Ever since I was a little girl, I remember being involved in many things patriotic. My father served in the Army during my childhood and we participated in all things American while I grew up in Germany. Every American holiday, events on post (what we call the military installation for those who don’t know), German-American events on the economy, etc. Though my mother is Greek and I fully embrace that part of me, my dad made sure I remained connected to my African-American (West Indian/Cherokee) roots. We frequently visited family in his hometown of New Bern, North Carolina and I was able to develop close relationships with my great grandmother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I would often talk with my grandmother and aunt about our history in America as I had many questions about our ancestors and the like. They educated me so much and opened my intellect to a completely new world. In history class we would always learned about the basics, but I always believed I got the good stuff from my family.
As I got older, my desire to move to the US became greater and greater. I kept hearing all my friends talk about how awesome “The States” was and how they couldn’t wait to get back. The new kids who came in from The States would always talk about how they missed certain things or how much better it was living there than living in Germany. And for some reason, I felt like I was missing out on some amazing experience because I’d been so unlucky to have spent my entire life so far in Germany. So college was more a means for me to experience life in America than it was to continue my education, but that’s a blog post for another day.
Once I moved to the US for the first time in 2007, I experienced extreme culture shock. It’s one thing to visit for a month or two during the summer, but to be fully immersed in the American way of life is something else entirely. One fundamental fact I discovered about myself is that I never really noticed the color of people’s skin in regards to how they were treated or how they treated others. Or that the color of my skin made me different than anyone else. I would always look at people as souls and judge them by their vibes and character.
The first time I recognized any differences in the color of people’s skin was during my freshman year of college when I noticed how all the “black” people hung out in groups and all the “white” people hung out in groups. There was barely diversity in the cliques I would observe around campus or in the classroom. It was never like that in high school. Everyone hung out with everyone for the most part. The clique categories had absolutely zero obvious color lines. The cool kids, the misfits, the athletes, the cheerleaders, the nerds, the jocks, the weirdos, the mean girls…each group was diverse in color. So this was new for me.
Race was magnified even more when I was introduced to the existence of sororities and fraternities. There were Pan-Hellenic (Caucasian) fraternities/sororities and National Pan-Hellenic (African-American) fraternities/sororities. I will never forget the way I was introduced to these organizations either. Here is a snippet of dialogue from what I remember:
Person to group: Hey! Are ya’ll going to the greek party later?
Me: Greek? People just go to Greek parties like that here? I want to go!
Person: Yea, a lot of people go. I have a lot of greek friends. My sister is greek.
Me: Wow! That’s awesome. I’m Greek too; I didn’t realize other black Greeks existed!
Person: Wait…you’re greek? How? Did you already pledge? Are you a transfer? Are you legacy?
Me: Umm…am I what now? I guess so…my mom is Greek.
Person: What sorority is she in?
Me: WHAT?! I’m so confused. My mom is from Greece. She’s Greek.
Person: Oh! No, I’m talking about a different kind of greek.
And thus I was thoroughly educated on The Divine Nine, the other frats and sororities, and all related topics. Needless to say, my mind was blown. All I could think was that now it made sense why I kept seeing Greek letters in so many different places.
Moving on, I also witnessed many racially charged discussions during my college career. I’d NEVER seen people get so passionate about the existence of racial discrimination, racial bias, and racial injustice. The stories they were sharing about their personal experiences or the experiences of friends or family members were frightening. I didn’t know what to think as I’d never experienced anything even remotely similar. Their stories were similar to some of the stories my grandmother told me, but I didn’t realize the same situations were relevant presently.
Not to mention, I’ve never identified with being just black or just Greek as I am both. I expressed that numerous times in different settings and would get mixed responses from my African-American friends. Some would say that I wasn’t “black enough” to be considered black which explained why I didn’t have negative experiences in regard to my skin color. Others said that because my father is African-American and the fact that I would pass the brown paper bag test back in the day, makes me “black enough” to a racist. And there were more opinions, but none shook me or made me question my identity. It was all very interesting and intriguing to say the least.
I would always listen to my friends and observe how they talked about all these racial topics and wonder what growing up for them looked like. After all, they didn’t live sheltered lives on or around military installations overseas. They grew up in America. And went to American public or private schools. I had no doubt that their experiences were different than mine, but I had no idea HOW different.
Fast forward to present day and I question why I ever wanted to leave Germany. Sure the gimmick of the American dream is what brought me back after I graduated college and moved back home. But when I look at the state of America in all its glory, I become extremely anxious. What. Is. Happening. And why? And not only just why, but where is the justice? And why are we talking about what is going on in the lives of celebrities? Why do we care? People are wasting their lives being consumed with observing how others are living theirs. Entertainment is the pinnacle of American happiness. Athletes, actors, actresses, singers, dancers are getting paid millions more than our teachers, healthcare workers, servicemen and women, etc.
This is evidence of how dysfunctional America’s system is and how backwards priorities are. America does not care about our children or long-term survival and happiness. But change is not going to come without sacrifice. Period. We’ve grown so accustomed and comfortable with having our cake and eating it too, that we can’t even comprehend the fullness of that statement. Needless to say, our president-elect was not my first, second, or last choice, but the people have spoken. Or have they? Maybe the voting machines were hacked by the Russians. Maybe it’s all a joke. Or maybe America will be great again…I don’t really know anymore.