RIP George Floyd – My thoughts as a Ugandan that lived in America for 8 years

I am Ugandan. However, I lived in America for 8 years and it was the most incredible experience. I made lots of friends, experienced a lot and learned a lot. Living in America changed my worldview. That is what exposure does; it expands your mind.

Ugandans are not taught about American history for some reason. But we are taught about the history of pretty much everywhere else. That might have to do with the British education system we inherited but let us save the crime of colonialism for another day. When I showed up in America, it was the first time I was referred to as black in my life. I was always just “Shemmy” or “Shem”. If you know me, you know I try to be friendly. I love people. That love is the reason why I do what I do. It was only until I got closer with my black (African American) friends in college that I began to learn more about their lived experience. The stories they shared about their horrific history and present terrified me. I asked myself, either these guys are crazy or there is something going on. So, I tried to investigate — through my own life experience and by reading more.

I thought I had never experienced racism, but I realized I just was not attuned to it. I once lived in a fancy gated community in Ohio (thank you, Dr. B and Mike!), and one day I rode my bike to work and the neighbour’s wife called her husband (my boss), saying there was a black man riding his bike in the community and she wondered if she should call the cops. We all laughed about it. Once my boss clarified who I was, the poor lady felt terrible and apologized, but perhaps in hindsight, that was a teaching moment. For that lady, perhaps that was a chance to think about her unconscious (or conscious) bias. The next black guy riding a bike in the community may not be so lucky.

If you ask any African like me, who has lived in a predominantly white foreign country, they will likely tell you it takes a while to catch on to the discrimination. Then we have flashbacks and we’re like: “WOOOOOWWW, Karen really said that because I was black. I thought she was just having a bad day.” In the very least, I often experienced microaggressions like: “You’re good looking for a black guy”, “You dress better than other black people” (this was often in reference to pant sagging, and so on. Correction: we dress better than ALL of you. Americans have no style lol) and “you speak better English than other black people” (this one baffles me because: 1. We speak better English than ALL of you and 2. I hate that this isn’t worth bragging about because – colonialism. Again, let us shelf that one for later)

Over time, I learned the system is stacked against black people in America and some white people know this, and some do not because they are too comfortable and privileged to see it. Yes, these are your only options. Now, America is a complex and diverse society and there are layers in the social justice fight, but I am focusing on the one most pertinent to me and today, considering what happened to GEORGE FLOYD. 

Incidentally, some of the most gracious people to me while I lived in America were white: my lovely host parents in Florida (I love you, Ed and Ms. Cathy) and all the wonderful people I met in Ohio, to mention but a few. However, it is possible to not be racist but still reinforce an oppressive system by staying silent on issues of social injustice. My white friends and family, I know it can be uncomfortable, but educate yourself. Ignorance is one of the most expensive things in life.

One of the things you learn quickly as a foreigner living in America is a lot of Americans really believe life is a competition and they are winning it. And make no mistake, America is fantastic! However, a lot of Americans believe their brand is the best on earth and this is probably why their education system focuses heavily inwards. In my college history class, my professor (Dr. Steneck, what a legend!) gave extra credit for anyone who could correctly identify the oceans on the map because he knew who he was dealing with. I do not mean to insult; I simply want to say ignorance is a huge problem.

So, my white friends and family, once you educate yourself, recognize that using your privilege to ally with black people to fight social injustice is the right thing to do and it is best for everyone. Not because you have a black friend, but because it is right.

And please, especially in times such as these, resist the urge to mix issues and dilute the main message. Resist the urge to practice “whataboutism”. A MAN LOST HIS LIFE. AND YOU ONLY HEARD ABOUT HIM BECAUSE IT WAS SO GRIM. THIS PROBABLY HAPPENS A LOT MORE OFTEN THAN THE NEWS SHOWS YOU.

So now is not the time to talk about crime in black communities and how bad looting is. Even the Bible says, there is a time for everything.

Most of the rights we have today were fought for with violence. People lost their lives. It may not be perfect, but please be part of the solution to the main problem at hand: social injustice and racism or shut up.

I felt the need to share this because I have over 2400 friends on social media and a significant number of them are white. I am using my platform to try and spark some introspection, and hopefully – action.

Let us end racism and all forms of discrimination, so that we can go back to focusing on the microorganisms and climate change that will inevitably wipe us all out.

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Written by Shem Opolot (0)

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