By Tiffanie Drayton
I watched the video of George Floyd taking his last breaths under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer while scrolling through Facebook early one morning here. The sound of crashing waves and my children’s giggles created the soundtrack for the devastating images.
My mother came out onto our sunny front patio, a cup of coffee in one hand and phone in the other. She also had news to share.
“They turned the unit I worked on into a COVID unit,” she blurted out. Everyone at her old hospital, she said, was complaining there wasn’t enough personal protective equipment.
If she hadn’t moved from New Jersey to join me here, just months before the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States, she would have been working as a nurse on the front lines of a war with a disease that has disproportionately claimed the lives of people of colour and health care workers like her.
So much suffering and danger
Our decision to leave the United States has spared us from so much suffering and danger.
“Mum,” I said, “we are refugees.”
In 2013, when George Zimmerman found not guilty of second degree murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin — a black child gunned down in his own neighbourhood, branded a thug in a hoodie — I knew I had to leave America.
The racism that had become all too familiar to me as a black woman was too much to bear. I packed my things, made sure to secure a few online writing gigs and moved in with my sister in Maraval, on the island of Trinidad. She’d moved from the States a few months earlier, after struggling to find work or afford a place of her own there, and secured a job with a government ministry and a two-bedroom apartment. I settled easily.
Still, as the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum over the next few years, I prayed from afar that America would finally allow black people the fair treatment they’d long fought for. Instead, white Americans fired back with “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter,” and critics branded the group as “anti-police,” with some going so far as to accuse social justice advocates of inciting a “race war.”
I concluded America would never stop battling against its black citizenry.
I admire the strength of black people who remain in America and continue to endure. I hope and pray that one day they too will find freedom.
It’s not that I didn’t have good experiences in the United States. Memories of my American childhood were once bright and vivid, like a flower-filled landscape painted in watercolour. Back in the 1990s, when I was 4, my mother moved to America from Trinidad and Tobago as a single parent with my two siblings and me. The first New Jersey neighbourhood I called home was a bustling, diverse town just outside of New York City. The area was mostly Hispanic, but it also had both white and black residents. My family blended right in.
In school, I learned to pledge allegiance to the American flag.
“With liberty and justice for all,” I proudly recited every morning.
I was an honour-roll student who felt adored and supported by my teachers. I roamed the town with friends, stopping at the pizza parlour for a dollar slice, or the bodega for an empanada.
The brilliant American landscape painted in my childhood mind was ruined by anti-blackness as I grew older. The quest for security, stability and affordable housing left the biggest stains. Though my family loved that small New Jersey town, the steadily increasing cost of living forced us out. –GN