I’m angry. Tragedy has touched Paris and now Mali this week but I must confess that the root of my anger is not those attacks. I’m angry because international terror now directly impacts me. I work, more or less, across the street from the White House: the newest target announced by Isis. Daily, I take a subway train into work, mindful that the subways in London, Tokyo and Madrid have all been attacked in my lifetime. This is real for me and I’m angry about it.
I am a black man living in America and as such, I live with disappointments in my country daily: the continual aftershocks of slavery, neo-slavery, mass incarceration and a host of other policies and practices that lead to inequity. While committed to that ongoing pursuit of justice, I find myself in the curious position of being a target of terrorists because I am an American, ironically. Al-Qaeda has said over the years that their grievances have to do with “America’s protection of corrupt Muslim regimes, unqualified support for Israel, the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and a further litany of real-world grievances,” as Michael Scheuer, a former senior CIA official explained. But the decision to support an oppressive regime in Saudi Arabia (for oil, obviously) while preaching democracy in the “Muslim” world was not my decision. Further, I never actually got a vote on our policy toward Israel and Palestine. Even so, the consequences very well could fall on me: a black man.
Osama Bin-Laden often complained of U.S aggression toward Muslim lands. No greater example exists than the invasion of Iraq: a country which had never attacked the U.S, had nothing to do with 9/11 and was ruled by Saddam Hussein: a tyrant we supported for years through many atrocities until we decided to dump him. That invasion led to the creation of the ISIS, the very group targeting the area which I commute to daily. I never agreed to send troops to Iraq and in fact was against the decision at the time. Even so, this week I actually felt the need to leave work early due to threats on the White House. Decisions which had nothing to do with me, decisions I may have not even agreed with, now literally put my life in jeopardy and there’s seemingly little I can do about it. I’m angry.
I cannot change American foreign policy. There are days when I wonder whether any of us can. As an example, the protests against the Iraq War were considered to be the largest in history and yet the war went off without much of a hitch. I only know that there are individuals and groups who would do harm to me because I live in a country that has, in their view, given them just cause over time. Those who might do harm to me may or may not know that my people have untold grievances against this country and still seek justice. They may or may not know that I did not consent to any of the actions they are protesting and that I myself may disagree with many of them. I can’t say what they know or whether they care.
What is known is that this black man lives in a constant state of peril. I fear being misunderstood or misidentified by citizens and law enforcement alike. I fear being denied credit when seeking to secure the American Dream and a host of other familiar scenarios. Now, however, I live with a new fear and like many of the old ones, I had nothing to do with creating the conditions but I very well could bear the consequences.