In a lot of ways, I don't feel like we are that far from home. Through Skype and Facebook, it's possible to stay quite connected to folks back home. Plus, New Zealand is not all that different from the US on the surface. It kind of feels like I've just stumbled into part of the US with an especially charming accent.
But today I am really feeling the distance. I haven't been keeping up on American news, or any news other than my small town newspaper. Only through Facebook, and much after the fact, did I learn of the death of yet another black American at the hands of the police. And then another.
I feel hollow. I feel breathless. And I feel far away.
When I was in the States, absorbing this steady stream of hashtagged names felt disorienting. I got dizzy as each person's death spun through the news cycle: cell phone video, vigil/protest march, victim-blaming, cop indictment, cop acquittal. Before one cycle completed, the next video was out, the next protest was organized.
I lived in Baltimore during the "unrest," I was right there walking past the State Police on my way to work each morning. It was all a bit surreal, but life went on. I went to work, I took care of my kids. My heart broke for the victims and their families, but I was almost too close to see clearly. I drove through Penn and North on the way to visit my parents' and thought, 'here, right here is where this is happening.'
From a distance, I cannot see the trees; the forest becomes more obvious and more horrifying. The United States is a white supremacist police state.
Here in New Zealand, every lesson on local race relations between Maori and Pakeha (Europeans) begins with European arrival in New Zealand and extends through the land-grabbing Treaty of Waitanga to the present day in an unbroken and still in-progress narrative.
Looking at the United States from far, far away, it is obvious that Freddie Gray comes from the War on Drugs and the War on Drugs comes form Jim Crow and Jim Crow comes from slavery. How could it possibly not? How could a legacy of bondage that ended less than two hundred years ago not loom large in our country today?
(And at this point, I would like to tell every white person who says, "I never owned a slave," to kindly shut the fuck up. I never owned a slave, no. I was born in 1984. But every privilege my people accumulated from not coming to the country in the hold of a ship? Those I owned - from my family being able to accumulate wealth over generations, to attending better quality public schools, to being hired first, to simply not being shot when pulled over, to not being pulled over to start with.)
The other thing I can see at this distance is that this is not normal. The police summarily executing citizens on the street is not normal. It is not ok. It is not the hallmark of a stable democracy.
I was in the middle of writing this when I heard about Dallas. I feel no sense of shock or surprise. From here, I can see how broken my country is.