Written by: Phindile Le Bris Sithole-Spong
Like millions of people, I have been watching the US elections unfold over the past couple of days. This compounded with the news commentary around them has left me exhausted and anxious. As a black, non-American female, it may seem strange at first. To be so heavily invested in another countries elections. However, as a South African, I grew up consuming American culture. From TV shows, to music and even fashion styles. In my parents mind, and mine, America was the land of the free. A place where a black artists could accomplish so much and influence music all around the world. A place where black people could live as equals to their white counterparts. Given our young democracy in South Africa, America felt like the older brother you could rely on. The one that had been through discrimination and racism but had come out the other end.
It’s no wonder then that I have had an emotional investment in America. Even as an adult, living in France, and having travelled the world I always felt like the discrimination I often feel as a black woman in France and other countries could somehow be washed away with a quick trip to the United States or home. To me the two had always been somewhat interchangeable, especially as a black woman. Because the reality is whilst most countries do have anti-discriminatory and anti-racist laws, whenever I travel, I still feel like an other. Like a black smudge on a pristine white sheet. Something I didn’t really feel when I visited New York, Washington or even California a few years back.
So seeing the vast amounts of racist, and hate crime committed against black people and people of colour over the past few years has felt disheartening and heavy. Because although my visits were limited and not a true holistic reflection of America. It was still the closest I felt to being accepted outside of my own country.
These days however I could not think of a place I’d like to visit less. So much so that when my husband broached the subject of a temporary move to the US for work, my answer was a hard no. Whilst I had grown and been taught to love the United States as a black person, I now felt it did not love me back. And despite the racism and discrimination I feel in France, I always know what to expect. Whereas the United States feels like a teething toddler where you just don’t know what you are going to get. Which is why watching the elections unfold has been painful and unsettling. And has been a harsh reminder that racism does exist. Even in places and spaces that claim to be liberal and open minded.