What Do I Want from White People? (An Illustration on Being Black in America)

What Do I Want from White People? (An Illustration on Being Black in America). May 30, 2020.

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“How are you?” I ask. I sit. I wait.

His voice hollow. His head low. “Numb.” He says.

I sit. I wait.

It’s been five days since George Floyd was murdered. In fact, you can watch the video online. You can watch another unarmed African American man be murdered from the comfort of your living room sofa.

You can type it into Google, click play, and you can watch a white police officer with his knee on George’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

Your heart will pound heavily as George repeats “I can’t breathe.”

He will die face down in the middle of the street. You will watch another unarmed Black man die on camera, in cold flesh, at the hands of a white police officer. When the video finally ends, a feeling deep in your soul will tell you that the white police officer will not go to jail. Before you press play, ask yourself, how many more?

Before you press play, ask yourself, will I be able to sleep tonight? Tomorrow?

What do I tell my brother, what do I tell my father?

What do I tell my lover, what do I tell my friend?

To be Black in America is to be engulfed in constant rage. It is to be angry, it is to be scared. Emotionally drained. Black people are exhausted. We are numb. We are traumatized.

This is nothing new.

To be Black in America is to know that because of the color of your skin, you will consistently be denied, discriminated against, and repeatedly demand equal access to education, healthcare, housing, clean air, clean water, an impartial criminal justice system, fair lending, a plethora of other resources, and this concept called human rights. You will face discrimination and inequality. Generational trauma. You tell me, what is peace of mind?

History books will reduce your entire human experience to slavery. Throughout the course of your academic career, you will spend days in academic classrooms reading outdated history books written by white men that speak of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and not of the Harlem Renaissance. Your ancestors will be immortalized as ghosts. Not as poets, activists, dreamers, authors, musicians, entrepreneurs, changemakers, teachers, scientists, revolutionaries, regular folk. Not as mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, children, people. The peaceful activists will be assassinated, the homes of revolutionary activists bombed. Neighborhoods, schools, hospitals, and city streets named after Black leaders will be occupied and attended by those that were redlined.

You ask, what is it like to be Black in America?

It is an uphill battle. There are people who will lay down from exhaustion and numbness, desperately craving rest. Let them. They have been tired and weary. Let them rest. We are tired and weary. Let us rest. Many will return again, others will support from the sidelines, write government officials, send donations, vote, and raise the next generation instead. Let them. Let us.

Others will scream. Raise their fists and shout. They will congregate in the streets with handmade signs displaying yet another hashtag. They will organize. Loot. Burn buildings, businesses, offices, and anything that stands in their way. It will kiss the ground. Cities will twist and bubble in despair.

They will raise the next generation of revolutionaries. Their children will burn down buildings. We will raise the next generation of revolutionaries. Our children will burn down buildings. They will release their rage on cities and people will finally have no other choice but to listen. Their children will not kneel. Our children will not kneel. You will see the fire in their eyes. And we will be proud.

They are in pain. Let them. We are in pain. Let us.

“A child that is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth,” an African proverb says.

I am proud of my Blackness, but it sure ain’t easy. Being Black ain’t all pain, but it damn sure ain’t all joy either.

You will rise again to face another day. Build a community. Love your mother, love your father.

Go to church and sing a song, a local community center, and support a friend and family member’s small business. Gather for homecoming at the local Historically Black College & University that your dad’s entire family attended. Build a scholarship fund for students in your family’s honor. Hug your elders and ask them how they’re doing. Listen. Protest. Vote. Celebrate your Blackness. Continue to show up as your authentic self in all spaces. Dance, share stories, pray.

Talk with the youth and encourage them in all things. Raise children that love themselves and their hair, the color of their skin, their minds. Encourage education, in all the many shapes and forms that it comes in. Normalize mental health resources, counseling to heal, and renew the cycles passed through your families. Read the newspaper and watch the news. Be engaged. Help your neighbor. Read a book. Understand the plight of other groups of people that are also disenfranchised, forgotten, and silenced. Recognize the power of your words and when you speak, speak to uplift.

My generation will continue on with everything that you have done for us. And the next. We will raise children that are revolutionary, just like you did.

If a system does not fit you, you knock it down. If you are not invited to the table, you bring a chair. And if something destroys your spirit, you go to therapy to heal and empower yourself, one day to return again.

I drove my vehicle from my house in Mexico across the Ysleta- Zaragoza International Bridge into El Paso, Texas on Saturday, January 19, 2019. A CBP officer flagged me into secondary inspection, for what I estimate was more than 15 times since I arrived in Mexico – at least once a week. The official inquired if I was a U.S. citizen, motive of travel in the United States, reason of visit in Mexico, and if the car I was driving was stolen. I sat on a cold bench and endured further questioning. I showed my Diplomatic Passport, stating I worked at the U.S. Consulate General in Ciudad Juarez, and lived there.

“Sure you do,” he laughed.

He probed, asking more questions. A new official appeared and searched my car, tossing around the contents in my backseat and glove compartment. He took his left hand and rubbed it up and down my car windows.

“I’m going to meet my friend in El Paso,” I stated.

“When you talk to a man, you look at the ground. Do you understand me?” He glared at me, face full of disgust. The officers laughed. My shoulders tense.

May I speak to your manager please?” I asked.

The on-duty manager approached, crossing his arms, and asked, “what do you want?” I told him about my negative interaction with the previous officers. The manager laughed and asked the motive of travel into the U.S. I told him I was going to meet a friend for coffee and was asked why I needed to come to the U.S. to partake in that activity.

“I’m a U.S. citizen,” I reiterated.

When I told the manager that I worked for the U.S. Consulate General as a Foreign Service Consular Officer, he laughed, rolled his eyes, and said, “right.” Again, I presented my Diplomatic Passport, U.S. Passport, Mexican Carnet, and Global Entry Card. He laughed again and told me he did not need to look at my identification stating, “it could be counterfeit for all I know.”

Blood pumping. Small and humiliated. The manager never looked at my documentation, nor believed anything that I said, even with substantial proof. He went back in his office after obtaining my first and last name. Upon returning, he told me that I had only been pulled over to secondary about eight times so “why are you complaining?” I was bewildered and still am. I requested his name, only to be met with his reply of “I do not have to give you my name.” He later stated “you don’t need my first name.” However, I could read his surname on his uniform.

When I reiterated that his account of the frequency of secondary inspection was incorrect, the manager scoffed, his team standing behind him almost mocking me.

Just because you say you work at the Consulate, does not mean that you are not smuggling drugs into the country,” he said. Extremely frustrated and irritated, I asked how in the world I would be able to get top secret security clearance to work for the United States Government.

The manager then told me, “I do not know, but I do know what drug dealers and smugglers look like.” When I asked him to explain, the manager stepped forward, attempting to intimidate me, crossed his arms, looked at me up and down, and said, “you know what I mean.” I was furious at his insinuation that I was a drug smuggler and his racially charged implication based off of my appearance. I demanded an apology from the manager for the disgusting and unjust defamation of my name and my character.

The CBP manager took another step forward to stand on top of the platform that the bench sits on, positioning him to be a couple inches taller than me. He placed his hand on his gun in the holster, finger around the trigger, and told me to get back in my car. His body language and his hand looked like he was just about shoot.

I did not move. 

Shaking. I remember wondering if he would just shoot me. Why not? I had already said too much.

Shaking.

I requested his supervisor. The CBP Supervisor came out to secondary inspection, greeting me by saying, “I remember you.” We previously spoke on November 19, 2018 after a secondary inspection check. Back when I thought all of this was normal. Blinking back tears and struggling to maintain my composure, I was handed a CBP brochure by the supervisor and told to put in a complaint regarding the previous officer, but “no further disciplinary action would be taken against him.” Upon exiting secondary inspection into the United States, I pulled over to the side of the road to collect myself. I called the consulate to tell them what had happened to me. I spoke to both the assistant and regional security officers. They promised to follow up. I called my father, who unsuccessfully attempted to deescalate the situation and calm me down. I sat on the side of the road crying in my car until 5PM, took a deep breath, and did a U-turn, destined for Mexico. And there I was back across the bridge just eight minutes in the other direction, back home in bed, hands shaking to pull the covers over my head, talking myself into trying again tomorrow.

Between then and mid-to-late February 2019, I crossed the border into the U.S. an estimated 12 times. I would be pulled over into secondary inspection an estimated eight times. My colleagues would sit by their phones as I texted that I was approaching the border. My colleagues would wait. The rule was, if you didn’t hear from me in 15 minutes, call the Consulate immediately. Send someone to come get me.

I lived alone in Juarez. My only outlet was El Paso. It was where I took my dog to the dog park, did my graduate school homework in fun coffee shops like Mas y Menos and District Coffee, and went to the gym. The two baristas at Global Coffee always played the best music on Saturday mornings and asked me how I was doing. I had community. El Paso was where I grocery shopped, washed my car, and felt safe. The people smiled in stores and said hello. Sometimes people spoke to me in Spanish, delighted that I could respond. I felt at home and it was nice to have that small gap between work and home. I just needed to get to the other side of that border.

I tried everything that I could think of, from alternating between SENTRI/ Global Entry Lanes 1 and 2, from telling CBP officers at primary inspection immediately that I work at the U.S. Consulate and live in Juarez, to stating my intention for crossing at primary without even being asked, to crossing the border at different times during the week and weekend (early morning vs. afternoon), to presenting both my American and Diplomatic passports at primary, and even to changing my clothing to reflect professional attire. I removed sunglasses, glasses, hats, and scarves. I left an hour early for doctor appointments, only to miss said appointments and be forced to reschedule for weeks later due to being delayed in secondary by CBP, even with little to no traffic in the SENTRI Lane.

By this point, I was convinced that my difference of physical characteristics was so noticeable that the officers knew who I was. Before I pulled up to the computer system to show my SENTRI/ Global Entry Card, I could see the officer ahead reach for an orange secondary inspection slip.

“Just a random inspection, no worries.”

“It’s a computer generated inspection.”

“Where are your license plates from?” “Hmm… that’s strange. We don’t have you in the system.” Is this your first time crossing the border?”

But how could I not be in the system? I crossed the border at least twice a week. To make matters worse, this wasn’t my first time crossing the border. I lived in Juarez. Surely the system had record and video of my car crossing the border since late October 2018? I even registered in person at the Dulles International Airport earlier that summer.

What would take a person 15 minutes to cross would take me an hour and a half. I was asked if I had drugs in the car. I was asked if the car was mine. “Was I sure it wasn’t a rental?” “Why are you lying? Why are you really in Mexico?”

I developed a stutter. I could not look people in the eye. I was extremely on edge all the time and my hair began to fall out in chunks from the harassment and stress. I gave up and cut all my hair off. My voice shook when I spoke. The simple thought of driving would make my hands perspire and my heart race.

My white colleagues who crossed the border into the U.S. and lived in Mexico for two years had never been pulled over into secondary inspection. One told me he was always greeted with “welcome home to America, sir.” Some offered solidarity, others offered stories of their acknowledgement of their white privilege, others told me to not cross the border. Some offered to ride in the car with me to cross the border. But I needed to go alone. I was strong. One cried.

After weeks of writing letters, meetings, and emails to management, I was transferred to Mexico City on a temporary assignment and then reassigned permanently. Who shall we hold accountable? The afternoon before the flight, I was pulled into secondary inspection for what I hope is the last time during this lifetime.

I was encouraged not to speak to the press about what I experienced and to steer clear of any lawsuit, as it had the potential for serious repercussions against my government career. I packed my bags, registered my dog as an emotional support animal, and we were off. I lived in a hotel for a month, then moved into my apartment. Something was still off. I found a therapist, joined a yoga studio, got weekly massages, tried to make the best out of the situation. I made two friends who often checked on me and invited me to activities outside of my apartment. On a weekly basis, I frequented a Japanese restaurant near the Embassy, where I quickly became friends with everyone who worked there. I made a vision board, read motivational books, and exercised. I befriended small business owners up the street at the nursery. I bought plants and watched them grow. I bought canvas and started to paint. None of that could counter what I felt inside.

I was later diagnosed by the Health Unit with post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.

Two days later, CBP officials in El Paso viewed my LinkedIn profile. I limited my profile settings and deleted my profile picture.

My brother and I had the time of our lives exploring Mexico City in May. We went on walks, talked about life, ate ice cream for dinner, and even visited the fancy Pujol. A Michelin star restaurant in your 20s? No way. This was a life to be grateful for. We asked to see the kitchen and spent four hours laughing and tasting food we had never heard of before. Exploring another city with your little brother? This was so much fun. He stayed for a month. I could do this.

The LinkedIn profile viewing from CBP would continue until June. I went home for safety in June. Returned to Mexico City in July to an earthquake that shook my apartment violently as I unpacked my suitcase.

A close friend came to visit in August. I convinced myself and her that I could do it. Less than two years and then I would have my new assignment. We went to Tulum and I pretended to swim it away. By the time she left, August was a mess. By September I was hardly making it out of bed in the morning.

The unresolved trauma was getting me. Nothing I did worked. Mix that with the isolation I felt and the pressure of the job requirement to interview 100 non-immigrant visa applicants a day, Monday to Friday, from 8AM to 12PM. You had a recipe for disaster. I kept trying though.

One day in early October, one of the applicants called me a bitch. Just straight up in Spanish, “you’re a bitch for denying my visa.” It was never anything personal, you know. You’d interview people of all walks of life, one interview would be jarring, and the next one you could potentially learn something new. I told her to have a nice day. She told me she was going to the United States with or without a visa. She gave me the middle finger and I apologized, quoting U.S. immigration law, and told her to be safe. I closed down my visa window and at 9:25AM, I told my manager I was going home for the day.

I crashed and hit rock bottom in mid-October 2019, realizing that I would probably kill myself if I stayed in Mexico. I said goodbye to my two friends, gifted them my beautiful plants, and returned to my parents’ arms in America. I was 25 years old when the job commenced and 27 years old when I left.

I felt embarrassed that I couldn’t just push through in Mexico, that a job I waited two years to start was now something I associated with trauma. All that time, the intensive job application, those essay questions, the phone interview in Spanish, the month long waiting, the trip to D.C. for the Oral Assessment, conditional job offer, the waiting game, the security clearance, the waiting game, the medical clearance, the register wait, the move out of my apartment, the move into my parents’ home, the job offer, the move to D.C., intensive training, Flag Day, Spanish lessons, counter affairs training in the middle of nowhere for a week, a week to pack and say goodbye, oh and don’t forget all the checklists, the cross country drive to Mexico with my Dad. We had the time of our lives as we drove those 26 hours and connected.

We stopped in cities we’d never visited before. I have a picture with my dad in front of Molton Field and a photo of us at Tuskegee University. We listened to jazz and the rain in New Orleans and ate I-HOP in every city. We ate Whataburger in the middle of nowhere, Texas. “I wouldn’t write home about that fish sandwich,” he says. I laughed.

I was so excited. Nervous too, but I had lived overseas alone for three years before this. I hardly spoke any Spanish then. I learned so much then.

This would be so much easier.

Once I arrived and settled in, everyone else was able to keep pushing, so what was different with me?

But you tell me, how many Black women have fled the State Department in the last five years? Year?

I felt angry that this career opportunity I dreamed of since I was 19 was something I had to flee to save myself. The dream was that one day I was going to be fluent in Spanish and work at a U.S. Embassy. I was going to get my master’s degree in International Relations and climb that ladder into success. I was angry that an opportunity that changed my life on a financial and career level was taken from me. I was the first in my family to work at a U.S. Embassy. I was a diplomat! My parents and family were so proud. And now what? Go home to what? Numb.

To date, nothing has been done and not one person has been held responsible for the harassment I endured.

What is it like to be Black in America?

Have someone put their knee on your neck and repeat.

If you are lucky, you can advocate, but if you pay attention, you will learn that my experience is no different from others. I’m just alive to tell it.

“I feel numb. They’ve been doing this to us, we’re just grown now,” my friend says.

This afternoon I woke up at 4PM. Exhausted. Drained. I checked my Instagram, which was brimming with posts, conversations, pictures, and videos of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The same corporations that sent out mass emails to inform us that they hope we are staying safe during the Covid-19 crisis currently remain silent.

How many times will the face of an unarmed Black woman or man be eternally engraved into your mind? A little boy? A little girl? Let me ask you, do you know what Trayvon Martin looks like? Sandra Bland? Aiyana Jones? Philando Castile? Tamir Rice? Why?

On Friday, May 8, 2020, we ran 2.23 miles for Ahmaud Arbery. On May 25, we returned to the streets. And you ask, what do I want from white people? Some will say nope, I don’t want anything.

Maybe I won’t get anything, but here we go.

America is on fire. I want you to see this. I repeat, the United States of America is on fire. This ain’t nothing new.

Black people cannot breathe and we cannot live. We cannot raise our sons and daughters to exist as shadows underneath America’s corrupt policies and unjust systemic imperatives that continue to benefit and profit off of the blood and sweat of Black people and people of color.

They will murder someone with skin like me to declare war on my name. The debate will become who I was. If I had drugs in my system. Preexisting health conditions. The media will insinuate that I deserved it due to {X}. They will murder me with my four-year-old daughter in the backseat, while the world watches on Facebook Live. My four-year-old child will say to her mother, the love of my life, “it’s OK, I’m right here with you” as you both watch me die.

Right on your couch. You can watch this right from your couch.

The people will riot. The police officer will placed on administrative leave and then fired. It was self- defense. It was the stand-your-ground law. I had a record. I didn’t go to college. My cousin was in a gang. I was a thug. Here’s video evidence of me in the garage of a house under construction. They will perform character assassination on my witnesses. Was it because I was wearing a hoodie sweatshirt? Was it dark outside? Was it broad daylight? Was I at the wrong apartment? Months later, the police officer will be acquitted. Can you believe there wasn’t enough evidence?

I was just playing in the park.

I was just sleeping in my bed.

Rinse.

Repeat.

I want you to say his name. I want you to say her name.

I want you to knock on my door and ask me how I am doing. If you turn your back, I will remember.

I want you to realize that your life and my life are not the same. When someone burns my house down, I need to see you in the street. I need your anger. I need your fire, your rage.

I need you to shout the name of the person who was taken from this earth, who I love, who deserved life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I need you to demand accountability. I need you to demand justice.

I need a neighbor, a place of shelter. Protest with me, stand beside me. The qualms that keep me up at night should also make you sweat. I expect nightmares, cold sweats, and insomnia in your bed across town, on the other side of the train tracks. I need you to demolish the biased system built to protect you and you only.

Since I was born, I have been lucky to be loved by my mother’s two closest friends, who are white women that I consider my aunts. Their husbands are my uncles. From day one, they recognized their privilege. They write me love letters and pour into my life and my brother’s life. They call bullshit. Ignorance from their social circles was and is never tolerated. They speak up for people of color, and not just because they have a Black niece, a Black nephew, or Black friends. They have tough conversations and continuously evaluate their actions. They realize the power of representation. Christmas and birthday gifts are books by Black authors and poets, calendars and cards representing beautiful Black women and Black men.

I know love. I know it well. And I know what an ally looks like.

If you have power and platform, you amplify those that go unheard. If you have financial means, you donate to organizations that advocate for change. If you have a seat at the table, you hire those who do not look like you, and make the workplace a safe space for them to come as they are. If you are one step above, you reach below, grab the hand of the next person, and pull repeatedly until you both are standing side by side. If there is ever any outrage and unrest, you do not point fingers and place blame, but understand.

There are no exceptions.

Now it’s your turn to show up for Black people and people of color. Demand accountability and call out your racist friends and family members. Actively work to eliminate stereotypes, white guilt, and fear. Challenge your partners, wives, and husbands. And please, if you would be so kind, stop voting for our oppressors.

Stop building fences. Build entrances. Build bridges. Build community.

Evaluate your life. Ask yourself why if you find that the majority, if not all, of your neighbors, friends, and social circle are composed of only white people. Ask yourself if you are contributing to gentrification in the town and if you possibly pushed anyone of color out of their childhood neighborhood due to rising rent, mortgages, and property taxes. Sure, the house was a steal compared to up north, but ask yourself why you built a house that towered over your neighbor, blocking their sunlight. Their children used to love looking out of that window. If they still live there in a few months, they damn sure can’t see the sun.

Ask yourself if your children’s friends and family of color would feel comfortable in your home. Ask yourself why if you find that your child does not have any friends of color.

How many people of color work with you at your place of employment? Are they in positions of leadership?

Do they feel safe?

Smile and say hello to the Black people and people of color that you see at the grocery store, park, local businesses, bike trail, the mailbox, and around the city. We cannot even begin to tell you how often a white person ignores our very existence in public. We live here too. And we also used to live where you live now. We lived in downtown before it was popular and the only people that ever wanted to come visit were the police.

Understand that when you call the police on people of color, you may have blood on your hands.

There are no exceptions.

Educate yourselves. Buy So You Want to Talk About Race (Ijeoma Oluo), White Fragility (Robin DiAngelo), and Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria (Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum) from a local bookstore owned by a person of color. Read said books. Read some more. Start a book club.

When a person of color speaks about their experience, listen.

When a person of color speaks about their experience, do not share your own white privilege guilt. This is not the space. Do not make it about you. No one cares to hear your story. It isn’t relevant. This is not the space.

When a person of color says that they experienced discrimination, believe them. Do not downplay or question their experience. Understand that it is their own personal human experience as a person of color and they have every right to define it as such.

When a person of color calls you out for inappropriate, discriminatory, and racist behavior, be quiet and sit down. Be accountable. Apologize. Then do the work. Repeat.

It is not the job of people of color to continuously explain their experience to you, to educate, to soothe, to handhold, and emotionally process uncomfortable feelings for you. Do the inner work and research first. Then we may chat. Do the work first.

Over the past few days, I watched my Black, Brown, Asian, and Latino friends share various media articles, links, and nonprofit donation recommendations. Most of my white friends are nowhere to be seen.

Where are you? Where are my white friends that I grab coffee with once a week? That I share my life with? That I invite and sit with in my home? Where are you?

The silence is deafening.

It is terrorizing; a reminder of the contribution to America’s systemic oppression that we are in the process of dismantling as I write this.

Relinquish the redundant phrase of “I can’t believe this is happening!” coupled with misplaced Martin Luther King Jr. quotes. Enough with the peaceful quotes and calls for peaceful reconciliation. It’s been happening.

How have you not noticed? Where have you been? Don’t we live in the same city, read the same newspaper, watch the same news? Don’t our children go to school together?

Do you not walk by my family at the grocery store? What’s my name? Don’t you drive past my neighborhood on the way home?

How long will you continue to self segregate?

How about an organic grocery store in my community for once? A well-funded hospital, a safe school with guidance counselors that tell my children they can achieve anything, and land where my daughter and son can roam free?

Advances in modern technology and social media make the circulation of traumatizing images and videos of white police officers murdering unarmed Black people a popular Blockbuster experience in the 21st century. This is deeply embedded in American culture, 24/7 viewing available on lavish iPhones with white people as the standard emoji selection, such troubling videos quickly forgotten for the next hashtag and cinematic display of racism, hatred, and police brutality in America.

What do I tell my lover, what do I tell my friend?

I am your neighbor across town, across the street, around the corner. How is it that we live in different worlds? In 4th grade, I attended a majority Black and Latinx elementary school five minutes from my house. We used a chalkboard in class. In 5th grade, I transferred to a majority white elementary school. We used a dry erase board in class.

In 11th grade, I transferred to a white private high school where all 100 people in my graduating class attended college and started taking the SAT in 8th grade. How do you help your child study for the SAT when yall ain’t got the same resources? How do you achieve the same score if you are three grades behind?

What about 400 years?

And if you do manage to climb that ladder to the middle class, you better pray to God that you maintain your socioeconomic position.

The systems in place uphold white supremacy and simply put, the systems in place need to be knocked down. And who would have thought, that in the middle of a global pandemic and imminent economic crisis that we would light America on fire.

What is it like to be Black in America?

Have someone put their knee on your neck and repeat.

Enough.

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  • Blog updated as of June 15, 2020.

94 thoughts on “What Do I Want from White People? (An Illustration on Being Black in America)

    1. This is an amazing piece Tianna! I’m so proud of the young woman you’ve become. You are worthy and you are fearfully and wonderfully made. Love you. ❤️

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  1. That was a beautifully written story.
    I’m sorry that all of that happened to you Tianna in Mexico.
    I love you and thank you for sharing your experience on how it is to be black here in America. People need to hear it, read it and understand it. You put it best, I’m happy that you are alive today to share your story. May God continue to protect you in Jesus Name. Amen.

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  2. The Truth is a very hard pill to swallow. Because we have tolerated certain things and people, you will probably not find those white people taking up our cause. Their belief is that I have a Black friend so that’s all I need to do to Move our agenda forward. sorry but We are ready to take up our own Cause!!!
    Thanks for the wonderful read Tianna❤️

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    1. My blood was boiling and tears in my eyes while reading your story. I am an Asian, FSO, currently living overseas. We have a black 8-year old daughter and have been postponing the “conversation” because we didn’t want to ruin her innocence. Now, the conversation cannot be delayed any more, and two days ago, we had the “conversation.” She is scared, and said, “mom, will I be killed when I go back to America because of my skin color?” She didn’t want to hear it any more because the reality is too scary.

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  3. Tianna, your words moved me to tears. I admire your courage, your bravery, and your heart. I am sorry the Foreign Service was not able to care for you as it should have. I am enraged to think about those in CBP who took pleasure in mistreating you and others. Thank you for sharing your pain so that we might all be better humans — more aware, better equipped to be an ally with a perspective we may not often witness.

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    1. Hi Tiana, I am so sorry to hear about your experiences. My blood was boiling and eyes in tears while reading your experiences. I’m Asian, in the Foreign Service, and have a black 8-year-old adopted daughter. We have been postponing the inevitable “conversation” because we didn’t want to ruin her innocence. Now, we can no longer postpone it any more so two days ago when she saw me reading the news, and she asked me what I was reading. We had the conversation about racism and about what is happening in the U.S. She was scared and said, “mom, will I be killed when I go back to America because of my skin color.” How should I answer her?

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  4. Thank you for sharing your experience. I hope many others will read this and give it the time and the attention that it deserves

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  5. Wow! As a diplomat also, I am so sorry this happened and no one was held accountable. As a black person, I’m still sorry but not surprised. You article is very moving and I will share this, stand with us and repeat. Well said. Much love and strength being sent your way.

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  6. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this. You do a fantastic job of helping us understand the experiences you live through every day. I’m so ashamed that you have to be traumatized by blatant racism and tyranny. I’m so ashamed for America right now. Thank you for all of your suggestions for how I can do better. I will reread them and take them to heart. I hope we can do better. It’s certainly way past time.

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  7. You spoke OUR PAIN, OUR TRUTH. We are all suffering in silent. It is deeply rooted in their everyday actions- they can’t even see it:
    1. When you are dismissed when making a point at work
    2. When the white person keeps reminding you that s/he is more experienced
    3. When they try really hard to NOT make eye contact
    4. When they start leaving the table when you approach the cafetaria
    5. When they don’t answer an email pretending they didn’t see it
    6. When they don’t recognize your abilities and contributions
    7. When they whisper in your own space
    8. When you are called intimidating because you wear your blackness (bright colors)
    9. When leadership takes sides without hearing your version
    10. WE ARE INVISIBLE. WE WORK 10 TIMES HARDER. WE SMILE WHEN WE DON’T WANT TO. WE ARE POLITE. WE ARE GASLIGHTED DAILY. WE CAN’T BREATH!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Tianna,
    I don’t know if this will help, or if you may feel this is an invalid or inappropriate reply in the face of all the anguish so many feel, but I would like to try. My son is a 4th year resident anesthesiologist at a hospital in New Orleans. When the Covid-19 outbreak struck, his hospital opened a number of additional ICU’s, one on his floor. During the worst weeks, there were 600 Covid patients in his hospital, a great many critically ill, and a great many who cried out they couldn’t breathe. On average, 70 to 75% of all Covid patients in my son’s hospital are African-American. Healthcare givers were overwhelmed. Many caregivers fell ill and a few died. My son’s job to intubate Covid patients, place ventilators on them, sedate and paralyze them so they can breathe. For a while, the hospital had run out of all sorts of supplies. My son has spent the past few months in that hospital doing his best keeping critically ill Covid patients breathing so their lungs have time to purge the infection. Every breath is an additional shot at life. When my son calls, I listen to an exhausted but determined young doctor describe the chaos he and other health care givers face 15 to 18 hours a day. He hears “I can’t breathe” over and over and over again. I am sorry America is burning, and I am sorry there has been so much suffering for so long. My son and colleagues are preparing for a new surge predicted for New Orleans in the fall. I know he will be there waiting to treat Covid patients, hundreds African-Americans among them, so they can walk out of that hospital breathing on their own.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. As a fellow FSO for more than a decade, my blood has been boiling since early 2017 with the realization that those hired to enforce our borders are mainly racists supported by a racist White House. Excellent essay and know it will be shared by millions of outraged Americans.

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  10. Did you inform your RSO at the first indication of border issues? You have such a powerful spirit, it’s unfortunate that you quit one of the best the best platforms to channel that drive into helping others. The foreign service needs you.

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    1. “The Diplomat” – How is this helpful? She did literally all she could to stay and more. You can neither expect someone experiencing trauma to immediately report nor indict someone because you have assumed they didn’t take specific policy routes to report the harassment and abuse they suffered. The problem was CBP’s treatment of Tianna, not her response.

      She did NOT quit. Quitting implies she had a choice that would have allowed her to remain and survive. The unjust and unaccountable system made it impossible to stay.

      The Foreign Service needs YOU. It needs people like you to stand up, call out these injustices, and stake your employment on change. Unless you do all that is in your power and privilege to change the situation, you are part of the problem that made her leave. Change the system so it does not put the onus of change on the survivor but on the oppressors. Change the system so that the next time a black FSO goes to Juarez, they do not experience the same abuse nor expectation to be the sole force of anti-racism in the situation.

      – A white FSO-to-be, ready to do the work. Ready for you to join me.

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    2. It’s unfortunate the CBP officials repeatedly harassed Tianna on the basis of race. It’s unfortunate her situation was not adequately addressed by the institution she was so excited to serve. It is *not* unfortunate she removed herself from a toxic situation. Please don’t ask your black colleagues to continue to carry their trauma alone so they can “channel” it toward some greater good.

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  11. Thank you for writing this Tianna. I am heartbroken and outraged over all you have suffered at the hands of racists and bigots – and for all of my friends of color for everything they suffer daily just trying to live and breath and exist. I am ashamed that anyone in our country thinks this treatment is acceptable. I hear your truth and I hope we can all take your suggestions and work to do better.

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  12. he line “When you talk to a man, you look at the ground. Do you understand me?” really drives home how different these interactions are for you and I. This is powerful writing Tianna; thanks for sharing your experience.

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  13. Like many others, your post brought tears to my eyes. I am so sorry for what you had to go through with CPB, though sadly it doesn’t surprise me on so many different levels – whether from the perspective of racism, sexism, lack of accountability, lack of leadership, a climate of bullying. Growing up in near the Mexican border, I have both witnessed and personally experienced many instances of abuses by CPB. I am sorry their discrimination led to your leaving your job in Mexico. We so much need committed, talented and dedicated people like you in the Foreign Service. I feel the pain black people and people of color are going through in America, which is more acute than ever at this terrible political moment. I do feel some hope, as I see people of many backgrounds waking up, speaking out, joining protests and looking for ways to help. So many of us want social justice in our country, but unfortunately the leadership that we need at this moment is absent, or even worse actively condoning racism. It is up to all of us to act and stand together. Thank you for your suggestions on what to read and do. You are a talented writer and I hope you will continue to write and speak out. Please know that there are many of us who support you and are working for positive change. As Michelle Obama said, “Hope and change are hard-fought things.”

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  14. I’m a black woman and also left the Foreign Service due to racism (with a splash of sexism) and the institutional resistance to do anything meaningful about it. Reading your story was like reading my own – from border crossings, to visa applicants, to reactions from peers. Countless times, I was made to feel like I was wrong or just needed to put my head down and “pay my dues” because that’s “just how things are.” I constantly felt alone and misunderstood.

    I left the service as you entered and it breaks my heart that State lost such talent because it cannot hold people accountable and adequately support its black diplomats; we face different challenges, plain and simple. It makes me wonder how many of us are out there…

    I hope that you’re able to find a career that gives you all of the things you got at State (travel, adventure, social impact) with none of the negativity and trauma 🖤

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  15. This is so tragic that this sort of behavior on the part of ‘officials’ is allowed to continue and harm innocent people. I am also retired from the FS and sincerely wish you had experienced more support during these years you suffered. There is no excuse for the way our country’s leaders (and I use the term loosely) have encouraged prejudice and violence.

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  16. Sending love. I appreciate the article. I am constantly asking myself, as a white woman of privilege, what should I do? This article helps. The exhaustion expressed at merely living is palpable. I hold space for you.

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  17. Thank you Tianna, for writing this, for surviving, for demanding solidarity from your white neighbors, like us. We will work to do better.

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  18. Very powerful. Thanks for sharing. Makes me think about what the Department coulda/shoulda/can do to protect all our staff from the discrimination you faced (both from within and outside the organization) and what kind of support we need to provide. We’ll never reach our diversity/retention goals without figuring this out. I wish you well. Keep writing. The world needs your voice.

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  19. Three generations of my family have served the US people through government service, two of those generations in the Foreign Service.

    The way you were treated, repeatedly, makes me furious. If it even happened once, your record should have been tagged so that it NEVER happened again.

    Courage and best wishes.

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  20. Thank you for sharing your experience. This is beautifully written and painfully evocative. The Foreign Service is weaker without you and your powerful voice.

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  21. Not much to say other than thank you for your voice, your strength through unimaginable stress and deliberate harassment, and perseverance as long as you could bear. I got chills with the “Look down…” command, and tears started and have not stopped. I hope you continue to share your stories and heart and goals, and find fulfillment and power as you make a difference in our unfair, unbalanced, blind world. Help enlighten, help it (hopefully) shift in more humane and reparative directions. Please, please continue to seek treatment and support for your PTSD. You deserve a clear emotional slate with which to move forward and regain control of your wide-open future.

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  22. Hi Tiana! It sounds like this was horribly traumatic … it sounds like you tried many ways of addressing this through official channels – just wondering if you filed a report through the DHS OIG Hotline? If not, it might be worth documenting it for the OIG. I know they get a lot of complaints and only have limited staff, so they might not be able to investigate everything, and when they do investigate it can be sloooow. But still, just wanted to put it out there for you or anyone else who’s experienced this kind of horrific misconduct, abuse, and breach of fiduciary duty on the part of CBP officers. https://www.oig.dhs.gov/hotline

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  23. Hi Tianna: I found your blog via a link on Diplopundit. I am so sorry for what you experienced as a foreign service officer trying to serve your country. There were leadership failures at every level: DHS failed you at the border crossing; post leadership who should have protected you failed you; and there were gross leadership failures within the State Dept bureaucracy, real live people who likely saw you as less than a statistic. That is the real racism. The bad news is that you will probably not be able to recoup the loss years. But there is also good news – you can heal and learn from this experience. I endured a similar multilevel failure of leadership at the end of my career with a small exception to your case: I actually knew and had worked with the very people who blindly followed orders to both push a dagger in my back AND twist it for maximum impact. One piece of unsolicited advice: the bureaucracy will point out to you several avenues for redressing your grievances – they only want to show you just how helpless you are – ignore them and they will fade away. Best wishes in your healing process – although it is no consolation, generations before us endured far worse.

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  24. I am so sorry that you had to experience this. You are a beautiful writer and please know that you have made me really think about how I can be better. We can all be better. Thank you.

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  25. Thank you for your courage. I am so sorry that this was – and continues to be – your experience. Please recover from your PTSD and depression and be well. I am listening.

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  26. The Foreign Service and the U.S. government become much weaker institutions when they lose someone of your caliber. Thank you for sharing your experience, your truth. You are clearly a terrific writer, and I hope you continue to write. Wishing you the best in all of your future endeavors.

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  27. I am so sorry for what you endured and are still enduring. I wish I had more of everything to give. More time, more money, more energy. I cannot begin to understand why this continues. I don’t understand the HATE at all. You’re writing is so peaceful yet so insanely sad. I challenged a friend yesterday on FB who wrote about his anger towards the looters/protesters etc. in DC. I asked why he didn’t post last week in utter anger and disgust about LAW enforcement standing over a man getting murdered, which is, In no uncertain terms against the LAW. His inability to answer the question is so telling. I said what if someone murdered your wife?!?! And 3 other people stood there and watched?!?!? I asked what would your frustration look like?!?!? Would it “fit” the crime?!?! Why in the hell are we judging the retaliation And NOT the crime?!?! His answers surely didn’t “fit” the question. All I can do is keep asking anyone on my “feed” the same question… see them all answer stupidly, point out the ignorance/racism and move on to the next one. Thank you for writing this, I hope in some way it helped you. I know it helped me.

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  28. Tianna: I have always been proud of my long career in the Foreign Service and of my fellow Federal public servants. You have shaken me up – Thank you! There is so much more EACH of us must do to make sure people of color – no matter what their position – are given full and equal respect.

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  29. Tianna, I am so very sorry for the wretched way they treated you at the border, and the trauma it caused you. Your story is seared into my brain, and I am repeating it to my fellow white friends.

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  30. Thank you Tianna for sharing your thoughts and experiences. They are enlightening and I am proud to be a fellow diplomat. Hoping our paths someday cross!

    Like

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