Opinions & Observations: What the Black Lives Matter movement means for Black immigrants
The white upper-middle class nuclear family has long served as the visual representation of the “American Dream.” For many immigrants living in the United States, achieving this dream calls for the suppression of their native identity, and a strong commitment to cultural, social and economic assimilation. However, after bearing witness to the gruesome incidents of police brutality, racism and xenophobia in the U.S, Black immigrants are now facing the cold, hard truth: no amount of wealth, cultural knowledge, or language proficiency will give them the life of privilege that America promised to them.
I moved to the U.S. as an impressionable pre-teen, with more ease than most. My Haitian mother chose to bypass strict immigration policies by having me in the state of Florida, making American citizenship my birthright. Nonetheless, it didn’t take long for me to realize that my birth certificate meant nothing when my thick accent, my coarse hair and my dark brown skin were clear indicators that I did not fit into the white catholic school I was sent to.
My family believed that white schools and white neighborhoods were the perfect recipe for molding successful, well-respected children, because they had been told, by western media, that proximity to whiteness was proximity to success. Ironically, we were not even wanted in those spaces. White teenagers often laughed and scoffed at my grandmother’s inability to speak English. Neighbors stared begrudgingly at us whenever we went for a walk. Classmates picked on me for being so visibly Black. We were, and still are, reminded every day that this country does not welcome people who look and talk the way we do.
My immigrant family members and I never had to think about our Blackness before coming to America. Yet, on my very first day of school here, I made the conscious decision to sit next to another Black girl. Throughout the years that followed, I practiced concealing my accent, purchased skin-lightening products and avoided listening to music from my home country. By the time I turned 18, I was undoubtedly American, but I was still undoubtedly Black. I still looked for another Black girl to sit next to in classrooms, on public transportation, in waiting rooms. As I witnessed other Black girls getting assaulted and killed by police officers, misogynists and racists alike, it became clear to me that the American Dream bears no benefit to me, or to people who look like me.
The stories of Ayiana Jones, Shantel Davis, Rekia Boyd and Breonna Taylor could have been my story, my sister’s story, my mother’s story. Assimilation does not protect us. The stories of Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd could have been my father’s story, my uncle’s story, my grandfather’s story. Assimilation does not protect them.
The Black Lives Matter movement has given us, as Black immigrants, the voice that we have repressed. It has given us back the identity we have tried to erase in order to adapt and survive. It serves as a reminder that our Blackness is not an inconvenience, that we do not need to be in white schools and white neighborhoods in order to thrive, to be respected, or to be valued. The Black Lives Matter movement has become our new American Dream. What we dream of as Black people in America, whether born here or born overseas, is compassion, justice and freedom.
Edgie Amisial is a Haitian-American writer/visual artist, and an alumna of The New School in New York City.
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