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 Throughout the course of your academic career, you will spend days in academic classrooms reading outdated history books written by white men that speak of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and not of the Harlem Renaissance.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.

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

  1. Thank you for writing this. It was hard for me to read, I can’t imagine how hard it was to write, and even harder to experience. You are extremely resilient and a very talented writer.

    Like

  2. I read and weep. Thank you for your voice and such power.

    YES: “Now it’s OUR 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.”

    THANK YOU!

    Like

  3. Tianna, the treatment you describe is unspeakable, but you spoke. Your words are clear. I don’t know what I’m going to do but I’m going to do something.

    Like

  4. Oh my … this is terrifying. As a white person, I can truly say my heart goes out to you. Thank you for writing this, because it’s the closest I’ve come to being able to see your experience.

    I don’t want to be part of the society I’m in. I don’t want people to assume that just because I’m white, I’m racist … I’m extremely disgusted with the racism you have to face. I had no idea it was still this bad; such a shame, it’s 2020 and people are still being so tribal. I’m happy to be able to find ways I can help the black community. This has put me on the right path.

    I want to inspire white people to reach out and help the black community because I feel that whites have the power to heal some of these wounds. Like you mentioned, even doing small things can help; it disgusts me the ignorance that people have toward blacks. It’s just the colour of someone’s skin, it’s incredibly stupid that people use that as a crutch for their hatred.

    I’m not in support of looting/burning random people’s property but I really understand your anger. I hope that with these riots, those in charge will finally see how far you’ve been pushed and feel horrible enough to make the changes necessary. I hope the racists suffer.

    This comment sounds pretty disjointed, but it’s difficult to formulate my thoughts on this topic. It breaks my heart. I will never truly understand but I want to do all I can to help and to be a white ally.

    Thank you so much for writing this and sharing your experience. Let it reach many people.

    Like

  5. Thank you, Tianna, for sharing your experience. I’m an FSO, too, and saw your post after it was shared to an internal group. You might never see this, but if you do, I want to say how sorry I am that you aren’t still with us – that the system made it impossible for you to stay. Because we would be better with you. I served in CDJ from 2006-2008. It was my first post, too. I was in my late 20s (then). And I, too, was a single woman who relied on the safety valve of crossing into El Paso to find friends and community. I, too, crossed that border into my home country at least once a week. We had the same identification documents, issued by the same authorities, shared many similarities. But I’m white. And because of that, I never – NOT ONCE – experienced what you did. In 26 months of service on that border, the only time I saw the inside of a CBP secondary facility was on an orientation tour arranged by the Consulate’s training program. And that is utterly horrifying. Your story will resonate with me for a long, long time. You shouldn’t have to do the work to explain it to people. But I am grateful for your effort, your service, and your story. Thank you.

    Like

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this, Tianna. This really impacted my perspective on this fight. Thank you for your story and sharing just a small glimpse of your reality. It gives me the drive to fight together for all of my friends. It’s not fair, and I must do better. We must do better. Thank you.

    Like

  7. Tianna Im very sorry that you experienced this awful treatment, I knew you personally and my heart hurts for you, you are an amazing, strong and brilliant woman don’t let them take away your shine,I send you all my love and millions of hugs.

    Like

  8. Tianna Im very sorry that you experienced this awful treatment, I knew you personally and my heart hurts for you, you are an amazing, strong and brilliant woman don’t let them take away your shine,I send you all my love and millions of hugs.

    Like

  9. Dear Tianna,
    I just finished reading your post. I cried a lot thinking how you felt and that I could’ve helped if I had known, maybe offer you my friendship, my house and my family as a safe heaven . I work in Juarez as an LES. I understand completely what you went thru as I have lived in Juarez all my life. I hope you can find your peace and get your strength back. Love, Carla.

    Like

  10. Thank you for your service to our country and for your honest critique of it. Both are honorable and I hope the latter brings change.

    Like

  11. Thank you for sharing your story. I shared it along with my contrasting experience as a middle-aged white man crossing routinely from Embassy Ottawa. I’m so sorry for your experience and for State’s failures.

    This was the short post:
    After receiving my first assignment orders to report as a consular officer at U.S. Embassy Ottawa, I packed up the car and drove north from Washington, D.C. As I pulled to a stop at the border crossing, I proudly handed over my shiny new black diplomatic passport. The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent visibly relaxed when he saw the passport, smiled, and asked about my assignment. We chatted amiably for maybe 90 seconds before he wished me well and sent me on my way.

    During my time in Ottawa, I crossed the land border routinely. It was always the same. A non-event. Sometimes the agent would make a big show of welcoming me back to the United States. Sometimes the agent would thank me for my service.

    I took for granted that all diplomats received the same welcome by our border agent colleagues. I was wrong. I was also blind.

    A fellow former-foreign service officer, Tianna Spears, published a beautifully written description of her experience trying to do the same thing. Her reception routinely crossing the border as a U.S. diplomat working on the other side was anything but a non-event.

    [https://whatsupwithtianna.com/2020/05/30/what-do-i-want-from-white-people-an-illustration-on-being-black-in-america/]

    Please take the time to read it. It’s important.

    I’m embarrassed to admit that I never once thought about crossing the border during my time in Canada. At most it was a traffic delay, but I never thought about adjusting my travel time to account for hours of harassment. Why would I? Doing the same thing cost Ms. Spears a career and a life without the ongoing trauma of PTSD.

    White privilege is not an epithet. It’s not an opinion. It is our reality in every corner of our society. Recognizing it and calling it out is the first step.

    Like

  12. Thank you for sharing your story, Tianna. It takes a great deal of courage to divulge the horror you experienced. We can only hope that what you have shared will serve to educate others and, ultimately, produce some modicum of change. Wishing you peace.

    Like

  13. Thank you for sharing your incredible story. Bless you for it. You have always been an intelligent and intellectual young lady. I remember your parent’s always having real deep and loving conversation with you and your brother. Keep up the good work you are loved and highly respected.

    Like

  14. Tianna, your story impacted me. I will continue to do the work and be a better ally. Sending love, support, and trying to break the deafening silence that noone deserves.

    Like

  15. Tianna,

    We were in the same Foreign Service orientation class. We didn’t spend a lot of time together, but I do recall one evening when we hung out in a group and had a short chance to speak one-on-one on the walk home. At that time, there was a moment you revealed an incredibly touching compassion and openness that caught me a bit off guard but was truly an invigorating breath of fresh air for me. Until I read this post last night, that glimpse was my primary impression of you. It was only a few short comments made before we headed our separate ways—and indeed, how tragically separate they ended up being.

    This was a gut-wrenching read for me even before I realized who had written it, and when I did, my blood boiled to think of that brilliant spark of a person being so mistreated. Everything suddenly felt overwhelmingly real. And of course it’s real—it’s all real: the cruelty, the brutality, the humiliation, and the dismissiveness, complicity, gaslighting, or just plain failure to act on the part of so many white people. And, of course, it’s overwhelming, in scale and in the ugliness it reveals within human nature. It’s just that white people can much more comfortably ignore or rationalize away that ugliness, to inhabit an alternative reality where career prospects, financial stability, and a chummy relationship with authority are somehow signs of their own merit. But we need to be reminded of the oppression others face while we do not—and often while we do nothing. It should feel real to us, and it should feel urgent—because it is.

    It’s heartbreaking to read the course your time as an FSO took. What a tragic waste of your character, skills, and vitality. What an infuriating display of ignorance, pettiness, and sadistic arbitration by those agents. What a mockery of the rule of law. I am so sorry that you had to endure this. And I know this is just one instance of what is in fact a systemic failure.

    Thank you for writing this. In so doing, you bring the light of day to these abhorrent behaviors. You honor the truth in a society increasingly prone to believing whatever feels personally reassuring. You re-purpose your personal disaster into something fruitful. You begin to redeem the promise squandered by those who failed to value you according to your worth.

    I admire your refusal to merely let this painful memory ooze slowly into the morass of past sins beneath the floorboards. I am honored to have been your classmate and colleague, and I wish you strength and a sense of purpose, even beyond that which you already possess so abundantly.

    Jesse

    Like

  16. You’re aware by now that your emotive blog entry has become required reading as State as we face the reality that we have not taken care of our own and ourselves, even as we look out to the world.

    I’m sorry that we don’t have an environment where it’s easy and accepted to share these experiences that should never happen, an environment where we know that State will defend and protect our own against injustices within our own government (and even within our our agency). We let you down, and we’re only now realizing we’re worse for it.

    Like

  17. Dear Tianna,

    As a retired female FSO, my heart breaks for you. I was so furious and so upset after I read your account of what happened that I was in tears. I am in shock that no one in the embassy or in CDJ thought it worthwhile to advocate on your behalf with DHS. I thought it bizarre that no one that you knew suggested you contact AFSA. I have written several Emails to AFSA about your case – they claim they were unaware of your treatment earlier – and they responded they would take the issue up with the DG of the Foreign Service. That doesn’t do you much good, but, maybe, it will help the next person. Did you record any of your encounters by chance? If so, it sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen! Your article was passionate, beautiful and truthful. Keep pushing. Keep insisting. You have much to offer the world and we need someone like you to remind us of what is valuable.

    Like

  18. Hi Tianna. I went back & forth with myself for days over whether I was going to comment. The State Department has unfinished business with me, and until they take responsibility and resolve it, I need to be mindful of what I say. You were very gracious to the Department (something, IMO, it doesn’t deserve). They speak with agencies like CPB frequently. No doubt they were fully aware of what was happening and chose to do nothing because all black people are to them are statistics. The number of FSOs chiming in with support is ironic, since normally they are completely tone deaf and insensitive to racial matters. Needing an outlet to express my frustrations with the Department, I posted on their Foreign Service subreddit before the moderators banned me for “trolling” (aka saying too many things they didn’t want on a public forum). Part of my story can be read here: reddit.com/user/lessib/

    The State Department’s job is to uphold white supremacy. Thus is the job of every employee, whether they recognize or admit it. The State Department never deserved you as an employee, and as you heal, I hope that becomes clearer to you. I don’t know what you want to do with your life, and don’t feel pressure to figure it out quickly. Take as much time as you need. For selfish reasons, I hope you are able to carve out more time to write. You are very good at it. I just wanted to chime in as another black person who has gone through something similar. We are not anomalies. Most people are just afraid to speak out, and they go away quietly. Thank you for not being afraid, and not being quiet.

    Like

  19. Tianna,
    Thank you for writing this. I’m deeply sorry that racist CPB agents have interrupted your dreams. You deserve better. Our foreign service community is diminished by the injustice that has been done to you. But, your resilience shines through brightly in your writing and gives me hope that this delay in your career and your life will be only temporary.

    Like

  20. Tianna,
    I am very sorry for what for what you had to go through! I understand you completely. As a a Mexican national I was also mistreated by CBP when crossing from Ciudad Juarez into El Paso, Texas on numerous occasions. In fact, that happens daily to many other of my compatriots but to hear they did this to one American citizen, one who happened to work at the U.S. Consulate in Juarez is absolutely INCREDIBLE!

    My heart goes out to you and I am very sorry that you had to resign your post. May God give you the strength to find another calling; you’re very young and I hope you live your life to the fullest. Thank you for speaking out. Even if bother them, don’t keep quiet.

    Thank you again for sharing. I pray for your healing and well-being as well as some form of vindication.

    Like

  21. Thank you Tianna for your beautiful words. I found your blog through a New York Times piece that was published over the weekend.

    I served as an FSO from 2013 to 2018 and was posted in Mexico and experienced a very similar experience as yours. I’m also an African American woman and dealt with my fair share of harassment, bullying and endured a certain politics of silence, which all of us are indoctrinated into. I took a voluntary separation shortly after attaining tenure after realizing the Foreign Service did not align with my personal and professional values. It felt painful at the time but now I know it was for the better.

    I hope with some distance you realize that your work is within your community and family. And the United States, sadly, has rarely lived up to the values it proclaims overseas. If we really stood for democracy and justice and human rights, we would not be experiencing the largest uprising in modern day history. Our country has not done right by people of color, namely Black Americans, and that must change before we preach to other countries about their governments.

    Please take care of yourself and heal.

    Like

  22. Tianna — I’m a retired FSO and I am at a loss at your abuse at the border. Those people have computers, after the first time they stop you for secondary inspection, they know who you are and that you have Diplomatic ID. I’d say I can’t imagine what they hoped to gain by stopping you over and over, but I can imagine it, they were enjoying diminishing you as a person.

    Lots of FSO’s are, frankly, rather arrogant about their status. Even some who aren’t joke about it. But when white FSOs cross the border, we are treated well, even if we are … difficult with the CBP. Perhaps we do not deserve the favorable treatment we receive, but you certainly did not deserve the abuse you received. And how many drug smugglers slipped across the border while the CBP was using their tiny bit of authority to make your life difficult?

    Like

  23. Thank you Tianna. I can hear the exhaustion in your voice but thank you for sharing it. You are a powerful writer. Take care of yourself and heal.

    Other commenters have noted that DOS has a long way to go. I do too. I know it’s not your duty to educate and do the work for us but your post is being read and heard.

    Like

  24. Tianna, I’ve read your post again for about the umpteenth time. Each time I read it; I see more, I feel more, I understand more, I connect to you, my loving daughter … more … Finally writing a comment because before there were just absolutely NO words. Now as your mother I finally have just a few:

    Your writing capacities blow me away! As your mom I raised you with the intention of strength, passion and love – (as the universal mother does). However, your fortitude … I NEVER expected to see manifest like this! I am honored to be your mom. Keep climbing and practicing extreme self-care as you do. I LOVE you, T! So, so proud!

    Like

  25. Dear Tianna- I came across your post when your heartbreaking experience was highlighted in Ambassador Charles Ray’s article. I am a Bangladeshi American but I cannot even begin to fathom the injustice of what you and all black brothers and sisters face on a daily basis. I am frustrated, angry, sad and simply at a loss as to why we have just looked the other way and allowed this heinous treatment to continue for so long? I am sorry and I promise to listen more, read more and share more in the hopes that more people step up and stamp out racism for good.

    Like

  26. Dear Tianna, thank you for sharing this. I empathize with you and your feelings are validated and acknowledged. I am a young African American female who aspires to be an FSO but reading your experience has me reconsidering other paths to an international career. We always work twice as hard only to get *barely half the respect. Your talents will be better appreciated elsewhere. Take care and stay safe ❤️🌸

    Like

  27. I taught in the Dallas elementary public school system for 15 years. The reason many Black students fail is fairly simple: it’s because education isn’t valued in the home. You call a parent to discuss their child and they immediately get defensive. Or worse you get cussed out. Forget about getting some kids to do homework. You’re lucky if they bring a pencil or their text books.
    Children are very perceptive learn quickly what they can and can’t get away with. By the time they reach junior high they realize outside of hitting someone they can do pretty much as they please in classroom. More money isn’t the answer because it’s not the problem.

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  28. I am so sorry you experienced such visceral, disgusting hate. I am so sorry that you were stopped from doing your job. I am so sorry that you were not able to represent our country (formally) for longer. I cannot wait to see what you do next though and I’m sending all the love and power to you.

    No justice. No peace.

    Like

  29. Tianna, you have a VOICE and I am highly impressed!!
    I’m new to your blog and I’ve spent part of my evening reading you. I just couldn’t put you down but then this, this right here…I’m breathless, without words. My eyes want to sweat, I’m holding back the tears but I can’t lie, I’m feeling some kind of way so I’m having to release. I’ve been a Civil Rights Activist all my life, I’ve supported more causes than I can count. My heart has laid heavy with dread for years, wondering who would be capable of carrying the torch/sword that takes us to the next plateau. Where do we go from here? The answer has come out of this “Universal Awakening” we’re presently experiencing in our country and the world. I’ve heard their voices, seen their actions, and no longer have to worry, the world will be in the good and capable hands of young people like you.

    Like

  30. I have no worthwhile essay to leave here. Only sadness and even sadder rage. I don’t know how you remained calm during those interrogations Tianna. A certain percent of the population can feel your pain, but our society in this United States will not change till the top 1% are able to feel your pain. That will not happen until the top 1% become the bottom 1%. The revolution has been ignited. My question is simple: can we give up everything we have to change things, to have the revolution engulf this country, and burn it down (not literally) so that a new and equal system can replace it. Till we transform capitalism from the way it exists today, to a new form, the promotes everybody, every skin color, and every gender, the war will rage on.

    Like

  31. Dear @TiannaSpears…I am a former tenured Foreign Commercial Service Officer and I just finished reading your article. Thank you. I never thought I would relive what happened to me –albeit only once– at the border crossing in Tijuana. Your account of what transpired while driving from Juarez to the United States took me back to the late 1990s when I was also harassed, based on racial profiling. I got the Customs Agent’s badge number though, and reported him in writing with the Consul General at the Consulate in TJ. The CBP agent was subsequently removed from the San Isydro diplomatic lane. He was placed on a different lane. I am so sad to learn that nothing happened in your case.

    While reading your article I started to feel sick because you accurately and poignantly described everything I also experienced at the U.S.-Mexico land port of entry. The menacing body posture of a male Customs’ Agent, his towering over me, his yelling at me, and his waving violently my passport in the air unable to realize that it was a U.S. passport! He didn’t seem to be able to recognize an official vehicle license plate either. It was his hate and racism that made him blind. Most importantly, while the Agent repeatedly accused me of not having a visa (to enter my own country?!?), he didn’t ask my beloved WASP friend, who was my “co-pilot,” for any form of identification. Enough said.

    The systemic discrimination within the U.S. government is incredibly debilitating. I am so very sorry that you had to cut your career short and that you also developed PTSD, anxiety and depression. Hope our speaking out against it will lead to radical change, moving forward.

    What also called my attention was your mentioning that they were checking your LinkedIn profile after a while…because that happened to me after serving in Mexico. It was very, very creepy, and scary.

    I wish you the very best. I see that you are pursuing a master’s degree. Best decision, ever! Thank you again for going public. I now realize that sharing these hurtful experiences validate other people’s suffering. Again, I want to express my most sincere thanks for sharing your story. May God bless you, today and always. W

    Like

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