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The Country that I Love and Chose to Live – An Immigrant’s Experience

I feel responsible to learn more and do more these days about racism in the country I chose to live. Nobody brought me here. I chose to live here.

Do you know why? I had the desire to live where there is racial justice, where there is diversity, where everyone is accepted for who they are. That is how I saw US in my first 30 years of life.

I never ever forgot how happy I felt to be among a diverse group of people representing dozens of countries.

I tell this part of my story everywhere and in my book; I always wanted to recreate the amazing diverse environment I experienced at a youth camp when I was 20. When I went to this camp with young people like me from all around the world, with no coincidence, I first became friends with the Greeks. I was always told; we as Turkish people do not get along with them. Well, I realized we do. I loved them and we had so much in common including our cuisine. Then I met an Egyptian, then I met an Austrian, then an American, then a Swedish and I realized all the differences I was told were coming from politicians, not the real people; we were all the same. I met my first African-American friend there too.  I never ever forgot how happy I felt to be among a diverse group of people representing dozens of countries. The overwhelming feeling was of unity and equality. It made me so content. I knew the whole world should feel this way too.

I lived in the US between the ages of 3 and 5. I do not remember too much. After that, I came back to the US a few times and I always felt good here. I was taking trips to Europe a lot more at the time; I did not felt as welcomed there as a Turkish citizen. All the things I had to do to get a travelling visa was ridiculous; it made me feel like a second class world citizen. When I said I am Turkish, they would compare me to people who were brought to Europe for cheap labor and think less of me. I always felt it. The USA never made me feel that way. I had a tourist visa for 10 years. That alone was extraordinary for me while all my visas to go to Europe was only for a week or a few months at a time.

I always saw the US as diverse as a country can be. They have people from all over the world. They treat them equally. It is a country of immigrants. Everyone came from some other country at some point. This made the US always so special for so many people in the world. We all looked up to what the US was able to accomplish. They had slavery at some point, but it was in the past. So I decided it is the perfect place to recreate how I felt in that youth camp.

That is why I chose to live here.

Now I see my own ignorance. My lack of education in racism. I did not see the realities before I came here.

We can get so comfortable knowing we are not racists. We are not treating black people bad, so it is not on me. Those racists should do better. They should be fixed, not me. We think it is enough to be against racism. Some white people do not treat black people with respect and dignity; there is injustice. Justice needs to find its place, but again, that has nothing to do with me. We would never do those terrible things to them. We think it is enough to feel empathy.

We hear white supremacy and systemic racism and we think we know what they mean. We think it is enough to look at the words only and think we understand.   We do not even want to watch movies that show the brutal facts about racism because it makes us uncomfortable. While we cannot even stomach the movie, we ignore that those are daily experiences of the black community. We think it is enough to know the racism still exists.

Now we are waking up to the fact that none of this is enough, has never been enough.   I learned a lot more in these two weeks than I learned all my life about black communities.

We need to figure out what our values are, what we want to stand for as a nation, what our purpose is as a country emerging from this.

How do we want the world to know us? How do we support the black communities now that we have awakened more?

The first step I see as an immigrant is:

To LISTEN a lot more and LEARN more, then ACT and DO more.

Without going into heart-breaking stories, stats, or real facts, these are some of the very basic things I learned so far:

  • I learned it is not right to say All Lives Matter now, even if you mean to say you are one of us. It is Black Lives Matter.
  • I learned to shut up and listen and not make it about us. Handing the microphone is what we need to do.
  • I learned that it is important not to be color blind. I thought it was a good thing not to pay attention to the skin color of my friends and not seeing the difference. I understood they don’t appreciate that.
  • I learned not being racist is never enough. We need to stand behind and close to black people to fight for their rights. We need to part of the solution.
  • I learned that not doing anything is complacency.
  • I learned that I did not really understand white supremacy and systemic racism meant.
  • I learned that I did not know the deep causes that discriminated blacks after I learned that there is still a lot of modern slavery happening under different names.
  • I learned that some of this injustice was actually planned when I watched the documentaries.
  • I learned that my black friends do not want sympathy but empathy.
  • I learned that what I already understood in these last two weeks is nothing compared to all the other lessons I will continue to learn.

Many white-skinned people feel guilty. I think we can all take responsibility without the guilt.

I feel responsible to learn more and do more about the racism issues in the country I dearly love. I still want to keep my dream as a 20-year-old alive. I want to see the US as an amazing leader of equality and justice that the whole world looks up to. We have all the ingredients already; we are the most diverse country. Let’s do everything we can to use that power for good in humanity.

Let’s make sure changes are made not only now but to carry them into the future so that my black friends can feel safe raising their children in the country they also love. Probably no 20-year-old now thinks the US has left racism behind like I did at the time. We are so global, news, videos travel in the speed of light. People all around the world are protesting seeing the injustice. So let’s strive to be that country that people all around the world admire and choose to live.

____________________

This intent of this article is to reach people who are not in my circles, who do not hear different points, who do not have black friends, who may not have heard or read what I heard and read during these two weeks. I hope the people who read this learn one new thing that they have not heard before like I did from others.

Here are some list of movies and books I was recommended in case you want to check them out too.

Books:

  • How to be Anti-Racist,  Ibram Kendi
  • So You Want to Talk about Race, Ijeoma Oluo
  • The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander
  • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria, Beverly Daniel Tatum
  • The Memo, Minda Harts
  • YA Novel – The South of Black Forgiveness, Dr. Donna Clovis
  • White Fragility – Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin Diangelo
  • Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out, Ruth King
  • Writings on the Wall, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Movies:

  • 13th
  • American Son
  • Dear White People
  • If Beale St Could Talk
  • King in the Wilderness
  • See You Yesterday
  • The Hate You Give
  • When They See Us
  • Just Mercy

Brooke O. Erol
Brooke O. Erolhttps://www.purposeful.business/
Brooke O. Erol started her career at IBM following the traditional path she was given to be "successful". She quit her "great job" on paper after 11 years, feeling she is not aligned with it. She started her journey to find her purpose in life. She started her first business in 2003; Your Best Life to help professionals who don’t like their jobs and want to find more meaning at work. After being around so many unhappy people at work as her clients, she decided to help the organizations and leaders who employed them. She started her second business; Purposeful Business to help leaders catch up with our times and grow their businesses without sacrificing the well-being of their people; where profit becomes a by-product rather than the main goal. She believes life is too precious to live only for weekends and retirement. She is the author of Create a Life You Love. She is also the co-author of "From Hierarchy to High Performance: Unleashing the Hidden Superpowers of Ordinary People to Realize Extraordinary Results" that became an International Best Seller in 2018. She speaks and writes about Leadership, Purpose-Driven Life and Organizations, Future of Work in the US, and abroad.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Ozlem you made me cry all my tears and I’m ironically #grateful! 🙏🧚‍♀️🙏

    The main reason why I didn’t even dedicate a specific essay to the last events around racism is that this is only one of the numerous manifestations of the social lens who have been distorted by the character-disturbed manipulators — among whom the narcissists — who are almost disconnected from their conscience explaining how they can do the same harm over and over again.

    The most brilliant of them are definitely not explicit in their lack of #principled #behavior and the cancer they are spreading by their subtle manipulative strategies CREATING THE LIMITING BELIEFS FOR THE KIND-HEARTED FOLKS IN TGE FIRST PLACE.

    “Like the Aryan conquerors of India, white Europeans in the Americas wanted to be seen not only as economically successful but also as pious, just and objective. Religious and scientific myths were pressed into service to justify this division. Theologians argued that Africans decend from Ham, son of Noah, saddled by his father with a curse that his offspring would be slaves. Biologists argued that blacks are less intelligent than whites and their moral sense less developed. Doctors alleged that blacks live in filth and spread diseases — in other words, they are source of pollution. These myths struck a chord in American culture, and in Western culture generally. They continued to exert their influence long after the conditions that created slavery had disappeared. In the early nineteenth century imperial Britain outlawed slavery and stopped Atlantic slave trade, and in the decades that followed slavery was gradually outlawed throughout the American continent. Notably, this was the first and only time in history that slaveholding societies voluntarily abolished slavery. But, even though the slaves were freed, the racist myths that justified slavery persisted. Separation of the races was maintained by racist legislation and social custom. The result was a self-reinforcing cycle of cause and effect, a vicious circle ~ a small extract of a masterpiece called Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.

    More to the point: good people are definitely the secret arm. How? Through re-writing their limiting beliefs abour the world and contributing in Reversing the crappy system!

    We only need to start being aware of the trap, that anything which is vilolating the universal correct principles is nothing but a creation of the sick ego, and that we have all the power we need to break it 💙

    We all come to this life and spend some time. The question we probably need to ask ourselves is:

    “How do we want to be remembered?”

    • Wow Myriam! Thank you for sharing your wisdom here and reading my article. I am glad it resonated with you it looks like you have a lot of knowledge around this and we all should. That was my ignorant part where I thought I knew a lot but realized I really don’t know all the facts or even for those things I knew I did not understand all the implications. Thank you for all you do in the world as we share more we will connect more and do more. yes how we want to be remembered as individuals, as a nation and as a generation is so important! Thank you again for your heartfelt words.

  2. Oh dear Brooke, I don’t think you’re the only one who thought the “US has left racism behind.” I think there are many, many, many people who are surprised to realize that it’s still a problem. People in communities that aren’t diverse don’t see. Even when you live in a community that is diverse, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to something you’re not experiencing. Only after the 2016 election did I realize that there was a dangerous undercurrent of racism still woven throughout our culture. Before then, I had the luxury to not see what was happening right in front of my eyes. I’m disappointed in myself and really resonated with your statements about learning more in the last two weeks that I had in a lifetime and taking responsibility. I also yearn to experience that incredible world you saw through your 20-year-old’s-rose-colored-glasses and believe that it is a vision worth fighting for. Hugs to you, my amazing friend!

    • It is kind of relieving to hear these words from you Kimberly. Someone who is very attentive, sensitive to others, conscientious and brave. I keep on going backwards and trying to understand how I could have been so blind and so naive. I guess we are all in this same process learning and educating ourselves more. I love the “20-year-old’s-rose-colored-glasses” phrase. So true.

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