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The reckoning: reflections from former CSA president

After the Carletonian asked me to write a reflection piece for the paper’s last issue of the term a week ago, I started sifting through four years of memories to pick that one defining experience which would better encapsulate my time at Carleton. I probably wrote and discarded three different pieces about my stint as CSA President, my off-campus studies in Europe, and my time working at the Center for Community and Civic Engagement. But since then, a lot has changed. The world’s shared conscience has been gripped by the brutal murder of yet another Black man, George Floyd, at the hands of a white police officer. 

I find myself bereft of words to articulate my anguish and anger over the casual dehumanization of George Floyd. I cannot shake off the image of Derek Chauvin—the white police officer in question—kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, his hands calmly in his pockets. What is even more egregious is how Chauvin’s fellow officers stood there with utter indifference as Flyod gasped for air. 

My phone, for the past week, has been abuzz with messages of comfort—but mainly concern—from my family and loved ones back in Zimbabwe. For the first time in their lives, they are being confronted by an uncomfortable truth that I, their eldest son, could, at any time, suffer the same fate as George Floyd, or Amhaud Abery, or Breonna Taylor at the hands of police officers or white vigilantes. It does not even matter that I am college-educated or that I am an African ‘fresh off the boat’ in America, which only becomes apparent when I open my mouth to speak. When cops or white vigilantes see me, they just see a Black man. Despite my accomplishments or stereotypically African ‘good manners,’ I will always be reduced to the color of my skin in this country. It is a truly heartbreaking realization. 

Growing up in a Black majority African nation, I never had to think about my Blackness, because it had no bearing whatsoever on how I was perceived or treated. After all, I was a born-free, born 16 years after Zimbabwe’s independence from white minority rule. It was not until the end of my freshman year at Carleton that I started to grapple with what it meant to be a Black person in a predominantly white space. It was my moment of reckoning, if you will. Suddenly, I became desperate to get away; I even considered going back home, which was—and still is—weighed down by triple-digit inflation, nepotistic corruption, and a grossly incompetent government. I wanted to retreat to the familiar, even though I had just escaped that familiar to pursue the American dream.

As it turned out, I did not need to travel 9,000 miles to achieve a sense of belonging. I found community in other Black and Brown students on campus. Some of them became lifelong friends; they invited me to their parties, introduced me to their families, taught me how to drown out the microaggressions, and stood by me in my worst moments. The Office of Intercultural and International Life, where I worked as a Peer Leader during my sophomore year and spent many a night laughing with friends, became a space I went to for solace and reorientation.

I spent the rest of my time at Carleton thinking and trying to understand what, as a community, it was teaching me about my values and my own prejudices. I took a smorgasbord of coursework and extracurriculars that challenged me to think critically about the world and my purpose in it. The people I conversed with on sidewalks, in queues for late-night Sayles, or in CSA, always challenged me to read more and speak out more. For all its faults, Carleton allowed me to redefine myself, adapt, and grow. I will always look back at my time there fondly. 

Now that I have left the Carleton bubble and its comforts (safety, for one), I find navigating life in the ‘real world’ to be as traumatizing as tightrope walking. And I find myself increasingly questioning my path and future in this country. The brutal murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of the police, who are supposed to ‘serve and protect,’ have left me shaken to my core. I cannot help but wonder: Is the American dream really worth my life?  

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