America…Where Do I Stand?
By Claudine Moore
Before I begin, I want it to be known that I do not have the answer to this question, but it is one that has bubbled to the surface of my consciousness post the shocking ‘not guilty’ verdict in the Trayvon Martin trial. I am deeply confused, depressed and hurt by this verdict. Hurt for the pain that Trayvon Martin’s parents now have to endure knowing their son’s killer is a free man, and also hurt for black people living in America. What message does this give us? Where do we stand?
I am a Black British female who was born and raised in the UK, and has lived in the US for over a decade. My parents are from the Caribbean so my upbringing was a vibrant mix of middle England in the predominantly white town where I grew up, and Caribbean and African heritage at home. I am blessed to have highly educated parents who are also very socially conscious and well versed in many topics, including global black history. My parents taught me and my two sisters that our history began in Africa, and not on the plantations in the Caribbean. We were black, therefore African, and while slavery was part of our history it was by no means the beginning of it. My parents were very proud of the different shades of global black culture, and at home we learned about African American history, Caribbean history and African history. We were taught to embrace it all alongside our ‘Britishness’ and we did, consolidating and comfortably embracing our Blackness and Britishness in one palatable drop.
I moved to America for the reason all immigrants move: to seek opportunity. There are plenty of opportunities in my home country, the UK is a fantastic place that many people from around the world also dream of migrating. Nevertheless, there is something special about America, especially in the eyes of Black people across the world. Here in America, Black people have made more progress when compared to black people in other western countries, including where I am from in the UK.
I grew up on a diet of overwhelmingly positive images of black America, The Cosby Show, Different World, Ebony magazine. I would visit the US in the 80’s and 90’s and see black news anchors, TV personalities, and politicians in abundance. Billboards and advertising had images of people who looked like me, and America had Historically Black Colleges and Universities that had a long and illustrious history of academic excellence. All of these things were in short supply in the UK growing up. America, it seemed to me, was a progressive place for black people and, to this day is, a place where many black people around the world dream to live.
Now, I wasn’t totally naïve to think America was the land of milk and honey for Black people. As I mentioned, I was taught American history so I knew about the civil rights movement and the many injustices that African American’s have had to bare. Nevertheless, America was moving forwards, Black were progressing and transitioning, and our place in America was improving – so I thought.
On the first morning of my new job in New York, I saw a demonstration of thousands of black people walking down 5th Avenue in Manhattan, holding their hands in the air with signs that read, “Amadou Diallo: No justice No Peace.” I found out that months prior, an unarmed African immigrant had been shot 41 times by four police officers. I was stunned when all four police officers were found not guilty. Alongside all the amazing things that happened when I moved here, this incident and subsequent outcry were also a defining part of my welcome to the city.