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America Is On Fire: A Black US Citizen On Watching Their Country Burn From Afar

"For decades we have been walking on a societal institutional tightrope of systemic racism; we are climbing ladders that are simultaneously sinking in quicksand because white fragility is our foundation"

Earlier this year, Australia was on fire.

Every morning my eyes would tear up from the haze and my nose burned from the fumes. The sky would glow a hellish hue and I could not leave my house without strapping my face with a mask, which was all so foreshadowing. The world came together to support Australia and eventually, the fires ended, but not without indelibly scorching the people and the lush underbelly of the world.

Today, America is on fire. My country too is scorched and the peoplemy peopleare burning with the rage of systemic racism and police brutality, which feeds the fire of racial injustice to African Americans.

To put the current sociopolitical climate into words would be an injustice in itself, but if I am silent during this time, I’d be no better than the arsonist. The feeling that I have is one that I’m not sure I can articulate. I was born and raised in Queens, New York City, and graduated from college in 2017, a year after Trump was sworn into presidency.

The opportunities for Black women emerging into the creative field, which was already faint, vanished into the back pocket of a devastatingly powerful man. I then began planning my escape from America. I needed a break from the New York minute stress and the foreshadowing of a downward spiral, and so I ran away. My leap of faith led me on a serendipitous journey through Australia.

However, America is my forever home and there is an overwhelming black hole in my chest cavity filled with the words: I CAN’T BREATHE. My lungs are heavy from gasping at the endless images and videos. My eyes hurt from staring at the screen all day. My thumbs are cramped from checking people on social media who feel their silence is excusable. I can hear the heaviness of my heart as it paces in its empty room while the man in the Oval Office continues to play with matches. My brain is a welling cloud amidst a thunderstorm. It’s almost unfathomable that the very fatal pandemic of racism is in full effect.

In one word, I am enraged.


Being American and living in Australia makes me feel like I’m in a parallel universe. I am so close and connected through technology, yet so far away, and the crisis of coronavirus, police killings, and African American lynchings, highlight the harsh reality of the helplessness I feel while living abroad.

Facetiming my family and friends in New York during this time is a clusterf*ck. I see the fear in my mother’s eyes when she tells me she has to resume teaching in school during the pandemic. I hear the worry in my sisters voice as she walks on the tightrope of employment and unemployment. I can smell the hospital when my brother waits for his test results while sketching a portrait of another victim of racism, which could have been him. I can taste the appetite of change coating the throats of my friends protesting in the hollowed streets of Manhattan. I feel my dad’s pain and empathise as he spends another day in his Brooklyn home ordering Uber Eats while I eat at restaurants by the water, mask-free.

My ninety-eight year-old veteran-grandfather voted in hopes that his grandchildren have a future. I mailed in my ballot hoping that my grandchildren can be the future. This election will create generational ripples where we hope to swim and no longer drown. When I’m calling home, I’m calling America, but America isn’t calling me back.

My alternate universe in Australia isn’t much different and to be Black means that I am never completely safe. Here, there is a similar issue of social injustice plaguing the Aboriginal community and this further illustrates that, racism is worldwide and Black deaths at the hands of police is trending on social media as if it were a new dance craze.

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On Saturday, June 6th, I marched in the Sydney CBD with hundreds of people ready for justice, but my empowered strides were only baby steps in this global genocide. I felt and still feel guilty that I could not be home during the COVID-19 pandemic. I watched from afar as the disease ravaged through Black communities in America due to the systemic oppression.

For months the pandemic suffocated Black low-income neighbourhoods and working class. Without proper resources or the privilege to work from home, blue collar Black Americans had no choice but to over expose themselves. To split the yolk of economic inequality and lacking opportunity for African Americans would be impossible. As they scrambled to make the eggs in their basket work, the very real pandemic of racism left everyone scrambling.

Viral videos of Black modern lynchings, in broad daylight, occupied our screens and our minds. We watched Ahmaud get shot, we heard Taylor’s 911 call, we watched George suffocate, and we saw Jacob get shot seven times with his kids watching. We learned that Breonna’s wall filled with stray bullets received more justice than her Black body riddled with bullets. No person should have to endure the pain of hearing the last words that could one day be their own. 

I’ve been clicking the links, signing the petitions, checking people and made sure I was prepared to vote from abroad, but nothing feels like enough. So, I understand why America is on fire, I understand the protest, I understand the riots, and I even understand why there was looting. There is a fine line between opportunity and chance; looting sits very comfortably on that fine line.

Black woman protesting at the Black Lives Matter protest in Sydney
(Credit: @autybynature/Instagram)

People who loot feel like there is nothing left to lose when an allegiance they once pledged turned into an appraisal of a plague. We aren’t afforded the luxury of retail therapy in the Black community, where banks will purposely deny our black card. For decades, we have been walking on a societal institutional tightrope of systemic racism; we are climbing ladders that are simultaneously sinking in quicksand because white fragility is our foundation. How is it that my nation, the United States of America, has normalised dead black bodies before normalising living black bodies?

I come from a family of blue blood, so I’m doing everything in my power to abstain from jumping on the “Fuck the Police” narrative, but the system needs divine intervention. I’m appalled at what we call justice and I’m equally appalled at what we feel we need to do to be seen. I have friends who risked their lives to protest, I have non-POC friends extending support and educating themselves, and I have faith that this time, change will come. We need racism eradicated and that will only come with a radical change in power. This means we have to do the work too. We have to save ourselves.

Make no mistake, being an advocate and an activist is triggering and filling up white noise with Black voices is tasking. I recently obtained my master’s degree and submitted my dissertation, which is a poetic anthology about the experience of Black Americans, ranging from historical depictions to contemporaneity. My thesis hones in on the idea that “post”-colonialism does not exist; we live in an extended state of colonialism. I read my stories of black and blue to my white Australian classmates and professors who either couldn’t even fathom life beyond their smoke screen of privilege, but inhaled the fumes of my fears. When I initially started writing, almost a year ago, I never thought I’d be writing the collection at such a relevant and appropriate time.

Heartbreakingly, in the interim of writing the eulogy section of the anthology, I had to add many new names in a matter of weeks. Names to represent Black lives taken by racist brutality. I finally was able to pay homage to Ahmaud and run the 2.23 miles and in the dark, I ran and cried. They have us running in the dark for our freedom. How much history are we to repeat before we get to see an actual change?

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The horrific events going on in America are a direct reflection of the Black criminality myth, and we cannot stop fighting until people en masse are doing the work to suffocate their negative imagination of Black people.

While America metaphorically burns with five-hundred years of racial rage, the west coast blazes, perpetuating the visual embodiment of internalised racism and our plight to fight our way out of a fire with no intentions extinguish.

Temporary care, outreach, and support just will not do. Our fight for justice is overdue, yet continually subdued. If we want a forever change we must douse the white fire, which fuels the flames. Whether living on American soil or Australian, on election day, we must work towards our common goal.

On election day, we must vote out the arsonist.

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