That Blue Gold: Reflections on American Privilege
I had a revelation, or, it, actually, had me.
That blue gold damn near immunity, we’ll call it: world;
A privilege: we can come back home, whenever we please.
I am thirty-two years old, a millennial, but kind of near the cusp of a GenX-er. Since I’ve decided to act on my wanderlust and take that less traveled path, I’ve noticed more and more people around my age and many other POC (People of Color. I am mixed: Black and White) quenching their wanderlust and striking out too.
When I use ‘striking’ it’s because I believe it is a remarkable thing to plunge oneself into the unknown void. Into a culture or a country not your own, alien to you, and embrace it and make life work outside of the U.S. It takes a certain kind of person. And, I too state ‘strike’ or ‘striking’ or ‘struck’ because it’s a blow or a hit or a cut to the fabric of American society we were raised in: it’s milieus, it’s morays, it’s boundaries, it’s boarders, it’s glass ceilings, it’s affirmative action, it’s Jim Crow, it’s segregation, it’s Ferguson, it’s immigration acts, it’s…it’s…it’s…It’s beyond-ness of the veil in which Dubois talks about in Souls of Black Folks.
We, those of us who are POC and decided to travel outside our homeland, have and are etching our own American story, elsewhere. Thing is, we can always come back to the states if we so choose too. I think ‘choose’ is the operative word here. After having many conversations here in Spain with immigrants from Africa or elsewhere, even American’s who have immigrant roots: these people didn’t have the privilege to choose to leave, many had to. They didn’t strike out because of wanderlust, no, it was because of necessity: jobs, government, survival, war. That’s the difference between forced migration and the kind of migration a person chooses such as long-term migration or return migration (many American’s do). The point is we have the power because of our citizenship in the U.S., and that blue passport, that “Blue Gold.” I migrated here willingly, by the support of my government, the US government and Spain’s. Another operative word here: “willingly.” Not forced.
I reflect on two conversations, one, shortly after I arrived in Murcia. And two, recently with a friend of mine back home. One: at Itaca Bar here in Murcia centro about five months ago. I met a brother from Senegal, too, a writer. I was with a friend from my program, a fellow American. We checked out Itaca that night because we thought there was an open mic. We got there a bit late. We sat down, had two cañas and papas fritas (which I thought were going to be french fries, turned out to be potato chips. I’m still learning Spanish: poco a poco). Itaca is like your standard bar: golden oak finish on the floors, the bar, dark wooden bar tables and stools. There is a sweet little stage in the back that kept me and my pal salivating at the opportunity to perform.
This is why I love Spain: suddenly a woman picks up a guitar and starts strumming the sweetest/morose tune you’ve ever heard. She wailed like the flamenco singers here in the south. It was some kind of mystic. One of the brothers at the table waved us over like we were distant family at a BBQ with a big swooping arm. It wasn’t the music that drew me into this moment at the table at this after-hours listening session. No, it was this brother from Senegal’s story. He was a writer who just finished a new novel and was going to give a reading at the University of Murcia, here in town. I told him I was a poet. He asked if I was published. I was like, “aww not yet, man” (since then I have been). He told me: “The world needs your writing.”
He explained to me how he got to Spain on a boat risking his life to get to Spain. That immigrants do not soil a country but in fact, make it better. There seems to be a fear, whether perpetuated or stated by the media or governments that immigrants debunk, funk-up, or change the values or beliefs of the new society they enter into. There is a lot of xenophobia being thrown around especially of our Muslim brothers and sisters. Our Latino’s too. Get something new to talk about-America. I remember in grade school during history class a projection of the raising Latino demographic in California. But the way that information was conveyed was negative. This brother from Senegal was expressing the same thing. There is an unnecessary amount of fear going around by people who have a hard time letting go of their power-reins. Change has been here for a while. People of Color are traveling more, getting higher paid positions, entrepreneurs and among the ranks of higher education. These devices for separation and exclusion are being broke down to dust.
The brother from Senegal also said we have to teach the children that they are beauty. What that meant to me was teaching children from the beginning that they are persons of value. That children have the capacity of creating beauty and that they are just important as every other being on this planet.
Blue gold gives you new perceptions, new ways of thinking too, maybe you and I were not exposed or privy to while caught in the soup we wallow in as Americans; that being life in outside world beyond America.
Engrossed in the moment like a solitary koi fish in a pond of still water, I was still in several thoughts, but one stood out: he had to risk his life to get to Spain. On the plane ride over the pond, I drank vino tinto (red wine) and had the chicken meal. This is what I call blue gold. As an American, we can rest on the fact we are from a stable government, one that is rich and powerful. Currently, we aren’t forced to move outside of the country to look for jobs or to escape a regime-ist government (That statement depends on who you talk to and who is elected in the upcoming elections. I will save my personal views for a later time).
The conversation with the brother from Senegal reminded me about another I had with a Brazilian friend of mine about police brutality in America versus Brazil. She’d asked me why I left America almost like ‘why would you leave heaven?’ That’s what it felt like at least. I told her: I wanted change of environment, this countries racism and police brutality weighed heavily on my mind, this rat race we live in regarding work and time and never feeling ahead or content with life in America. Plus, I wanted to focus on writing. She pinned pointed on the fact that police brutality is nothing new in Brazil. That Black cops brutalize their own people at times and that we, as Black American’s have a privilege often times that other people in the world don’t have: we can go anywhere with our passport and we can come back with minimum hassle.
Police brutality is nothing new in America especially with Black people. The police force collectively in American history has been oppressive to black people and other communities of color; this is a fact. But what rocked me was the fact that as long as I renew my passport, I can come back. I can come back to a broken or a whole America, no matter what, more or less.
I can come back to make things better, to live, and procreate, and study, and practice my civil rights, and find employment and live free. I am still a citizen no matter how long I stay away.
It’s like being apart of a fraternity in a sense: many fraternities, especially those apart of the NPHC (Non-Pan Hellinic Council), once you become a member, it’s for life. That’s a privilege we have as American’s; it’s a right that we all pay for.
It is both apathy and altruism, both imperialism and peace keeper-America. Our country, has a beautiful history and it also has it’s very dark past. One thing I will say is the ingenuity of America cannot not be acknowledged, be fully realized, without paying homage to the immigrants who made this country, this countries African roots and our indigenous people who far before European and African set foot on American shore, created an intricate and sustainable society based in empathy and spirituality. I have never felt so American until I left, America… fact. Independence Day, the 4th of July, for a moment, a swell of pride for my homeland overwhelms me yet it’s always raked and choked by a history in which still very much so looms over Black people and certainly other communities of color that too have been exploited, enslaved, oppressed in our great country. It is a freedom, I feel like I have earned, my ancestors more than earned. See, I too, am an immigrant story. All my ancestors migrated, whether forced by racist oppression, by a need to make a better life, or wanderlust. I myself am not directly an immigrant in America. However, I am now an immigrant in Spain and even though I wear that dominion in a proud way, being an American immigrant anywhere is still a better and different experience than almost anyone in the world with the exceptions of the UK, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, France and the Netherlands, that travels.
That blue gold is like that: autonomic immunity of the friendly skies. What all of these countries possess the most powerful passports. Power being access: the ability to travel to any country unencumbered. There are privileges out there that are positive. In my mind, privilege is acknowledging the opportunity to do something and having humility and humbleness, and thankfulness. And realizing that said opportunity couldn’t have happened by fate or luck or god (whatever the person subscribes to believing). The kind of white privilege or even privilege given to someone who has money and not acknowledge this opportunity as an advantage or being expectant of opportunities and apathetic to others experience is the problem for me. And many American’s (even some from the U.K.) are blind to this notion: you are a representative of our country and no matter what color you are, you are American to everyone outside of America. The world is watching us.
To the new travelers, you are more than your name and color. The world sees you as your nation, not your ethnicity (well, most of the time). That’s why it is important to travel knowing you are a catalyst to change people’s perceptions of our country and maybe along the way, change your own. And once you have challenged your personal notions and maybe others, then you’ve done the good work as a human being: maybe you haven’t changed a mind, but possibly a heart; that’s empathy; that’s compassion.
It takes a certain kind of person to move out of the country, any country.
In fact, any place you call home and have become accustomed or comfortable in your livelihood. This is what blue gold affords you, if you so choose to use your passport. The world is literally opened up to you. But use this power and this privilege wisely. I have seen many American’s perpetuate stereotypes of American life rather than break them down and educate. Utilizing your passport to travel or to live abroad levels the playing field in the job market (I imagine), it gives you a new perspective of community and culture (depending on the sensitivity of the person or awareness), it connects you to a new world of people and beliefs (again, people skills and cultural sensitivity are needed here). The privilege of having a powerful passport is self-development and growth and time. Traveling is a right and this experience to make things better at home. But, I am reminded as I am finishing these last sentences, what a privilege it is to leave the Unites States of America at any given moment and to return just as I left. I guess my only concern is, in these days, what kind of America will I return to, if I ever do decide to go home?
That blue gold damn near immunity;
we can come back home whenever we please.
Charles Snyder, Actor and Poet, from Long Beach, CA by way of SF Bay Area, CA. Snyder, writes and acts in theatre and film, he writes poetry and essays; a lil bit of this, a lil bit of that. In 2015, Snyder was a poetry fellow at VONA (Voices of Our Nation) and worked with Willie Perdomo. Snyder has two poems published at Abernathy Magazine. You can also find his work on his website at: charliesnyderpoet.com. Snyder, currently is working on a book of poetry and is now an extranjero, living in Spain.