Traveling While Black: Facing What You Left Back Home

I’m feeling conflicted. It’s my second day back from London, and there are many reflections I’d like to record. Thoughts of why I’m drawn to London more than any city in the world, accounts of the many great experiences I had, observations of how ethnicity and identity functions in the city… But, I’m distracted by what I’ve come home to.

I just read an article that in the month I’ve been gone, there have been four killings of young, Black men by our nation’s police. None of these men deserved to be killed, but there are those who are trying to find justifications for their death.

While I was in London, and, last year, while in Thailand, people asked me, “Are American cops really as bad as the news says they are?”

They’re increasingly becoming worse.

In London, I walked around with my Black husband, with no worries of being targeted for our Blackness. When we walked into restaurants, high-end boutiques, pubs, we didn’t worry about being poorly served, not receiving service, or being judged. When we saw London police, our instinct was to become tense, but we quickly realized they didn’t pay us any mind. We even felt comfortable asking two police officers, who were in front of a government building with intimidating automatic assault rifles in their hands, where we could find an Indian restaurant in the area. We were spoken to kindly and politely, and were given directions. Another evening, we went into Brixton—a mostly Black neighborhood—after there had been an all-day festival of reggae, dancehall, and drum and bass. It was rowdy. People were throwing their own after parties on the street, the crowd was predominately Black, police officers were around, but they weren’t intimidating folks, silencing partygoers, or being assholes. I actually felt like they were there “just-in-case” something went wrong.

London is far from perfect. London—the capital of the world’s colonizers—has had messy relationships with its continuously growing multiethnic city. There have been battles between ethnicities, and Eastern Europeans are currently at the brunt of ethnic stereotypes and prejudices.

Black people don’t have it easy either. A couple of years ago, there was a young Black man, Mark Duggan, who was shot by a London police officer. According to my friend, the city—particularly its young people—were horrified. Young people of all ethnicities, protested and rioted, because this tragedy was too horrific to ignore. My friend said that people were surprised, because nothing like this had happened before. That was three years ago.

Here, in the US, Black lives are being taken for merely being, by cops, neighbors, and people trying to police the actions of Black people. The news of another Black person being murdered for walking down the street with a friend, is no longer news, but a tragedy for some, and a mishap for others. According to MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry, “From 2006 to 2012, a white police officer killed a black person at least twice a week in this country.” There are many of us who are angry, many of us who feel helpless, but too many of us who don’t really care.

This is home.

When you come home after being a way, you’re supposed to feel welcomed. The intensity of being in a foreign place melts, as your shoulders relax. You have loads of memories from your holiday, but you’re relieved to be back in the place where you understand the way things work. But, how is one to feel, when “knowing how things work” means knowing that you’re constantly negotiating your Blackness? Coming home means returning to a place where you’re repeatedly shown that people who look like you, like your brothers, like your sisters, like your husband, don’t matter. How is one to feel when you come home to a place that doesn’t always treat you the same way that they treat people with lighter skin than you?

If you return home to a place that makes you feel like you’re continuously on alert for personal safety and basic respect, is that place even home?

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