Becoming Black (Jomo Smith)

Jomo Smith is currently finishing up his doctorate in Modern Chinese History at the University of California, San Diego and attends the Clairemont SDA Church in San Diego. In today’s post, Jomo shares his reaction to the Zimmerman ruling and his experience of the larger social milieu in which this case is situated. This is the second post regarding the Martin/Zimmerman case we have posted (first by Jeff Carlson).

I shouldn’t have to do this. I shouldn’t have to write this, but the recent court decision has left me no recourse to deal with the unmitigated, here-to-fore unexperienced, tear-causing pain and anguish that I feel right now. I am not kidding. I’m not engaging in hyperbole. Writing this and this whole situation literally brings me to tears and makes me fearful. I cannot live in a cage, and I have vehemently refused to for my life thus far.

I was born Jamaican, which as I hope you know, is a black country. Most Caribbean’s (and most immigrants for that matter) who come to this country, come with a goal in mind, a strong work ethic, and a no-nonsense attitude in dealing with the various stripes and colors of the USA. I was raised by my mother and my Jewish step-father (God bless him and may he rest in peace) in a multi-ethnic community in Flushing (Queens) NYC. I HATED moving to a south Florida county that was not diverse like Miami and being forced to deal with annoying racial crap in a bifurcated community where I was not readily accepted by either whites or blacks. I missed my nerdy Indian and Chinese friends from NY and ran back north for undergrad as fast as I could. I hated having to be conscious about my race every time I walked out the door. Coming from a black nation like Jamaica means that I was not used to thinking about my race every darn second.

Well, this is America, gosh darn it, and you can’t escape race. I hated being automatically being put into some black organization during my chosen college’s welcome week, and I hated sitting through meetings hearing my black male schoolmates talk about how they were frequently harassed by university police who suspected them of being vagrants from the nearby community just because of their backwards cap or maybe baggy jeans. No, I didn’t want to deal with it all. I refused to be defined by what people expected of me, saw of me, or wanted from me. I was cocky and was going to do things my way. I didn’t want to deal with race and chose to study a place that (at the time) American’s hardly talked about yet I was simply fascinated by because it was so different. Unsurprisingly, I found myself enmeshed in communities of people I had become so comfortable with in NYC.

Sadly, racial issues do not stay on America’s shore and, even in China, I’ve been forced to reckon with how blacks are presented in America’s ubiquitous, global media presence or how Chinese view the numerous Africans that their government has helped bring to Chinese shores. I always wanted to just be my own man and not have to measure up to, or represent, anyone else. Tearfully, my race somehow precludes that. To many people in this country (and even world), I as a black man, will often represent the worst experiences they have had with black people. Naturally, I represent my whole race and am due ill-treatment, suspicion and death. Naturally, anyone is due ill-treatment for the wrong they have or have not done. This is not an economy substantiated by anything I have read in the Christian Bible that America claims its values were founded upon.

Trayvon Martin’s case is not some isolated incident that we/I can just forget about and remain unmoved by. No! Becoming black means finding no logical answer to the animus that a large group of people feels toward your race. Becoming black means that you begin to question and see things more and more in the light of race because the same things keep happening to you and others around you time and time again. Becoming black means living an experience that so few seem to identify with and then call you a racist for mentioning race–do these people breath and walk the same earth I do!?!

Being black means having a consciousness that is more inclined to the needs of your race because, quite frankly, no one else gives a damn! Being black means that you will always live in a veritable state of exception because the rules that apply to the majority population don’t often apply to you. Being black means that, as a male, my life is expendable in this society’s eyes because a deranged, self-declared neighborhood watchman can stalk, shoot to kill (ever heard of shooting someone in the leg, George!!), claim self-defense and ultimately get away with murder because a jury, of probably his peers, had “reasonable doubt.” There is still a dead body, ladies and gentleman, but the death of another black man is of no concern to many because so many black men are dying in Chicago anyways—go see about them, they say.

For an immigrant Jamaican who has now been forced to fully become “black”, I say, thanks a lot America!! I wonder how they would treat me if I had another whammy attached to me…..?

This entry was posted in Current Issues, Experiences, Reflections and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Becoming Black (Jomo Smith)

  1. Bernadette Higgins says:

    Exceptional writing and spot-on insight. As a immigrant Jamaican myself, I FULLY appreciate this reflection…sad as it is, because it’s VERY true.

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