Anybody who knows me well will tell you that the use of such a vulgar slang like “shitty” is uncharacteristic of me. This week many joined Americans to celebrate Martin Luther King Jnr. Day. While great progress has been made regarding race relations in North America we still have a long way to go. Some white officer just showed me so!
SPEAK NO EVIL
Once I went all the way to defend myself in a court of law in another province of Canada, a three-hour flight from home, because I felt the police officer who had stopped me months prior was prejudiced because I was black. Even three-and-a-half years ago when I became the first black president (and only black staff at the time) of a predominantly middle-age, white Canadian organization someone came to inform me about one unhappy staff who was wondering, “Why did they [the board] bring this African here to lead us?” I could write a whole book on times I’ve felt ill-treated just because of the colour of my skin.
However, I try to avoid writing on racial tensions, in particular black/white issues, for a number of reasons (which I shan’t enumerate here); but like us all, when it really hits close to home we bury our ‘political correctness’ and as Nike says, “just do it.” As a black man living in North America, I have faced covet and overt discrimination—including being hooted at in a restaurant in southern Ontario by a white woman who I bet hadn’t ever left her province before let alone seeing the rest of the world—but none has gotten to me like the one last Friday. And it’s hard to forget because it was the infamous Friday the thirteenth (13/01/2017).
BLUE AND GREEN
My wife is the Chief Operating Officer of Adeshe Real Estate. As I’ve shared before, we believe in investing in assets towards financial freedom. Because she wanted to check on a property she recently purchased in Champlain, NY (the last major town in upstate New York before crossing the border into Quebec, Canada) last Friday we all decided as a family to go along with her just for the ride.
Out of my own stubbornness (that’s another subject for another day) I have not picked up Canadian citizenship or passport so whenever we travel it is a very interesting array of five blue Canadian passports and one green Ghanaian one—mine. As a result, usually I’m the one who delays the rest of the family at the border because I’m often asked to go into the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBD) building to receive an I-94 form to enter the States. This time, I was quite exhilarated that this wouldn’t be necessary because I had kept by last I-94 form intact in my passport since I got it last July six months prior. In fact, it was due to expire the next day (January 14) and so I planned to leave it with the Canadian border authorities upon our return from Champlain before re-entering Canada. Nothing could’ve prepared me for what was about to happen in Obama’s America.
BLACK AND WHITE
Had I known what was about to transpire I might not have changed from the lane of cars I originally was in. There weren’t too many cars at the border so barely two minutes after I switched lanes we got to pull our grey Dodge Caravan, laden with the Perbilets, to the window of Officer Robert.
After the initial pleasantries I handed him the deck of passports as he asked, “Where are you headed?”
“Just over to Champlain,” I confidently responded.
“What for?” he continued his inquiry.
“To check out a property we purchased over there?” I replied.
And that is when he lost it… This young, white kid (probably 20 or 21 years of age) then says, “THAT IS SUCH A SHITTY STORY!”
“What? Excuse me?” I retorted in disbelief. “Did you say “Shitty Story?”
Officer Robert not only had no remorse but in addition, decided to ask us to proceed into the building I was hoping I could avoid a waste of time in.
“Why do we need to do that?” I insisted, “since I have a valid I-94?”
The young man in his white prejudice had either been blinded to that fact or couldn’t care less.
“Too bad, you still have to go because I’ve already punched it in the system that you’re heading there.”
I expressed by utter disgust at his unprofessionalism and promised I would report him to his supervisor. Again, he couldn’t be bothered.
STUPIDITY, LIKE SUCCESS, HAS NO COLOUR
So we dragged ourselves in our annoyance—a family of six, with four children bundled in cumbersome winter jackets, hats and stuff—into the building. My wife Anyele was fuming; going gaga! And she had every right to.
The officer who received our documents inside wondered why on earth we had been asked to come and see her when I had a valid I-94—and even planned to return to Canada not just the same day, but even in less than an hour’s time! She just handed our passports back to me and asked us to proceed but I wouldn’t let this slip by without a fight. I told her I wanted to see their supervisor.
When I did launch my complaint against Officer Robert—from his rude attitude through to his uncouth, vulgar “shitty story” statement to his incompetence (can’t even read a date!) in sending us into the building—she casually apologized and said she would have a conversation with the young man but I noticed what really got her taking me very seriously was when I said, “I’m going to put this on FaceBook.”
She made a copy of my passport and handed me a formal complaint sheet to fill and submit. They’ll be receiving it soon, DV.
RED & WHITE STRIPES
I have travelled to some 30 countries and sometimes met with some very annoying circumstances but honestly I have never felt more disrespected at an international border. The last place I would think would be Obama’s America.
So, half a century after Martin Luther King’s civil rights fights and significant progress made—to the extent that eight years ago we saw a black man occupy the White house—the evil of racial prejudice and discrimination still has deep roots in the United States of America. At least I wasn’t shot at like others unfortunately have, leaving Anyele a widow with four fatherless children.
I have heard and read of many glamourous and well-known bright, black stars in the land of Red and White Stripes that have been very badly treated because of their skin colour; in spite of their glory and fame. Even some maintain that President Obama himself, by virtue of his black heritage, has been, arguably, the most disrespected sitting U.S. President till date.
Many were surprised when the Republican Party’s only African-American senator, South Carolina’s Tim Scott, told the U.S. Congress last year that since he came into office, he had been stopped seven times by police in a single year.
Scott said that one of his black staffers in Washington, D.C., got so tired of being pulled over in his nice car that he sold it.
“Imagine the frustration, the irritation, the loss of dignity that accompanies each of those stops?” he said.
“While I thank God that I have not endured bodily harm, I have however felt the pressure applied by the scales of justice when they are slanted,” he said.
“I have felt the anger, the frustration, the sadness and the humiliation that comes with feeling like you’re being targeted for nothing more than being just yourself,” he added.
In fact, in this CNN video clip he admits that while he was rightly accosted sometimes because he was in the wrong–speeding–he laments, “But the vast majority of the time I was pulled over for nothing more than driving a new car in the wrong neighbourhood or some other reason just as trivial.”
DREAM OR NIGHTMARE?
This week is historic in America. The same week that began with a Monday on which Martin Luther King Jnr. is celebrated, closes on a Friday when the first and only black president leaves the Oval office for a white one who many fear isn’t exactly colour-blind. We, my family and I, were living our dream of being international investors, a reality some white officer thought was so incredulous for a black family with an accent to live in—a “shitty story,” even in the year 2017 in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
As Obama gives way to Trump will Martin Luther King’s dream, “… that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” remain a dream, become a reality or even morph into a nightmare? We watch and pray.