If you were writing to me about this place after two years of living here, I would certainly have no idea how to deal with it.
Of course, you know about what’s going on — the protests, especially. I know you’re worried about it. Your message this morning wasn’t ambiguous in any way. I have to admit that it brought me a little smile — the cool little brother cares about his big brother! Who knew?!
Seriously though. Things suck around here.
But you know what? Now that I’ve had time to work from home — isn’t it funny how that’s the new normal now? — I’ve been able to have time just to sit and playback my stay here.
Remember how excited I was when I got here? I wrote so much about food and the plane trip and ended with me hugging Queen at the airport. It feels like 100 years have passed since then. I will spare you the troubles of marriage and being in a new country; I know when — and if — you choose to marry or move to a different country, you’ll come to me when you need it.
You’re not the type to enjoy lectures from anyone. We’re brothers, after all.
Living with Queen these years, there are aspects of what’s going on in America right now that I’ve realized I was utterly oblivious to. One of the big ones is what it means to be a black person here.
I wrote about it around May last year, and I had a lot of support from the internet. A lot of hate too. Some people told me if America was that bad, then why was I still here? Someone even said that the reason I was able to write about America and “feel free” was the real reason why I was staying.
I tried to defend myself and explain that I was aware of my privilege. But if I could go back, I wouldn’t.
You know Queen is a doctor, right? For over 14 years, she’s been one of the few black students in her class. When she got into Medical School, some of the people around her, overtly and subtly, told her the only reason she was allowed into Medical School was that she was black. That she didn’t deserve her place — she wasn’t smart enough to have passed the exam.
While in school, she’d look around and talk about the difficulties she had as a black student. At best, the authorities would ignore her — or at worst, tell her she was dissident.
Yo, the first day she attended a medical school class, she had to see the discipline department because someone “thought” she was selling weed.
How did this happen, you ask?
In her happy-go-lucky manner, she asked on Facebook if the people moving into the town she has lived in for the last eight years needed help with moving their “stuff.” Someone else made a joke asking if it was weed she meant by “stuff.” Note that marijuana had just been legalized in Colorado by that time. The idea of talking publicly about cannabis had become a sort of running gag. She laughed at the joke.
That’s how the administration concluded she was moving weed.
I don’t know about you, but I make jokes when I’m nervous. They’re usually bad jokes ( at least, from Queen’s perspective). Queen is hardly ever nervous. She doesn’t make jokes; she helps others feel better — which, as an aside, is something that makes her such a great doctor now.
She’s always wanted to make people smile. Her using the word “stuff” nearly got her dismissed from school. Queen wasn’t able to run for student president after this experience. She never felt comfortable enough to be herself.
In fact, Queen almost never completed Medical School, even years after all this happened — all because of moments like this.
When someone looked at her, saw a black person, and decided they weren’t worth saving, they were dealing drugs, weren’t smart enough, were pain tolerant, and could handle anything thrown at them, simply because they were black.
Queen’s blackness comes out before her intelligence, in America.
She’s a doctor only because the school needed a token black student, in America.
No matter how hard she works, no matter how much her mental health has suffered, the hours of study, sacrificing time with family, dealing with an already established hardcore path of medical education, losing her grandma, coping with her mother’s surgery, Queen is first black.
Which means she’s less than everyone else, first.
Brother, as I have navigated America, gotten a job, met with people, and tried to adjust here, I can’t tell you that I have experienced the real implications of being black here.
But, to be honest with you, I just don’t know if it’s because I haven’t been able to recognize it. It’s like that time we used to play video games with Alex back in University, and we didn’t know he was excellent. Then we’d play multiple times and then finally it would be like: holy shit, this guy’s excellent!
Either that or I suck.
I have had my moments. I’ve had looks that didn’t register well with me. I have feared for my safety. Every time I get into the car and drive to work, I have this thought: if I get stopped, I’d pull over, put both hands out of the window — just to be extra sure.
This feeling, I thought, was just me. But I’ve spoken with Leslie, Brian, and other people who moved from Cameroon. Already, we miss our families back in Cameroon. We already have a hard time being here. Now, we have to learn that we’re black and that it means something — something we have no idea where to begin to understand.
As people are mourning the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and more; protesting, writing, speaking, sharing, raising awareness, I find myself thinking about Queen a lot more.
She grants me perspective on the men and women who have been killed by the systemic racism in this country. Plus, those are only the ones that have been recorded.
Every day, I see a woman who came to this country as a child, worked hard to be the best caregiver she could be, yet, is judged by her skin color.
Now, I have to say that we’ve had incredible support here. One of the reasons we’re enjoying our stay in Pueblo is partly because the residency program has made it a point not just to be inclusive but also active in that inclusivity.
While in Medical School, she had fierce support from white people who refused to perpetuate the norm. One of the main reasons Queen chose the Rural Track was because the leader, Dr. D, made it his mission to create a space for those underprivileged by America’s existing structural inequality. One of the reasons she chose to stay in medicine, even after she’d hit rock bottom, was because of Dr. R, who showed her what a black caregiver could do for a whole community.
Here’s an instance Queen herself relayed to me long ago. She challenged one of the leadership in her medical school, and this cis, white, privileged woman, Dr. Z, rose to the occasion and stood by Queen and all the other black students. It didn’t even end there — a community was created to champion and support black medical students both on and off-campus.
Queen led protests on campus. She spoke about it whenever she could. In school, she held her hand out and sought other black kids who were as lost, confused, and challenged. She made it a point to fight for their rights, empower and educate them on what they could do, find support, and strive despite the broken system in which they lived.
You’ll never read about this from Queen. She’s not a writer. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear her tell stories every once in a while at the random open mic nights in Denver — oh, there’s the Coronavirus now. Never mind.
My point: when I left Cameroon, I was clueless. Now, I’m even more fragmented in my thoughts.
I don’t know what America is for black people. I hear Queen’s experience, and I recognize I am black. I live instances where I can feel that someone is completely ignoring that I am a human. We’ve been profiled racially at a store; a customer at my job screamed at me — said she wanted to speak to an American.
America, right now, is a ball of confusion for me. It’s not something I would wish for an immigrant. It’s even worse for Queen, an immigrant, but has lived here her whole adult life.
Then when I imagine what it’s like to be born and raised here, I draw a blank.
That is how being black feels like for me: powerless, clueless, confused.
I’m sure you’ve seen the tweets and posts of people saying what a shame it is that Cameroonians decry the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police and how they (Cameroonians) won’t put the same effort at the death of Cameroonians by law enforcement officers. Others even talk about how Cameroonians should never talk about racism until we fix tribalism and the ongoing civil war.
Whenever I hear that, I always wonder if they’re mutually exclusive.
Like, if I am in pain, and you are in pain, do I have to forget any of our pain?
What’s wrong with dealing with both issues?
It feels to me like that’s an excellent example of a scarcity mentality. Or the idea that if you can’t take the log of your eye, you should not point out the splinter in mine?
I don’t have any more to say about this than say: nonsense.
You and I come from a family of Francophones, raised as anglophones. We’ve had to suffer the injustices of both worlds.
We were called names by both ends. I was never francophone or anglophone enough. I could speak both languages, so I navigated both lands. Yet, when the riots started in 2016 in Buea, someone told me to leave their country.
Someone I had studied with; shared a drink. Someone I considered my friend.
That’s why I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be black here. I have no personal frame of reference. I can’t imagine it because I feel it.
I feel fear. I feel rage. I feel sad. I feel upset. I feel confused. I feel helpless in the grand scheme of the matter.
I fear for Queen each day she leaves for work. I feel rage when I hear her stories. I feel sad that the next day, she has to wake up and go back to people who judge her for her color, and she still has to provide care.
Can you imagine the toll of that stress on her mentally and physically?
Can you imagine what happens when she gets agitated and then explodes?
Or when she complains about the medical conclusions that seem to explain that “black women are at higher risk” without any actual research data?
What do you think happens?
“There you go, an angry black woman. That’s what I thought.”
And guess what? Compared to the majority of black people — we’re privileged.
Can you imagine that?
Can you imagine living below the poverty line, not having access to education? Stuck in life — for the rest of your life; for 400 years, your forefathers built nothing for you to add on — nothing for your progeny. You watch your fellow brothers crushed on the neck, to death for an alleged fake $20 bill — approximately 10,000 FCFA. You are getting questioned and incarcerated for being — literally — at the wrong place at the wrong time. Or, more specifically, for being black. You are choked in broad daylight, while you call your mother — till you die.
Imagine how that must feel: to defend your color every day for the rest of your life.
I can’t. It’s too hard. It’s too painful. It’s too American.
But you know what I must tell you before I let you go?
I cannot afford to give up hope. First, my color doesn’t stop me from improving my life — even within the current climate. I will probably have to live under this cloud for all the time that I am here. But, it doesn’t stop me from controlling my education, earning potential, and choosing to act in the world.
I have to learn more about being black in America. In that process, I have to prepare the others who will come after me. The world will not end when I die. I won’t be the last confused immigrant. There are things I wish I knew before I came here, but I can’t change that.
I can change the future.
Queen had supporters who stood and fought for her. She, in turn, stands and fights for others.
I don’t think I need to fully know what it feels like to be black to do something about it.
I don’t need a police officer on my neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds before choosing to lead a life that empowers others and myself.
America is a hard place to be black. It’s also a place where there are many black heroes and heroines. Heroes with a rich history on how to fight, strive, resist, and thrive not despite — but because of being black.
There’s now a particular honor and duty that lands for me as a black person here. As a writer, my perspective can provide a chance to share a world that most people — mainly white people — will never understand.
In the same way as a husband, I can speak to single people. Or, as an African, I can talk with Americans.
I choose to use my blackness, my default, for the power it wields.
America may have been trying for all these centuries to shutdown a force that could change the world. Guess what? For hundreds of years, that hasn’t been successful.
We’re not about to let that happen either, are we, brother?