"In Foriegn" Mixed pencil media on watercolor paper, 2015
In 2003 a college friend of mine with Trinidadian roots had happily agreed to give me a ride to my prenatal clinic appointment in New Bedford, Massachusetts. It was a typically cold, and sleet-filled day in March. The traffic was uneventful and the distance from the campus suites to the clinic was a mere 20 minute ride. I had been looking forward to the visit as my feet were now out of view to me from the overly large profusion of my pregnant belly. She drove because I never got an opportunity to drive in the States. Coming from my small island home in Nassau, the speed limit always seemed too high for me and worse than that everyone drove on the wrong side of the road. But my friend grew up in the States. Switching lanes and left turns on the highway were part of American driving that was as natural as blueberry pie from Maine.
I had visited the States since I was a child. I had always been an exotic and preferred tourist from The Bahamas on an almost rite of passage Summer shopping trip with the family. The American collegite experience was new. The snow, the food and the way people in my small college town said "wicked" as an adjective and noun every 5 sentences was an adjustment. The biggest and most uncomfortable sometimes stealthy interaction was racism. As a black Bahamian, I had grown up being in the majority of the population. At school, in church, in the jitney, at Junkanoo, I mostly saw only a sea of black people. There were areas where white Bahamians lived and tended to congregate but I didn't live there. I had my first white Bahamian friend when I was thirteen. Discrimination because of my skin tone was not something that was etched into my spirit growing up. Unlike my 2nd generation Trinidadian friend and chaufeur, I was not acutely aware of the subtleties of racism. The kind that you know is there like a splinter in your foot that only a tweezer could get out. Yes, unlike me, she grew up having to graft an armor into her mind and soul because of her skin and just deal with the very real threat of a police presence.
By the time the 20 minute ride was almost over, we had not been in an accident nor had we witnessed one. We thought that we had a lovely time chatting and reminiscing about the cute upperclassman on campus from Cape Verde.
We were laughing right until the police showed up.
As the car crawled through the residential neighborhood in New Bedford and a stone's throw away from the prenatal clinic, three police cars blocked our path. It was just like in the movies. A cop car pulled up out of nowhere and skidded sideways to block our path going forward. The second car pulled along side of us. The third cop car pulled up right behind us. With the lights flashing, and onlookers driving by to get a good look at two black women, I asked my friend why were we pulled over?
"Because we're black, Carla!"
I was in a state of shock. I had never ever been in any situation like this. The closest I ever got to the police was when I had to renew my police record. She couldn't be right, could she? We're we seriously being pulled over because we were black? Is this what black Americans have to go through?
The policeman walked briskly over to us and asked her to step out of the car. She asked a question.... Why was I pulled over?
The policeman repeated what he said but I don't recall him asking for her license and registration, only to get out. By this time he was shouting.
She started to open the door.
The policeman yanked her out the car and dragged her to the back of the car. He through her on the sidewalk. He cuffed her. He slammed her on the back trunk. He took her away. Another policeman came by my passenger door and asked me if I knew how to drive.
I came out of the car crying.
When he saw my big pregnant belly he gasped a bit. He took me in his car and dropped me off to the clinic, which was now closed.
The next day, I finally found out why they showed up. Apparently, a white woman claimed that when switching lanes that we ran her off the road. Yet, she proceeded to follow us several blocks while calling the police to give them the direction and description of our car. That's when three cop cars showed up.
That was many years ago and I am still traumatized.
I can only imagine how much emotional traumatic scar tissue is not even given time to heal if I had to live in the States. America is a racist place. My heart goes out to all the people who have suffered and continue to suffer from American racism.
This piece, "In Foriegn" was born out of that story and the stories of other black people I know who have endured racism. The figure is a fellow Bahamian, a black man living in New York, who feels that no matter if he wears a suit and tie of the American flag itself that he will still be a target in America strictly because he is a black man living in America. This piece is multi layered. At first glance it's a reflection of the climate of black America right now.... That regardless of how light the skin of the black man... No matter if he's in a suit and wearing a tie made of the American flag, he's still seen as a target. Still stereotyped. Still profiled. Still gunned down. Still. Still. Still a Target.
The title, "In Foreign" adds another layer. This is a literal portrait of a Bahamian who is in the United States just trying to get along to get along. Collectively we don't mind going to another country and totally blending in. We have all heard the phrase "foreign is better", whether or not we believe it. We shop there... We school there... We birth children there. We change our accents at the airport....Some go so far as to willingly live as undocumented migrants, and we, in general, don't see anything wrong with that.... But we have little to no tolerance for undocumented migrants in our country.
I decided to post this now because I want to show solidarity with black Americans during this time of anarchy and revolution. I agree, enough is enough. From Trayvon Martin to Sandra Bland to so many other casualties and now George Floyd....enough is enough. Yes, I agree, black lives matter.