Why Residue from the L.A. Riots Still Tortures The African Girl Who Thought She Was American
Until the streets became a battlefield
My vision of America was torn apart the moment I set foot on the campus of an all-girls school in Nevada, Missouri. This miscalculated haven was supposed to host my dreams — and continue the blissful train of thought — deposited by my well-meaning folks.
White people are the shit — Black people…not so much.
As with everything in life, experience is the only lifesaver. You learn how to manage relations based on the evidence of disappointment or disillusionment.
You either buy what you’re being told or construct a personalized narrative without lethal antibodies.
The healing began after I left the campus of hell and headed to another campus that was less hellish but still confusing in its delivery.
This time my existence wasn’t so bleak. I wasn’t only one of three Black students, and yet, I still felt like the only Black girl for miles.
Segregation was the theme that impaled the brick buildings and laced the corridors of knowledge and curiosity.
My mother also attended The University of Missouri-Kansas City, and was so excited at the prospect of my following in her footsteps as the English major she was years before.
I remember walking across fields of green and smiling at the blossoms of spring as I wondered if my mother had done the exact same thing.
I also pondered why my parents were satisfied with the audacity of White friends convincing them that Black Americans weren’t worth their time or consideration. Perhaps it was due to that feeling we get when “everybody wants to be our friend.”
We are sucked into the vortex of praise and adulation.
Dwelling in a foreign climate must’ve been an overwhelming disposition that ultimately enhanced immunity to the truth and stimulated the naivety that hampers visibility.
They didn’t stand a chance of blossoming into the buds that greeted my view — as I headed into the social hall that was jammed — mostly with White bodies gathered around the communal TV.
Chaos was erupting and I was desperately trying to make sense of it all.
I was ashamed at how woefully detached I was when it came to the complex relations between Blacks and Whites, but remarkably — this breaking moment was symbolically comforting as I watched fury light up with vengeance.
Yes! This almost 19-year-old college student wanted a one-way ticket to L.A. — ASAP!
She wanted to lend her services to Black America for the purpose of fucking shit up — because shit wasn’t right!
It hasn’t been right since before some of us believed we were the “better Blacks” due to the great fortune of growing up on a continent — that also systematically limits the possibility of future accomplishments — without the color peel that stings with protective hatred.
The L.A. Riots began on my dad’s birthday, and its initiation resonates now more than ever, which is both sad and destructively discouraging.
A jury — despite the staggeringly explicit videotape depicting the violent assault of a Black man — Rodney King — acquitted four LAPD officers.
This mind-numbing verdict unleashed a series of events that escalated into a national emergency.
I looked around and observed the transfixed faces of mostly White students and felt unbearably alone and displaced.
The rumblings around me seemed to echo sentiments of how mounted barbarism can’t be condoned by the shallow civilized sect.
But, from where I was standing and panting with euphoria — the energized disorder before my eyes was exactly the proof I needed — to strip away the façade of a label that was never going to be legit — until twenty-five years later.
I thought I was American each time I was queried about my humble beginnings. I believed I was American when my mom assured me that Ice Cream and Oreo cookies would always be the staple.
I trusted I was American when as a Nigerian girl suffering through military coups and institutional boot camp— I would lay in bed in the darkest of night — and imagine the yellow brick road paved with the ammunition that would defeat the chaos of my heritage.
Imagine my surprise when those very avenues followed me to a time and place that I didn’t decree, but happened to be assigned by default.
As the streets buckled under the strain that took centuries to conceive, I was mentally roaming the battlefield with spirits gawking my soul.
I was a young woman with so much to learn — overwrought by the absorbency of an African who knew her own history well enough to admit the shame of barely being able to recite the quotes of Civil Rights Leaders.
I was scared and exposed under the glare of my White friends who casually dismissed the times and expected me to do the same.
I followed suit with habitual negligence, but inside I was dying for sisterhood and threads of testimonies. My only Black girlfriend was pissed at me because I fucked the college track star she wanted to fuck.
I felt disarmingly less American in the prime of historical relevance.
I was tortured by the cloud that was supposed to rescue me at the moment when I witness Black people fighting White people in the name of justice.
The betrayal of being African and rejecting the “Black” label was a painful invitation to the party of societal disarray.
Life lessons never hit without a disclaimer.
You can’t be the person you were forced to be if you never knew who the hell you were in the fist place.
Lazy misinformation took advantage of my impressionable mind by coercing me to believe that I was American with Black skin. And my White friends wanted me to remain African and Black without American as the qualifier.
Twenty-five years later — I’m at the cusp of middle age and there is no question about the fluidity of my identity or preferred category.
I’m African-American with the exoticness of self-awareness.
If you don’t believe me — grab the threads of my mind without flinching. Try engaging me in conversations about White police officers who willfully blast holes in the growing bodies of Black teens. Challenge and mock the reasons why I’m so sure there is very little difference between April 29, 1992 and April 29, 2017.
I’m American enough to take it and finally Black enough to believe it.