So many people in Botswana think America is wonderful. I recently had a discussion with a friend of mine about why I would never live in the United States again. She just could not understand. For her it seems the land of endless possibilities, where your mind is free, and your path unhindered. I struggled to make her see that my life growing up in the United States was the opposite- I felt trapped and strangled, defined by the status quo that I was not part of. In Botswana is where I found my true freedom. Only here was I able to throw off the heavy blanket of my past and define a new life outlined in the hot sand, its borders and shape created in the present with only me as its designer. Freedom, freedom, freedom -I drink it in everyday with thanks.
We grew up very poor for much of my childhood. We were the family that churches brought food to on Thanksgiving and Christmas. They smiled happy at their charitable ways and I hid wishing they'd be anywhere else but at my doorstep advertising to the world what I was. Poor and American are two things you do not want put together. In America being poor is a crime. Who didn't work hard enough? Someone is to blame. The American Dream is a terrible weapon to be beaten with.
Then when I got married, people asked why not go and live in America where all of the opportunities are? I looked at my black husband and thought of our future brown children and I knew I wouldn't be able to live with what America would have on offer for them. I'd lived through the wrath of not being right; it would break my heart to watch those I loved most in the world have to walk a similar path.
The recent incident in Philadelphia proved to me once again that even though a mixed race man stands as the leader of the United States, racism is alive and well in that country. Being right in America means being white and being wealthy, anything else is an annoyance, a tax eater, a crime maker- something they'd rather not discuss and best keep it in the cupboard away from the party makers. No one likes a buzz-kill.
In her article in The Nation, Melissa Harris-Lacewell relates an incident of racism that her child had to withstand and as I read it I could hear the sound of the bullet I dodged whizzing by my ear, the bullet my children dodged.
For my daughter the moment came in kindergarten. Even though she was the only African American girl in her classroom, she made friends easily, adored her teacher, and was growing in confidence as a student. Then in May, just a few weeks from the year's end it happened. She and a little white boy were playing together at recess as they had done all year when he looked at her and said, "You know, I would like you better if you would take off your brown skin and put on some white skin."
I know Botswana is not perfect, but perhaps that's the very thing that offers me the freedom I've longed for. Botswana is not perfect and it makes no claims to be, it doesn't expect perfection. It's terrible living in a dream world where everyone keeps blaming you for not taking part, for not getting a piece of it, but every time you make an effort they pull it away. That's the America I know and it holds only a passing resemblance to the red, white, and blue fairy tale the PR machine keeps pumping out.