Facing racism - fight or flight?
After fleeing from Civil War in Sierra Leone, writer Andrena Sawyer says living in the U.S.A. exposed her to a new kind of battle – for equality
I was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone and raised in Somerset, New Jersey. At home, I was African - my identity and reference points needed no explanations. There, race, ethnicity and culture were interchangeable and embraced. Outside, however, things were different and I found ethnicity commonly dissected and resented.
Remember in old films when someone would place a sign on the back of a person’s top as a joke? For many people of colour, this is similar to our experience as soon as we leave home. Except the top is the skin that you cannot take off, and the sign is consent to experiences that come with that skin. Just like in those films, many people find the sign highly amusing, but the object of the sign sees nothing funny about any of it.
When I was in fourth grade, my mother went to her first American PTA meeting. I overheard her telling someone that my teacher had commented, ‘Andrena is so smart, it doesn’t seem like she’s from Africa.’ My mother was livid, and I somehow knew that my teacher’s comments were a veiled compliment intended to make me an exception from the other Black children in my class. During that time, there was also the unrelenting teasing from classmates about everything from the texture of my hair to the hue of my skin. It was clear, even to a young fourth grader that I was no longer at home.
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