By Gabriella Gricius
It's hard being black, admitted Taylor Johnson, 22, as she contemplated the question of race in Berlin versus the United States. Recipient of the Congress-Bundestag Exchange for Young Professionals, Johnson spent most of 2015 living, studying and working in Berlin. Although she tries not to make race a part of her daily life, Johnson acknowledges that, "people don't understand, when you're black, race plays a role in every aspect of your life." Occasionally breaking out into a wry smile and chuckle, Johnson contemplated race, affirmative action and what it is to be black in a country plagued by continuing racism.
Q: What was it like growing up black in the United States?
A: That's a difficult question to answer… I grew up in the Detroit area; that's majority black. The thing is, when you're only around black people, you don't think about being black, But I woke up and told myself, Taylor, get back to reality. Stop living in a dream world because this is about race. It is all about race.
Q: What do you mean by that?
A: In some way, when you grow up being black, you are taught to have these beauty standards you will never achieve. For example, we're told that straight hair is the best hair, but if I straighten my hair all of the time – I will damage it. This is how my hair grows out of my scalp. What do you mean it's not professional? Being black, you question your beauty. You question your intellect. You question your qualifications. You question everything about yourself because you are conditioned to think that you are not equal to everyone else.
Q: Do you think things have gotten any better under Obama?
A: No. Some people think that just because we have a black president, that it's a testament to why racism doesn't exist anymore. That is not the case whatsoever. It has gotten better. For the younger generation, we never thought we'd see a black president… Obama being in office lets us know we can't be stopped. Do I think it will happen again? No. But the fact that it happened once, technically two times, that sends a very powerful message to the black community.
Q: And what do you think about affirmative action?
A: You don't want to throw a pity party for being black, because it doesn't stop you from doing anything. You do have to work harder, and that's not fair. The only way you can advance is economically.
Q: Do you think white privilege plays a role in that?
A: People don't understand white privilege, but you can't deny it. I think the reason most white people don't care to talk about race is that they feel bad. They find it difficult to admit they have it better off than other people. However, no one is faulting you. It's all about the dialogue and to be able to better understand. When you are a position to help others; that is when you use your white privilege to help people. When you see something, speak up… when somebody that's white speaks up about this, unfortunately, it means more than what I'm saying.
Q: As a black woman?
A: As any minority. I feel I have to put my black identity first, even above feminism, and there's even separation in that.
Q: You're referring to the "white feminists"?
A: Yes. They are trying to differentiate between black and white women. And that for me is another reason to put black first. It is the first thing you notice about me. When someone disrespects me, I would assume it was because I was black, and not because I was a woman. When you're black, you have to always question: what if I had been white or anything other than what I am?
Q: Especially being black and a woman.
A: Exactly! It's a double whammy. Being a woman is hard, but being a black woman is harder.
Note: This interview was conducted in February 2016
While some Americans celebrated the Fourth of July yesterday with large BBQs and fireworks, a vast number of American expats celebrated Independence Day in the adopted countries abroad. Here’s a quick roundup of how some Americans felt about their country this year and how they celebrated their holiday:
Maria Nero: Originally from Hudson, New York; Currently Living in Berlin, Germany
I wouldn't say I feel quite so patriotic as I usually do. Given the current political situation in the US, it makes it more difficult for me to feel proud. I still celebrated a bit and convinced some of my non-american friends to join me in grilling Bratwurst (pretended they were hotdogs) in the park and drinking sangria with blueberries (red, white, and blue!!).
Trynitie Taylor: Originally from Clovis, California; Currently Living in Paris, France
How I'm celebrating Fourth of July is I've just put on my new NASA pjs (red white and blue) I figure it's festive. Grilling hamburgers on the planche (I somehow have no idea what that's called in English but it's like an indoor grill) with chips and beer. And my french partner is making blue Hawaiian with red sprinkles.
Aviva Stein: Originally from Santa Clarita, California; Currently Living in the Hague
As an American living abroad, recently it's been a complicated relationship with my identity. I will always be proud to be an American - proud of the diversity of cultures, the opportunities for education and work, the freedom to speak out for or against anything, and so many other wonderful things, which I celebrated together with other local Americans and their families here in The Hague, Netherlands. But that doesn't mean we don't have things to fix. Being on the outside looking in, it's been painful to see America's reputation slide steadily into the gutter. We have a long road ahead of us in addressing, accepting, and eventually rectifying all of the ongoing issues in our country. But ultimately, forward progress has always been the American way.
Heather Painter: Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Currently Living in Vienna, Austria
I spent the 4th at Skyline Park, an amusement park in Bavaria. I had red, white and blue on, like I do every Independence Day regardless of where I am. I was with my boyfriend, who is from Bavaria, and he has never been to the U.S. before but will visit this fall. In the car on the way back I played Chicken Fried and America the Beautiful and told him all of the things I appreciate and miss about home that hopefully he will experience soon.
Rebecca Wolfe: Originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Currently Living in London, England
I celebrated my 4th of July in London where I am currently a MA student at RADA. I had to attend dissertation performances so I wore an American Flag cape and started a "USA! USA!" chant in a pub. Although our country is facing a difficult chapter in our history I am still proud to be an American. I am free to express my grievances about the current administration without severe consequence.
And lastly a longer reflection…
Fatima Mohie-Eldin: Originally from Melrose, Massachusetts; Currently Living in Istanbul, Turkey
The 4th of July has always been a curious occurrence for me. As a Turkish-Arab-Muslim American, I’ve often felt “otherized” within America, despite it being my home, making it difficult to celebrate a country that I felt didn’t fully accept me.
For many minority communities, though, and for Native American and African American communities especially, Independence Day has always represented a problematic history of colonization and oppression. The institutional racism experienced by these communities today has its roots in the country’s founding documents that we are meant to celebrate on this day.
So this year, I barely thought about the holiday, as I normally don’t anymore. Donald Trump being president doesn’t make the oppressive underpinnings of the day any more or less robust. Given that many are now taking the opportunity to reflect on the day’s meaning, however, I hope more people will begin to focus on collectively forging a path towards a future in which we are all free from systemic oppression.