Waking Up in America

I’ve never felt like a stranger in this country. Until now. Even when the old lady asked me, a nineteen-year-old scholarship student at Colorado College, if my family lived in a tree in Jamaica, I never felt like a stranger. Even when my blind date from the Air Force Academy laughed with his friends that he never thought he’d date a “coon,” I never felt like a stranger. Even when I protested the war in Cambodia, getting tear-gassed in Wisconsin, I never felt like a stranger. Even when two drunk white boys yelled out “Niggers!” to my ex-husband and me, I never felt like a stranger. And when I decided, after many years in the Caribbean, to return to the United States in 2000, it was like coming home.

I am now a US citizen. The intertwined threads of this country, with its different colors and strengths, have created a fabric that has always felt exceedingly comfortable to wrap myself in. It has provided me with opportunities, staircases that drew me upward to higher and higher achievements. It introduced me to people who guided and led me to others. And when it was my turn to give back, I was more than ready to give back to my students, my employees, my readers. I would never have become all the things that I have become – entrepreneur, manager, professor and writer – had I not come to this country. My gratitude is deep and wide.

Now, and all of a sudden, I feel like a stranger. This is not the country that I know.

If half of the electorate want as their president a man who incites them to hate people who are different from them, that means they are capable of hating people like me. That kind of venom – and that kind of influence – can whip people into a frenzy. Frenzy enough to invade other countries. Frenzy enough to throw innocent people into jail, or concentration camps. Frenzy enough to deport immigrants.

When I lived in Germany, I was treated with kindness and courtesy. I admired the self-discipline and intelligence of the German people. It was very hard to believe that just thirty years before those people’s parents had supported a man who had blindfolded them with a hatred so great they could do what they did.

Politicians have a power and influence that we can’t even begin to understand. When I walk into a public place in Georgia today, I look around and think, half of these people want as their president a man who says Mexicans are rapists and murderers, who mocks the disabled, who insults people he disagrees with, who plans to ban Muslims from entering the country, who promises to build a wall to keep people out.

Suddenly, after forty-five years, I feel like a stranger.