story time: when “American” is more important than “African”
a while ago i wrote a random post titled “story time: when “African” is more important than “American””. well, it’s time to follow that up with another even more random post.
back when i lived in Brisbane, Australia i used to use public transportation (photoed) a lot to get around before eventually getting up the courage to drive on the “wrong” side of the road. i met people from all over while living in Australia, but in so far as i can remember, i only ever met one African-American person during the 3 years that i lived there. bad luck on my part, perhaps. maybe. not exactly. but i tell myself that it is to ignore the other factors at play because the truth is that no matter what country i’m in, it’s a novelty to meet another African-American abroad and i’m well aware of the various reasons for that.
there’s a unique brand of lonliness that comes with going for months / years at a time hardly ever seeing, meeting, being around etc someone who’s racially, culturally, etc like yourself because to be quite frank, even if we are of the same nationality, being around mostly white American expats all the time can be yet another brand of loneliness unto itself. however, in Australia i ended up experiencing something that i’d never experienced previously while living in Japan.
that is, i found myself in a country where the majority of the people who looked like me were African asylum seekers. in America, i never had the opportunity to meet any asylum seekers, let alone African asylum seekers. i also sure as hell didn’t (haven’t) had the opportunity to meet any in Japan, where i’d lived for 3 years prior to living in Australia and where i currently live, #BecauseJapan, so this was something entirely new for me.
…and i’m sorry to say that the encounters that i had with African asylum seekers in Australia always ended up very…. awkward, to put it mildly.
years later, i still don’t know how to feel about that.
every time i randomly met an African asylum seeker in Brisbane, it was on a train or bus. they’d get on the train / bus i was already on or vice versa, we’d see each other and acknowledge one another with eye contact and maybe a curt nod, and we’d sit in our respective seats. not all, but some would eventually come over to where i was sitting and strike up a conversation, almost always beginning with “Where are you from(, sister)?” to which i’d respond “America. And you?” and the look on their face the second i said “America”. i’ll never forget it because it happened on more than one occasion, but the look was the same each time.
“America”, the conversation killer, killing the conversation before it had even started. they’d politely answer my question, but then just as quickly as they came they’d politely disengage, returning to where they’d sat originally or turning back around to face forward, away from me. and me? left not even knowing where to begin processing how to feel about what had just happened.
i’m certain that each of these people had approached me thinking that i was African, no doubt hoping to connect with a fellow African / African asylum seeker. what they’d gotten instead was just an African-American. i can only imagine how they felt about that, but i’m sure that what i saw on their faces was just the tip of an iceberg.
just an American.
i understand their disappointment, in so far as i possibly can. needless to say, i do not hold any ill feelings against them for how they reacted and how they may or may not feel about Americans. i can only imagine that were i in their shoes i’d have reacted / felt exactly the same way.
but i’m not in their shoes.
and it just hurt.
after the first two times, i began to get anxious whenever i ended up on the same bus / in the same train car as someone who was presumably African. “please don’t approach me. please don’t talk to me. no, i’m not African, i’m just an American,” i’d anxiously think to myself over and over every time they boarded and walked in my direction, shooting me a friendly smile or nod. “i can’t stand disappointing someone like that again.”
the truth is, as non-social as i am, i would have jumped at the chance to have gotten to know them and to perhaps have made a friend, but that chance disappeared as quickly as it came each time.
just a damn American.
an American who had their ties to Africa severed when their ancestors were rounded up and loaded onto ships like sardines, without any care paid to where they were from. who they even were.
an American who is just an American to Africans while simultaneously being just Black to many white Americans– the “American” in “African-American” being an afterthought at best much of the time.
an African-American who is assumed to be African even by Japanese people much of the time until i either open my mouth shattering their hopes assumptions with my boring American English– or i insist long enough that yes, my great great great grandparents are from America too and then they finally understand that i’m African-American.
but ultimately i’m just a damn American. what do i have in common with Africans beyond physical appearance? pretty much nothing unless someone who’s not even me decides otherwise! Thank you, White Supremacy!
just another word vomit of incomprehensible feelings to be filed under the #Black Expat Feels tag that i ought to have by now but don’t for some reason.