Today is a national holiday in my home country. It is a holiday my aunt annually hosts a large barbecue for family and friends in the suburbs of Prince George’s County. This barbecue is present with seasoned grilled meat, sun-kissed Black skin, and an aura of joy, love and unity. I’m able to see a sea of Black faces, hear soulful music, and eat food that nourishes more than my body. Afterwards, we pull our lawn chairs from the backyard to the front driveway and gaze at the red, white, and blue fireworks from Six Flags.
This year, I’m not in my home country and won’t be attending this annual celebration. I won’t be following my annual routine of watching my family cook, drink, and be happy on a historical day our humanity was and continues not to be regarded. This was a celebration in spite of that. Our celebrating is a protest to the social conditions that want us broken, separate, and hopeless. This was a celebration of success, perseverance, happiness, and unity.
Well, as I said, this year I’m not in my home country. I am in Thailand teaching young Thai students English and exposing them to my particular type of American culture, which derives from a complexity of historical and contextual oppression, pride, and Africanity. Many of my fellow volunteers are able to translate their American joy into the classrooms and people of Thailand and I cannot. There is an absence for me and this absence has always been present but is felt with more intensity when I am not near other Black folks. This absence is me never quite feeling committed to America or feeling the joys of American citizenship. This absence is my daily bitter feeling of being ‘appreciative” I was born in America with the understanding of what the social context is for me and my people. I feel THAT everyday as I serve in Thailand and sometimes it weakens my spirit. But how weak can a Black Woman ever be? Never too weak to keep on.
So there is conversation buzzing about what to do for July 4th with Thai students. Which route should I go? American Pride, Diversity, History…. These aspects of America will always and inevitably be racist in my perspective. You cannot speak about American pride without understanding that American is a colonized white exclusive and oppressive identifier. You cannot speak about Diversity without understanding that diversity is an initiate made to neutralize and sedate messages about oppression by organizing a performance of opportunities given to folks that are “different”. Not realizing that America has measured human value on a bi-polar spectrum that is black and white and thus systemically gives greater opportunities and privileges to white people. So, America, instead of working to recreate the system to prevent systematic oppression, it chooses, highlights, and selectively gives to “difference” to relieve guilt. You cannot teach a history thoroughly (obviously because of a language barrier) without explaining the “excepts” and the “buts” and the “ifs” and then attempting to historically backtrack to explain why.
Gordon Parks: African American cleaning woman Ella Watson standing with broom and mop in front of flag. 1942
This is a side story that touched me, but a few weeks past my Thai co-teacher asked me if I liked police. The question derived from a current situation with another Thai teacher at my school who dated a Thai police officer. The relationship ended badly, so now she dislikes Thai police officers. This question came from no context of the American current media attention of police brutality, not to my knowledge. Although, it was coincidently asked very close to the release of the Philando Castile murder verdict. My response to her question, “Do you like police officers?” was “I don’t like American police officers. They kill Black people.”
P.S. Spare me with the “all police officers…” bull. There is a culture in law enforcement that treats Black bodies as disposable targets.
I don’t feel bad about the answer I gave her. It is my truth and many others. Fast forward to the next day, getting a knock on my door by two older Thai police officers. I was frightened. I opened my door for them and immediately acted as fragile as I would in the presence of an American police officer. To my surprise, these officers were neighbors of my Thai co-teacher and came to my house to personally introduce themselves and tell me they were my friends and they are here to protect me. This was communicated in the smallest amount of English they knew. It didn’t touch me then but it touches me now.
In connection to my refusal and complete disinterest in sharing July 4th with my Thai students is that there is no way for me to speak my truth on this day while acknowledging the alleged values this holiday is supposed to celebrate. The triumphant story, and an entire race of people excluded from it, would just be too somber and mundane to tell. And who wants to tell that story to Thai children… let alone any child. Imagine having to tell the story to your own children. Living in the southern of Thailand with Muslim Thais of darker skin, there is no way I can consciously celebrate America knowing that it holds limited human value for people that look and pray like them. Today there will be no American flags in my Thai classroom.