Losing Myself

Being away from America has made me lose myself. Why? I have realized that everything that has defined me in my defining years has been in relation to America. Everything that I process in terms of my being has been in relation to America. And being in Thailand has quarantined me.

What fed my intellect and interest was my Blackness. It has always made me feel empty and whole and partial. Now I feel nothing. I can look at the headlines of recent murders of Black bodies, have my disappointments about people who can march for women and March for Our Lives but not for Black Lives, and read about the foolishness continuing on in the White House, and feel nothing. This feeling is not currently a negative nor positive feeling, it is actually quite relieving. Those interactions I had that reaffirmed my race have been rare. I don’t hear much about my dark skin, my kinky hair, my curves. And if I do hear it, there is a particular way that it doesn’t affect me like it once did. I don’t reflect on it like I once did. Or maybe, I reflect on it differently.

Because of this, I feel like I am losing myself. I haven’t talked about race in a complex way in over a year. I haven’t talk about race in a complex way with Black people in over a year. It was these conversations that created defining experiences. Those conversations shaped and molded my social, political, religious, and ideological beliefs. I haven’t been in a classroom, studying and discussing Blackness, in over a year. I haven’t had long conversations with close friends about recent events in over a year. And honestly, I don’t want to have them.

I fear for my transition back to the states. In a short year I will be getting off a plane and stepping back into my once upon a reality. My older friends will continue to be my friends and I will strengthen my relationships with new ones. My older friends will continue to talk about what’s happening around them as it relates to their Blackness. My newer friends might talk about what’s happening around them as it relates to our service. Then there will be me, off track, uninformed, and confused with a two year’s long developmental gap of my understanding of being Black in America. I will have another perspective that my older friends won’t identify with. I will speak about things differently. How differently, I am not sure. I will approach situations differently and have a different tolerance. I already feel it.

Possibly, majority of Peace Corps volunteers celebrate the process of change they undergo throughout service but this specific change in me,  I genuinely fear. There are times I don’t recognize my thoughts. It’s not a numbness, it’s unknowing. My Blackness, as I understand it now, is in relation to being in Thailand. Being Black in Thailand, specifically in my experience, has been a point of curiosity and assumptions. Being Black in Thailand is being a tourist or an immigrant from Africa. Being Black in Thailand is, obviously, separate from being a darker skinned Thai. Though colorism does exist, being Black in Thailand is skipping through the line with a passport and visa. It’s foreign.

I’m not the person I once knew and it is not because of my resilience, self-advocacy, and/or flexibility. These are attributes I had prior to taking this journey. What I didn’t anticipate was a disconnect of being. I didn’t anticipate that gaining a new context of self could mean the evaporation of another (or is it an evolution?). I didn’t anticipate that I could lose myself. And I won’t know until another year if this is good or bad for me.

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Today there will be no American Flags in my Thai classroom.

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.

Extension: “Why I’m Absolutely an Angry Black Woman”

Recently, I read a post titled, “Why I’m Absolutely An Angry Black Woman” and I don’t have all the words to explain it. It is a must-read and captures the essence of struggle and strife, the burning beauty, and the severe and complex existence of black womanhood. This woman’s statements are all unconscious and conscious thoughts, fears, and experiences that sculpt my being. And what this woman did with my being was give its pain a strengthening voice of ownership, agency, and pride. To continue strengthening this voice, I’ve decided to extend it as I wish for all voices of the oppressed.


Because when I read, “Why I’m Absolutely An Angry Black Woman”, and reflected on my black womanhood I knew there were infinite reasons for black women’s anger. Because when my elementary friend and neighbor, whom was a white girl, was at school she refused to talk to me in front of her “school friends”. Because when I was in middle school I remember my father coming home livid because on his lunch break because police officers arrested him for looking like someone. Because my mother had to file a class action suit for racial discrimination against her job which occupied most of her family time. Because my mom had to work too hard. Because my father was embarrassed of his job and education level.

Because my brother was chased by a police car and they ran his leg into a tree. Because I saw a group of neighborhood boys being taunted and abused by county police officers in their own neighborhood. Because my mother got angry with me for being angry. Because that night I cried and I couldn’t even explain my anger. Because I had to convince my teachers I was adequate enough to enter Advanced Placement courses. Because my high school vice principal said to me, “Your parents probably don’t even care” when I was caught playing hooky. And then proceeded to be surprised when I was an honor student.

Because a dark-skinned boy told me he couldn’t date me because I was too dark. Because I knew his mother was darker than me. Because I knew that going outside in the summer meant no male attention from black men. Because I am always thought to be intimidating. Because I must have a resting bitch face as a shield. Because I have to always be on guard. Because people called me Hazel as a joke. Because I began using that same joke amongst my friends.

Because people defend oppression by saying,  “You all had Obama. You have/had a black president”. Because when I went to college, everything was worse. Because I had to wait to get to college to be educated about my history. Because there was a handful of black professors and administrators at my university. Because most of those professors and administrations have left the university. Because I was repeatedly mistaken for a college student by my white colleagues and told, “You should be proud of that”. Because I am consistently told how to feel. Because I overhear professors telling students that protesting is “negative”. Because my history is embedded in protest. Because I can protest for years upon years and continue to be dehumanized.

Because I get anxiety when I hear Kanye’s Gold Digger. Because when I go to rap concerts and hear the unanimous “nigga” amongst the predominately white crowd, I just have to deal. Because I can’t enjoy a damn rap concert without feeling oppressed. Because I’m a Peace Corps volunteer and have heard white volunteers say “nigga” because it’s in a song. Because these same people call themselves allies. Because I feel I can’t even trust the allies. 

Because I can’t say all the names of the black women that have died in the hands of police. Because I can recite the Constitution like it was written regarding women like me. Because I can’t watch the police murdering black people on film anymore. Because I keep scrolling and must continue my life. Because I can’t cry in front of people. Because I’ve rarely seen the women in my family shed a single tear when I know they are hurting. Because they feel they have to be strong. Because they have to be superhumanly strong. Because the only compliment I can get from non-black people is that I’m strong.

Because I have to follow @darkskinbaddiesdaily  on Instagram to remind myself that beauty does come in dark skin. Because that account even has to exist. Because I hear things like “black on black crime”, “black people are racist too”, and “I honestly don’t see color”. Because Fox News is a fully functioning network of idiots. Because of the ‘coincidence’ that three black federal judges have been reported mysteriously dead or dead by suicide. Because Katy Perry can be on stage with Migos and say “All Set” instead of “Offset”. Because white people think it’s funny to make fun of the words in Southern rap music. Because they have the nerve to think I will laugh with them. Because something that small represents a larger racial problem that I feel I only understand.

Because I’m in Thailand and young girls say to me, “You’re black is beautiful but mine isn’t”. Because I was in a Thai parade and the artist refused to use the foundation I brought that was my shade. Because I looked like a black ghost princess for 6 hours. Because I saw a group of teachers dressed as a Thai ethnic group that has roots in Africa. Because I saw blackface in Thailand in just 5 days of being at site.

Because majority of skin products in Thailand has whitening in it. Because all the textbooks in Thailand have photos and pictures of white people. Because this is one of the many countries that is infected with white supremacy.

“Because there isn’t a place in the world white supremacy hasn’t touched.”

Because I feel like an agent of white supremacy teaching English to Thai youth. Because there is no educational progression unless you know English. Because I can’t write about anything that isn’t about race. Because it consumes my mind, body, and soul. Because I can’t get a break. Because I didn’t ask for this. Because I don’t believe I will see change in my lifetime. Because I don’t even know what change would look like. Because this was so easy to write.

Being Black in Peace Corps

It seems that my foundation for any conversation involves my race, or race period,  which is unfortunately non-negotiable. I don’t have the privilege of viewing myself as just Tiffany, or a woman, or an American. My race constitutes my placement in most, if not all, societies and determines the value people and our institutions place upon me. This is something I’ve learned to embrace in the midst of working towards re-narrating what Black is. So when you’re wondering why black is always mentioned in my identity as a BLACK woman, a BLACK American, and a BLACK Peace Corps Trainee, remember that I did not start this and I do not perpetuate it. It is always already inscribed in my being and dismissing it is being nonexistent.

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I’ve been in the Sing Buri Province of Thailand for a month and a half. This time has consisted of strenuous mental and physical preparation hosted by the staff of Peace Corps Thailand. Think of it as a sort of hazing process or maybe even being jumped into some sort of gang. I’ve returned to bed with bruises, scrapes, headaches, anxiety, friendships, enlightenment, appreciation, awe and everything else you can and cannot imagine. On my way home and leaving from, I may or may not be chased by neighborhood dogs that have grown familiar to me, however, the Thai people have cushioned these hard days.

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I began staging in San Francisco, California. Staging is similar to hopping on the diving board. You’re excited, but scared you might die; you’re ready, but can’t see any of the shit that is coming; you’re energetic, but tired as fuck from pre-preparing. I hopped along staging , during the cross-cultural and diversity trainings thinking, “What?! There are folks here that don’t know the difference between gender and sex” internally patronizing the folks that I was leveled with. There was an aura of arrogance that clouded me. Me, this black girl from the South, lineage of a privileged and resilient black family who sought to achieve the American dream for their children. This might sound cliche but this is the story, as I assume, of many black families in the suburbs. My brother and I, suburban kids roaming the cul-de-sacs of Prince Georges County, living life like it’s golden as much as America allows black children to see gold. This is what I carried in my baggage that did not effect Peace Corps’ weight limit but weighted on the diving board.

My intangible and most valuable baggage was a critical mind.  I had the fortune of learning to be critical at the renowned Schomburg Center of Black Culture and Research. I believe that to love being black is to be critical of all things because most things teach black hatred. I came to these cross-cultural and diversity trainings as a facilitator of these conversations because my first professional job was in diversity and social justice education. I worked at a diverse higher ed institution; diverse to white American standards (percentage of all “others” students matching or barely exceeding percentage of white students). This was the first time I sat in a diversity and cross-cultural training as a participant and a sole representative. Needless to  say I felt alone and invisible and often times I still feel that way.

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The intention of Peace Corps and their trainings in cross-cultural competency are good however, how do you teach those that have lived and maneuvered  in their home country as an outsider  to maneuver as an outsider in another? No matter who could have delivered this training, that was the question that replayed in my head.  Respect, kindness, gratitude, resiliency, patience were all involuntary attributes I had to have to survive in my home country. Now, some people might think that using words like survival is extreme, but my Peace Corps network will understand that Pre Service Training is a sort of survival and efficiency camp.

Staging is a short period of time; three days to be exact. I learned more about the Peace Corps culture I was entering than Pre-Service Training has taught me thus far. Peace Corps is an American agency and you can’t expect it to be any less American than America. There are plenty of  failed attempts, within internal conversations, to separate service mentality from our current Trump-reigned America. I don’t entertain these conversations nor do I share tears with other Trainees. Being black is having an ignored and shunned struggle and Peace Corps unconsciously, in my opinion,  has that bias running through it’s peaceful veins.

Moving forward into Pre-Service Training, there is a monolithic presentation of culture and being. Inevitably I am excluded and silenced from this because my experience is uniquely American, which in many ways is not shared amongst my white counterparts. But I can survive, though it is not a choice to survive in such conditions, I have been conditioned to survive. What I think is damaging that happens in my Pre-Service Training is the American vs. Thai comparison that arise in trainings from Thai natives and occur in outside conversations by Trainees. I’ve been a contributor of dangerous dialogue and often have to check myself when encountering situations that make me uncomfortable because of misunderstanding. But this is the way we have conversations about “other” things and people. This is how our language has been formed when encountering difference. Despite the utopian cross-cultural D.I.V.E (Describe, Interpret, Verify, Evaluation) Model I am trained to use, there is a conditioning of how comparisons, pros, and cons, are spoken about dated back when folks were locating new lands and people. Maybe I needed a deeper conversation. I definitely needed a deeper conversation.

Being black in Peace Corps is a host of conflicting emotions. What makes this experience unique is that being black makes me a double outsider, though many times I feel more of a connection to the Thai people (specifically the Thai people that have not been/visited/been educated in European countries or America) than I do with the fellow Trainees. Only if I had the language! My host mother would send me with her friends to sell her iced coffee at the market. The Thai women dressed me in traditional clothing, taught me Thai words and phrases, and fed me until  I could no longer force the food down. That was the most familiar and warm experience I’ve had since Peace Corps began which includes all encounters with Thai people and Trainees.

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I’m not saying that all black folks in Peace Corps will experience this same, occasional disconnect but I do encourage black people interested in Peace Corps to have a knowledge and comfort of self and of being black before taking this dive. Being black in Peace Corps is a necessary struggle. Being black in Peace Corps is redefinition and global education. I receive said benefits but most importantly, I give it. What I am able to give is an unfamiliar standard of intellectualism, professionalism, beauty, speech, and perspective. I’ve always felt that the black presence alone is radical. To live, to strive, to pursue is black radicalism (Of course, there are conditions). This speaks to the sweeping of black men and women in prisons and black bodies bleeding by the hands of law enforcement. Everyone’s step towards change differs and if this is your lane then take Peace Corps for a worthwhile ride.

The contents of this website belong to Tiffany Fitzgerald and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government, the Royal Thai Government, or the Peace Corps.

“We Are One Race, The Human Race” is the new “I’m Colorblind”

We love division and categorization. You must admit. We love being able to uniquely identify ourselves. It’s a conflicting love because in the same token we love to unify and find connections. That’s a special feature of humans that heal and harm us.

Lately, there is a lot of talk about “We are one race, the human race.” “There is no race. It is made up” Then ideally what follows is that we all come together hug, sing Kumbaya, and the black folk bring some chicken to accompany the white folk green bean casserole. Bam! America is cured.

Nah

In the reality most of us refuse to live in, race is an identifier that cannot be erased. At least not now. And should it be? Many institutions have been created to supplement racist ideology and many institutions have been created to counteract that damaging ideology. These great institutions like HBCUs, black television networks, black social justice organizations, #BlackLivesMater, etc. do not perpetuate division, they provide an alternative that caters to a neglected community. What Wendy Williams is not understanding is that ignoring race ideology, that has been present for centuries and effects all lives, is ignoring the unbalanced position of racial power. That is why it was created! We can be one race “the human race” but we ARE made of different constructed categorizations based on our skin color which determines our social power. That’s reality.

Some of my work at my university is coordinating heritage month celebrations. For a while I was conflicted about why something like Black History Month and Latin Heritage Month is celebrated at universities if our goal is to produce adults of the future. These young adults are to transform and shift the existing world and improve it. My former idea of improvement meant adopting the monolithic mindset that we are all ONE, not to ignore the racial power at large but, to integrate it with the standard. Why don’t we recognize Black heroes as American heroes? Well, it took some critical thinking to accept that race (skin color) will always be in my judgment, in America’s judgment, in the world’s judgment.  If i ignore it then I am covering one eye. My sight, thus, is impaired.

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Understand that the standard is white. When you think of a plain shirt, what color shirt comes to mind? I’m sure it ain’t purple. Yes, race is deeper than the color of a shirt but what I’m trying to articulate is how we (humans) think which reflects race ideology. Wendy, the reason a “NAAWP” or “HWUs” don’t exist is because we already have them. They are called every other university and organization in the U.S. This doesn’t mean these institutions are inherently racist and exclusive, however, they were created under a guise that follows a racial ideological apparatus that standardizes whiteness. How is whiteness standardized? Let’s take a trip back in time when ideas of ONE were produced at the same time people of darker skin were being excluded from these standards. We were integrated into the standard. Little by little we were given the right to own property, to vote, to have state sanctioned marriages, to have limited liberties. According to the United States Government, these were not innate rights for people of color. Why, you ask? Because, we are not the standard. And frankly, I don’t want to be.

What’s disappointing about Wendy Williams’ comments on her television show is that she doesn’t understand her position of power as a black woman host. Of all people she should realize that she does not fit into the standard and she never will. She will never be categorized with the Kelly Ripa’s of television and I’m sure she does not want to be. Her aesthetic is black which distinguishes her from her competitors. Her gossip and shade is like the aunts and great aunts at the annual family reunion. Her shows air on BET which is equivalent to the NAACP and HBCU institutions that she condemned. They all do the same work which is to provide a service to those neglected. The nerve! I’m sure some of us were taught not to bite the hand that feeds and I’m sure her airing on BET puts food on the motha-fucking table. Now she done lost money with her Chevrolet sponsorship for a failed attempt to play devil’s advocate. I wonder how she’s doing after that?

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All this is to say that if we want to kill the deeply rooted racism in this country then we have to make a commitment to being realistic. Ignorance and naivete are enemies but they can also be opportunities. Much appreciation goes to the white folks claiming that #BlackLivesMatter in the face of All Live Matter. That’s more than love. It’s conscious. But don’t discredit your claim with the “We are ONE” bullshit. There has never been an appropriate time to live in a false reality. Lives are at stake when you speak of injustice, inequity, and inequality. We don’t need to be ONE to unify. We can unify in all our differences and come to terms that ideally we would love the world to blanket all people with humanity but realistically some of us are left in the cold. It’s too late to be ONE. Too much work has been done to make us MANY. Let us work within the field we are in.