I journeyed to New Orleans as a college freshman in Spring of 2007. Like millions throughout the world, I heard of the damage caused by Katrina and seen the images on television of blacks planted on top of their homes with the water rising just below their feet. These images were frightening, not because of content, but because these images revealed an unsettling reality—a reality that did not quite settle in until I cast my eyes on the actual damage.
After a twenty-four hour ride bus ride with a group of HBCU students like myself—I saw something I had never seen before. The image that has stayed with me over the years are plots of land where houses were lifted from the ground and the source of this damage–the levees. I remember seeing how low the levees were for those in the lower ninth ward, and how high and strong they were for a region that went largely unscathed in this natural disaster, The French Quarter. The images seen on television were horrible, but they merely scratched the surface of this national tragedy.
Then an eighteen-year-old girl, I knew racism existed, but this Alternative Spring Break proved an opportunity for me to “see” racism. These low levees illustrates the systemic disenfranchisement afforded to black bodies. A disenfranchisement that predisposed black bodies to genocide , a reality that accompanies the black body in various physiological, physical, and emotional manifestations throughout their navigation throughout the not so united states. Our contribution as university students was small but resonant—not only in action but in ideology. Namely, this experience illustrated that it is not enough to see the world beyond your window. Seeing must prove a gateway to change in order to foment advancement.
Traveling, or “seeing” various places has remains a priority in a global setting. Traveling or “Seeing” the world has always aligned with status, pseudo culture and a worldliness. With the rise of social media, seeing the world through travel now encompasses a visibility that has become a means to validate a false reality. Thus, seeing the world encompasses a shallow function existing to evoke envy from onlookers, or an escape. Seeing the world has very rarely existed as a gateway for change, for change does not accompany those who covet visibility emptily. To desire visibility without change is to operate emptily.
I initially mistook these sentiments for envy, in my previous acquiescence to conventional standards of life. I previously mistook sight and travel as singular experiences that elevated consciousness, a common though essential to breeding emptiness rather than enlightenment. I encountered this emptiness recently in an unassuming setting. This weekend, I attended a meeting for a black mayoral candidate and my punctuality placed me in the course of critical discourse. The other “early-to-arrive” individuals were elderly women who passed the time by exchanging stories about their travels. My company had journeyed to India, Africa, Australia and South America and they traded stories of food, vanity and scenery with great esteem. This preoccupation with visibility occurred without pictures but functioned without one remark of changOne woman remarked that traveling revealed just how “fortunate” we are. The “we” she referenced conceptualized the black bodies that bore her company as Americans, which made her comment sting with a dual insult. e. Seeing oppression should not afford the oppressed mind peace, but disrupt the tranquility to which they’ve lived their lives.
Oppression is a global epidemic. While the oppressed may occupy different shades, the hue of the oppressor remains constant. Oppression may not be as obvious to those who do not live in a third world country, but the invisible enemy is much more dangerous. To feel sympathy for those who do not have food or have to walk miles for water is not an appropriate emotion for those othered by western culture. We may not have to walk miles for food and clean water, but most blacks in North America rely on their oppressors for food, employment and education. Therefore, blacks throughout the diaspora mirror this same dynamic. Thus, the othered body in America is merely seconds away from the reality seen in third world countries. This mental distance nurtured between blacks in the western world and others like them throughout the diaspora is an essential component of systemic oppression.
What happens to your brother and sister happens to you. Failure to adopt this mentality prompts members of the oppressed black collective to treat issues of disenfranchisement as isolated incidents and not a shared reality.
A friend of mine recently visited New Orleans and gloated of his travel yet failed and to visit the lower ninth ward. In actuality, he seemed to not even recall the devastation Katrina caused in the black community a little over a decade ago. In fact, he dismissed the racist catastrophe that devastated many within the black collective with the phrase “things must be so much better now.” He made this conclusion without even have visited, a sad pattern mirrored by countless optimistic persons in the African diaspora. The western world nurtures the black mind to find solstice in patience, or trusting that things “get better” over time. This mentality mirrors those who “can take vacations to see the world, without any desire to change it.
Vacations function as a collective effort of leisure, a privilege no member of the black collective truly has due to their status as other. This leisure allows members of the black collective to find enjoyment where our brethren continue to suffer. This leisure allows us to trust that our oppression is an awkward phase to which we will grow out of eventually. This foments the varied manifestations to which we are oppressed. Visibility proves the contemporary world a platform for traditional problems, because most aim to see but few aim to change.
What a different world this would be if our journeys to other places operated with collective purpose. If the black collective aimed to create a life in which they did not seek a vacation from– If visibility proved a means to change, not to brag and decorate timelines with elaborate pictures—freedom would becomes a reality and a not a facet of optimism.
Vacations are temporary, and oppression could be too if we as collective sought to say “bon voyage” not to our over- burdened realities, but the layers of oppression that nurture a pseudo escape from its wrath.