In light of developments in Trayvon Martin’s case, I would like to share my story which I hope will inspire honest consideration of America’s path forward. I don’t view Trayvon’s death as a singular tragedy. It’s a culmination of many things that have gone awry in America and it’s imperative that we push for change irrespective of the outcome of this case. This is especially important to me as I want my child to thrive in all ways.
My son was born and raised in Berlin, Germany. He never wanted for anything material and lived in a very free and open society there. On several occasions, German authorities and citizens advocated for more integration and a “multi-cultural society” which I always found strange because my experience as an African-American female had always been extremely positive in every German city I had visited. This very same view was also shared by all of my male African-American friends who came from various backgrounds. Living in Berlin taught me that life can be different.
Here, we live in a “free” society that neither ensures nor nurtures basic human rights. Poverty and social injustice are, thus, a given. This will remain so as long as our socio-economic system is allowed to thrive at our expense. I knew this in an abstract way before relocating to Germany in the 80s, but it’s been driven home many times since my return in 2007.
Here is an example of how things should be. I was diagnosed with a barely operable tumor in my spinal canal in 2002. I spent five weeks in the hospital. Four weeks were for pre-op preparation and observation. My surgeon, who was selected for me because he was the best in his field, was flown in from Munich after preparing extensively and consulting with doctors worldwide. The 7-hour high tech surgery was extremely successful. Total cost to me: EUR 50 ($44 at that time), no deductible.
There is a different reality here in America. My son, who was never uninsured due to Germany’s mandate, and I could not be immediately insured after our arrival in the U.S. despite my having made the proper arrangements. The reasons given despite my clean bill of health from a German physician who also administered stringent pre-employment physicals for the U.S. Embassy in Berlin were astounding. Several weeks and a freak accident later, I had to pay nearly $5,000 for my son’s emergency treatment. And, we were still uninsured.
I concretely know now that the reality of the “American Dream” is a nightmare for the majority. As the VP of our family-owned in-home care agency that provides health services to Medicaid clients, I can’t begin to tell you of the injustices I’ve seen. We can’t continue to support this dehumanizing system. Although the Civil Rights movement enabled the economic and social prospects of minorities to rise in the 70s and 80s, these prospects weren’t deep or wide enough to sustain opportunity. That rise was created within a system and social mindset that relies on a systemic poverty paradigm. This paradigm ensures that a few retain not only the power of the purse, but the power of you.
I’d hoped things had changed for the better. On the surface, racism appears to be waning. We see it on television and experience it on occasion. But the stark reality of American racism and poverty remains deep and systemic. Systemic poverty isn’t only the root of the majority of our problems and a justification for the maintenance of racism. Systemic poverty is also the tool and it has entered into an era where it’s being wielded indiscriminately.
There’s a simple yet scary truth in what America is facing. We are obliterating our most precious resource, us. Social-market economies aren’t perfect but they’re much closer to perfection than most Americans know. What pundits will say about transitioning to a social-market economy has already been stamped into our psyche: “socialism”, historical and demographic differences, etc. Ironically, those excuses will be made by the very people who’ve enjoyed wonderful stays in European capitals with little to no crime and top infrastructure.
But until America opens its eyes and consciously makes the decision to effect thorough and lasting change to empower everyone in determining their own future, I’m considering having the conversation that African-American parents have had with their male children since the first African slaves arrived…the very conversation that I wouldn’t have to hold in Berlin. If I do so, I will hold the same conversation that my parents held with my brother and my grandparents held with my father. By doing so, I will show him the cage that he is in and the chains he is shackled to in order to keep him alive. And the next morning, he is going to wake up and realize that he is Black in America.