As hate seems to reign across the United States, I can’t help by reflect and compare my experience in Rwanda with the current issues plaguing cities across the United States. Just this past week, two black males were fatally shot in cities across the country from each other, one in Baton Rouge, LA and the other in a suburb of St. Paul, MN. Unfortunately, this has become more and more routine. A black male is THIRTEEN times more likely to be murdered in the United States than his white counterpart, and 84% of those murders involve a firearm (Huffington Post). In the past six months, 136 black people have been killed by the American police force (Huffington Post). Then just last night, in my hometown of Dallas, TX, 11 police officers were shot (5 killed) while escorting protesters (Dallas Morning News). As the violence hits home for me, I can’t help but alter my perspective on the BLM movement. Mobilization feels different when those who died could’ve been your friends, your neighbors, or your family. It strikes a different chord. Thousands are protesting, black and white alike, but this is not new. I could spend pages listing the black victims of police violence, and that is not okay. But now it seems we begin a list of peaceful police victims of BLM violence.
There is such an “us versus them” mentality, black versus white, police versus civilian. I’d like to contrast this with the past six weeks I’ve spent in Rwanda, a country characterized by its 1994 Genocide (despite the fact that other genocides occurred prior). It makes me wonder, at what point is enough, enough? At what point do we decide that we are one? Rwanda’s country ‘motto’ is “One Country, One People,” something I’ve felt Rwandans truly live by. Despite living as a minority of the population, I have never felt safer. In any situation that felt a little less than ideal, I could turn to my side and see either five Rwandans watching what’s happening, ready to (or already) say or do something, and then I could turn to my other side and see two police officers also ready to intervene. To them, while I am an umuzungu (white person), I am also a Rwandan. Therefore, despite having so little of a connection to the country, I am a part of that ‘one people,’ granting me the same safety, security, and trust that Rwandans now have in one another. Where did this trust come from? In a country where neighbors have absolutely no reason to trust each other, how is it that today there is such cohesion, such a sense of unity? I truly believe that a lot of this unity came from powerful leadership by Paul Kagame, from having a leader that moved forward with a mentality of, “What happened is not okay, and here is how we move forward.” We are one country, one people. We are no different. As President Obama said at the NATO summit this past week, “This is not a black issue. This is not a Hispanic issue. This is an American issue.” We are one. There is mobilization, but there is so much more hesitancy, and even more apathy. The answer is stricter gun laws. The answer is increased police presence. The answer is less hate. The answer is love.
As one of my colleagues working in Rwanda mentioned, though we’re returning to the U.S. soon, we don’t have to be worried. We are white, therefore we are “safe.” In a country that for so many years has served as a role model to other nations, a nation of immigrants, a melting pot, we can’t seem to look at one another as equals. It is difficult to be proud to be an American at this time. It is difficult to be proud to be part of a nation with growing inequality, greater discrimination, and rising levels of violence, not to mention a presidential candidate that exacerbates white supremacist ideology. Issues that have been pushed under the rug for years are finally surfacing, and we are not handling them the way we are capable of, the way we should, the way we can. I’ve found that when people in Rwanda ask me where I’m from, I pause before saying America, trying to decide as to whether or not the judgement followed is worth it. I cannot comprehend, let alone explain how the issues have come to be what they are now. It is embarrassing. It is appalling. It is a disgrace. People ask if I’m excited to return ‘home.’ I don’t know if I am. But as I return home, I hope I can bring some of the unity and some of the love that I’ve been so fortunate to witness in Rwanda.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.