, seeking acceptance.
I have friends who, tired of the fight to be more than the other, have just chosen to live within the system, eking out a living knowing the constraints. I know others who have fled the country to become ex-pats in countries they feel are more embracing. I admit to having strongly considered the latter in the past. Yet, I strongly feel that this country is as much, if not more, mine than most European-Americans. Yet, the melanin content of the skin of my sons conveys danger to many.
There are times when I doubt that we will ever belong. There are times when I suspect that is the agenda. Yet, this is my country. This is the country of my ancestors. Unlike the author of the referenced article, there is no African "home" to which I can return. The name, tongue and location of that African home was beaten out of my ancestors more than 300 years ago. I don't belong, but I'm not going anywhere.
It's 2013 and Trayvon Martin didn't belong either.
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