Letters from a Black American Abroad-Part Two

You can read part one by clicking here.

part two

So I went off to school with these thoughts in my head. I kept trying to force them out, but I couldn’t. I needed to talk to someone. I needed to cry, to vent, to release.

One of my co-teachers brought in some morning snacks to share. So it was over a dish of fresh-picked wildberries where I interrupted their Korean conversation and said

You probably don’t know this but something awful happened in the U.S. yesterday.

They look at me confused.

What happened? they ask.

There was a shooting. A hate crime. It happened in my home state. A man went into a historical black church and shot nine people. A white man. I realize that I don’t know how to frame the story for them.

The more I say the more my throat clenches tighter against the words, beating them back.


Then: Why? What? How can this happen? Why did he do this?

He was a racist (wondering if they know the meaning of racist I want to convey). He hated black people. There’s a lot of racism in America right now. Especially between white and black people. He did this because of their race. Because they were black.

I’m unable to articulate myself maturely. Half because I want to simplify the language for them, but also because my emotions are getting the better of me.

And maybe because religion? One of them interjects.

NO!  I want to shout. They can’t understand…

I want them to relate to what I’m feeling but I don’t know what words to use.

I pause. Then start again as a way of finding an end to the nonversation. So yes, today is a really sad and bad day for me. And today is also Juneteenth. A holiday to celebrate the ending of slavery in America. (My mind starts running again: Do they know what American slavery is?)

Another pause.

The valleys of our discussion are filled with another handful of berries. The black juice stains my fingers.

My more political co-teacher asks In America, is it easy to get the gun?…What is a process to get it?

I’m not completely sure, but I think it involves a quick and easy half-assed background check and I tell them so. I also tell them if you want one illegally it’s just as easy.

The more timid of the two, the one who brought the berries, has been quiet. As the conversation continues all she will utter is small bouts of uncomfortable laughter.

The political one starts again, I could never live in America… Everyone—I mean not everyone–many people have guns. Guns are everywhere. I worry about that.


In America, can you carry the gun outside? In the open?

In some places, yes, it’s okay to carry a gun without covering it. (I want to add “If you’re white” but don’t.)

I can’t understand that, she says. It must be so scary. Anyone can just shoot you. And I think about that because if I go there and look different people can hurt me or my kids.

I nod. Yes. America likes to pretend that we are progressive and have no problems and are better than other countries but we aren’t. They have a lot of work to do.

Later that afternoon, the quiet co-teacher tells me Ana, I saw the story in Daum. (Korean Yahoo! News equivalent)

I wonder what the Korean news perspective is on the story. Through what lens are they viewing all this. But I feel tired and don’t bother to ask.


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