African senior woman waiting inside departure terminal at airport while wearing safety mask - Focus on face

Calling Me Home

This post was originally featured in 2020.

 

I think every Black person in the US has a moment when they confront some ugly facet of white supremacy and say, “This is it. I’m out of here.” While the constant indignities we suffer add up, we realize that our relationship with America is fundamentally defined by a pattern of abuse. So this means we’ve learned how to manage an onslaught of mistreatment for a long time.

My a-ha moment came on a day when I was caught off guard. I had received an alert that there was something wrong with my bank account, and I had fled out the door to walk to the nearest bank, about fifteen minutes away from my apartment. On any other day, I would have taken my time, styled my hair, put on my nice clothes, my good shoes and said a little prayer. This was my ritual for how I would leave home, because I could never shake the gnawing feeling that if something should happen to me, at least I had put my best foot forward and God to watch over me.  

That day, I did none of that, I simply rushed out the door in my handkerchief and proceeded to race down the hill. I was looking at my phone while walking—not advisable for safety—but I needed to send a text. In that part of my neighborhood, there were no streetlights, so usually moving cars would stop for pedestrians. On my periphery, a car was approaching and I crossed the street. When I crossed to the corner, I immediately heard a voice from the distance. 

“You know I could give you a citation for that, right?” I looked up from my phone and saw a police officer speaking to me from his vehicle. I was utterly confused. 

“Sir?” I asked, for clarification. 

“You just crossing in front of me like that, you want me to give you a citation?” he said.

“Sorry…” I responded. “I—I didn’t mean to.”

In that moment, I had no clue what was happening. Years of meditation practice had taught me to observe first and react later. So that is what I did. In front of me, I saw a man lean out of his car, with his eyes squinted and his lips in a half smile. If I had to describe the expression, I’d say smug. He didn’t seem concerned with the state of our safety, but he did seem more concerned with stopping to tell me he had the power to disrupt my life. I didn’t know what to make of him.

With all my soul, I believe the officer was expecting a more inflammatory response from me that day. But I thank Spirit that the only thing I had to say to him was, “Oh… sorry?” He wasn’t gonna get a fight from me that day. The bank was going to close in thirty minutes and his fit of rage would not become the center of my life.

“Well next time watch where you’re going. Slow down. You could get hurt,” he said, gathering himself. He drove away and left me on the street.

I was living in California, in a neighborhood called the San Leandro District. I had realized that to be a Black woman walking alone was not always the wisest thing, especially in that area. Once, a non Black man of color had gotten out of his car and approached me, immediately offering me a sexual proposition. 

I had been walking to the corner store to get toiletries.

He was not the first person to try something like this. 

My neighborhood was known for sex trafficking, particularly the trafficking of Black women and girls. When coming home from a night out on the town, I would see women standing on the corner, and sometimes they would even trickle up the hill where I lived. The neighborhood was heavily policed, usually there was a police car parked on every other corner, or patrolling down the hill.

I also want to clarify that the police officer who stopped me was a non-Black person of color. It’s important to say that those who practice white supremacist thinking are not only white. They’re the people we hope will throw us a lifeboat when they see us flailing, and it’s heartbreaking when they’re the ones who would rather let us drown.

That day, I kept wondering - maybe I was wrong? Maybe he was just doing his job?

I became still and took a couple of breaths. He did this because he can. Whether I had done something ‘wrong’ or not, why the need to escalate a benign situation with immediate threats? Then, I took another breath. He would have hurt me, simply because he knows he can hurt me.

It was in that moment when I thought, how will I ever find peace in an environment like this? And I wasn’t only horrified for myself, or for those who share my similar predicament. I was horrified for people like the officer, and for those who can’t seem to get why any hatred, no matter how small, is evil. The idea that someone could take pleasure in simply hurting me became of great concern to me.  

My prayer was that the people in question immediately take care of their issues so I could be left to take care of mine. 

I was clear that the police officer had done nothing but obstruct my path that day.

Two years later, I would meet an African-American intuitive healer in New Orleans who said my ancestors were calling me home to Nigeria. She held my hand and said, “Many Black people in America have to go through the trouble of tracing their roots with little information, and yet here you are, and you know the exact land you come from. Take advantage. Go. Go and then help me out, because I’m trying to get to Nigeria too. Understand?” 

Whether or not you believe in energy healing is beside the point. What mattered is that her message had further primed me for leaving the US permanently.

I had left to Nairobi, Kenya for a writing fellowship the following November, and I have not been back in the US since.

When I made the decision to stay in Kenya, I realized that non-Black people had a choice to make about their own humanity. And my only prayer was that they figure out their issues so they no longer harm people out of their misplaced rage and ego tripping. I also prayed that those who knew better would simply just do better.  

I had also considered that if I became a mother, I didn’t want my children to have the same hang ups I did about walking down the street. Leaving to Africa did not make all my problems go away, but please believe I walked down many streets, laughed raucously in many public venues, and wore many Ankara dresses and felt my body’s tension dissipate. I was now introduced to a world of new challenges, and though it wasn’t easy, I had space for new realities.  

As relieved as I am to be away from America, it is still bittersweet. There are so many people I simply yearn to share a physical closeness with.

Even now as I look at all that’s happening in the US with its exhausting legacy of disregarding Black life and humanity—I still fiercely love the land I left. That place, for better or for worse, shaped me.  The US was a very important training ground, and the Black people I met there, they were my greatest teachers. On American soil, I learned what it meant to have faith in myself and the people whose footsteps I stand in.

My longing to find a place where I can actually feel free is nothing new; there isn’t a Black person in the world who doesn’t have a serious desire for peace. For those of us born or raised in America, this couldn’t be truer.

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