We cannot hope to support each other in times of crisis by burying our heads in the sand, until we're the ones affected.
— Alexis Chateau PR (@AlexisChateauPR) October 2, 2017
The thing I hate most about living in America is the politics. And I don’t mean discussing politics; I mean living in it. I am the wrong gender, race, nationality, and class for almost every new policy that has been proposed; and worse, comes into place.
My everyday reality in America fares no better. Every week, I endure at least one incident of racism, xenophobia, or just plain racial-ignorance… in ATLANTA. If I threw in incidents of misogyny, especially male entitlement, the number climbs drastically.
Naturally, over time I find myself most comfortable in the company of other immigrants. There are many Americans I consider friends, but most are First Generation Americans with immigrant parents.
One of the things I’ve noted in this social circle — whether I meet immigrants from the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, or Latin America — is that if I ask them, “What do you think of America so far?” almost all of them answer with:
I love the country, but man, these people…
Why I Stayed
When I came to America in the summer of 2015, I was supposed to be here for summer vacation. But my husband essentially told me if I left, that was it. No more relationship. My so-called brilliant plan of going back and forth several times per year just wasn’t going to work for him.
When I spoke to my mother about it, outraged that I had essentially been handed a cloaked ultimatum, she told me he had a point. “I just know these Americans are going to vote in Trump,” she told me. “You might as well stay, or you might not be able to come back.”
And so, I stayed.
I’m glad I did, because Mom was right. He was voted in, and a lot of immigration and travel laws were either quietly or conspicuously changed. While the media remained outraged about the travel bans, a few smaller changes also took place.
In the past, immigration only required that you not stay more than 6 months on a visiting visa, after entering the country. These days, immigration has also been cracking down on people re-entering anew, after already spending 6 months during that calendar year.
Whether this is in all states, or differs on a case-by-case basis, it happened often enough that we opted not to invite my long-retired grandma up for her routine trip this year.
The Struggle Is Real
There are times when I wonder if it might not have been better to just remain in Jamaica. Sure I would be broke, and Alexis Chateau PR might not exist, but there is no price on freedom and being treated like a decent human being.
In Jamaica, I was treated as an upper to upper-middle class citizen because I was educated, gainfully employed, lived in a nice neighbourhood, and spent a great deal of time around the professional immigrants and expats. And in places where no one knew me, I was at least given the benefit of the doubt.
In America, I am still educated, own my own business, live in a great neighbourhood, have a spotless record — and it doesn’t mean a thing. I am still often treated as an uneducated hoodrat who should probably go back to where she came from.
At least once per week, I call one of my best friends back home to rant and rave at 2 in the morning about some new incident. Then, I clear my head, remember why I’m here, re-focus, and get back to work.
The irony is that, like all the other immigrants and expats I’ve come across, I love America. I have a great life here. I love my work, the home I renovated from scratch to meet my exact preferences, not having to budget my meals, and being geographically close to my family for the first time since 1999.
I love the woods in the east, the desert out west, and the city skyscrapers when they’re lit up against the night-sky. I enjoy the hiking trails, the food, and even the sub-par beaches (by Jamaican standards, anyway).
But the people here can make America a very difficult place to be an immigrant — especially in 2017. So what did I do about it? And how did I adjust? I started by getting rid of all my Ostrich friends, and family members.
What is an Ostrich?
I wonder if all the people who mute politics from their time-line will keep it muted for the deadliest shooting in modern American history.
— Alexis Chateau 🇯🇲 (@alexischateau_) October 2, 2017
Must be nice to be an ostrich.
— Alexis Chateau 🇯🇲 (@alexischateau_) October 2, 2017
Every time I talk about “Ostrich people”, I’m met with either laughter or a cocked eyebrow. Some already know what I’m referring to, but others will ask, What on Earth do I mean?
It’s simple, really. Ostriches are the people who like to bury their head in the sand, and wait for the world to right itself. You can rarely count on them to stand their own ground, much less stand for yours.
These are the people who say and do the following.
- Doesn’t care what happens on the news, because it doesn’t affect them anyway, and they “don’t need that negativity” in their lives.
- Refuses to discuss any hard topics, because it makes them uncomfortable and doesn’t directly affect them anyway.
- Mutes politics and social justice issues on their social media, because Game of Thrones and Kim Kardashian are easier topics than dying Puerto Ricans and dead Las Vegans.
- Insists racism does not exist, and that the media brainwashed minorities into believing otherwise.
- Witnesses acts of prejudice and discrimination against minority groups (including LGBTQs) and turns a blind eye.
- Thinks NFL athletes might have a point to protest, but should shut up and play ball, because that’s what they’re paid to do anyway. (Not to be confused with the ones who only hold the opinion that it’s disrespectful to the flag and anthem)
Why Ostriches Like the Sand
One of the things I noticed about most of the Ostriches I knew personally, is that they were all passionate about at least one issue close to them. However, they did not care about issues that didn’t directly affect them, even when it sometimes affected immediate friends and family members.
Some legitimately could not see outside their bubble of privilege, to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Some could, but found it easier to pretend the boogie man wasn’t hiding in the shadows. And others saw, understood, and even accepted it, but didn’t care, because it didn’t affect them anyway.
For all these types, the sand is a great place to tune into, to tune out everybody else’s problems. Why? So they can enjoy the privileges provided by a biased and divided society without distraction, of course.
Not surprisingly, all of these Ostriches were White American Males in their 20s and early 30s. After all, who else is less affected by recent political changes in America now — or possibly, ever?
Not Drawing a White Blanket
This is not to say that all White Males are rolling around in their hamster-bubble; or wearing sunshades of privilege, while they dig their toes in sand. Most of my friends here are still White men, and some are American.
So what makes these set non-Ostrich-like? Not one of them are — or have ever been — blind to the inequalities present in not just America, but the rest of the world. We may not agree on everything, but I value the fact that we can peacefully disagree, while sharing the same common values.
Those common values are:
- Inequalities exist, whether they specifically affect me, or not.
- Something must be done.
- It’s impossible that everyone will agree on what that something is.
- It is not our right to tell another group how to protest the inequalities that affect them, as long as they do so peacefully.
The Danger of Ostriches
So what dangers do Ostriches pose, particularly to minorities and immigrants?
The answer to that is simple. Minority-citizens constantly have their voices suppressed, and their opinions and personal narratives of life in America, discredited by people who have never lived a day in their shoes.
Meanwhile, immigrants and expatriates do not have the freedom of speech to the extent that citizens do anymore. Protesting is not something we can do without fear of retaliation that could extend to deportation. We are not here by right; but by privilege. A green card does not mean what it once did prior to 2017.
Thus, to continue to surround ourselves with people who refuse to understand our everyday reality, who constantly discredit our personal narratives, who try to make us feel guilty for speaking out, and who will not stand up and lend their voice on our behalf, not only erodes our mental health, but our perception of America.
I settled into a deep, dark hole in 2016, and if I never got rid of Ostrich No. 1 and all the others that followed, I’m sure I would still be there. I hinted at this transformation in a very popular post on this blog: How to Build a More Positive You.
If you put negativity in, you’ll get negativity out…
The negative inputs I mostly pay attention to are people.
After all, if you want to be a better and more positive you, surrounding yourself with jaded people, won’t get you very far.
So if you have Ostrich friends — even if you’re not a minority, immigrant, female, LGBTQ, or one of the other many systematically oppressed groups — it’s time you got rid of them before you become an Ostrich, too.
Don’t Be an Ostrich
Rather than police other Ostriches, however, our focus should be on policing ourselves. Don’t wait until an issue affects you, to make it your cause. It isn’t philanthropy, if you only care when you or someone close to you is the victim.
- I have zero student loans and a total debt of about $300, but I agree that something must be done about the student loan crisis burdening millennials.
- I am not an African-American, but I can see where the people and the culture that binds them together have suffered immensely, while I was in Jamaica basking in the glory of never having to be conscious of the fact that I’m of African descent.
- I have never suffered police brutality, or lost a family member to race-baited violence, but I am not blind to the fact that it exists and the desperation that leads to controversial means of protesting on public platforms.
- I am not an LGBTQ, but I support them, because like they rest of us they are human beings with a right to exercise the privileges of mutual consent.
- I do experience regular prejudice as a Black woman (emphasis on woman!) and an immigrant; and I reserve the right to speak out about that, too.
You don’t have to be affected by a cause to support it. You just have to care.