Redefining the Working Class

Originally published for The Baffler Magazine Issue no. 63 (“Proletarians”) in May 2022.

THE POSTMORTEMS WERE SWIFT and decisive. Despite winning the popular vote, Hillary Clinton had lost key Rust Belt States. Which meant she had been rejected by working-class voters—those white guys in hard hats. This analysis could be indirect or straight-on. Mark Lilla wrote on the New York Times op-ed page that Clinton’s loss was a rejection of “identity liberalism.” By acknowledging the interests of traditionally disfavored groups, she turned off “the white working class and those with strong religious convictions,” Lilla argued. Two days after the election, Joan C. Williams, author of White Working Class (2017), wrote for the Harvard Business Review that Clinton lost because blue-collar whites saw in her “the dorky arrogance and smugness of the professional elite.” Even Bernie Sanders, the so-called paragon of coalition building on the left, found himself deferring to the public narrative. “It is not good enough to have a liberal elite,” Sanders said on a CBS This Morning interview less than a week after election day. “I come from the white working class, and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to where I came from.”

There was nothing new in this critique of a losing Democratic campaign. When Ronald Reagan defeated Walter Mondale, a labor-friendly former vice president from Minnesota, in 1984, a series of focus groups led by the pollster Stanley Greenberg zeroed in on working-class voters in Macomb County, Michigan, who Greenberg famously labeled as “Reagan Democrats.” As one reporter noted at the time, Greenberg “found that these working-class whites interpreted Democratic calls for economic fairness as code for transfer payments to African Americans.” The New York Times reported a few days after the 1984 election that exit polls showed Mondale winning 90 percent of the African American vote. Yet Mondale apparently had been unable, in the Sanders formulation, to “talk to where I came from.”

There’s no dispute that general working-class support for Democrats has fluctuated from election cycle to election cycle. The one constant, though, is that “working-class” is almost always used in the media to suggest white, male workers. The representative Reagan Democrat was, literally, a white autoworker in Michigan. Even when the white prefix is used to indicate a specific research interest—as in Joan Williams’s White Working Class—there is still an unspoken assumption that this is the part of the working class that matters most. White workers were supposedly neglected in the 2016 campaigns, and so we ended up with Donald Trump instead of Hillary Clinton.

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Five New Yorkers Describe How Michael Bloomberg’s Era of Stop-and-Frisk Changed New York City

Originally published for OkayPlayer in March 2020.

Michael Bloomberg’s support of stop-and-frisk during his time as New York City mayor continues to follow him in his 2020 presidential campaign. We talked to five New Yorkers about how the policy impacted the city. 

The recent and rapid elevation of Michael Bloomberg‘s Presidential campaign into the national discourse is reminiscent, in many ways, of his original mayoral run in New York City in 2002. Forgoing fundraising from the public, he has nonetheless outspent his opponents multiple times over, having made FEC filings detailing $460 million in expenditures since announcing his bid in November of 2019. Both then and now, the largesse-via-electioneering nullified the opportunity for many opposing candidates to be comparably competitive or resonant as they were drowned out by a blank check and name recognition. Bloomberg’s presidential campaign has also resurfaced three words that leave an acrid taste in the majority of New Yorkers’ mouths — stop-and-frisk. A longstanding policing practice that disproportionately targeted Black and Brown communities in NYC, stop-and-frisk was defended by Bloomberg’s administration during — and well after — his departure from office.  

The phraseology behind the policy has taken on many forms as the decades have progressed, shapeshifting in language as administrations have waded in and out of Gracie Mansion. When former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani lorded over the five boroughs with former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton flanking him, the terminology that was used was known as broken windows policing. But New Yorkers’ lips have also formed other words over the years that trigger responses that are just as polarizing: Terry stops, stop-question-and-frisk, and the shorthand stop-and-frisk itself. Imagine, for example, the daily fanfare for “New York’s Finest,” and consider the protracted dissonance felt within communities of color after the tragic events of September 11. Spending night after night expressing gratitude for a group of men and women who, at a moment’s notice, could exact unspeakable horrors on the communities they were praised for protecting. The incidents that did make it into the national consciousness — Amadou DialloEric Garner, and Kalief Browder — may have shocked the country, but it simply laid bare wounds that New Yorkers had been carrying for years. Those traumas have been pulled back into the foreground with the fear of a competitive Bloomberg campaign. As it was recently written in an impassioned open letter to communities of color by New York organizers and officials in advance of Super Tuesday, “the extent of harm, humiliation and terror that the Bloomberg administration’s daily racial profiling and police violence caused in Black, Latinx and other communities of color cannot be overstated.”

The figures have been parsed through ad-nauseam in recent years, proving the failure of the program to successfully meet its stated objectives throughout Bloomberg’s mayoral tenure. An exegesis of the program, however, will show that it was actually quite successful, and worked exactly as designed. With every stop, New York’s gilded class was able to imprint a painful reminder that no matter how hard you may fight, the city does not — and will never — actually belong to you. You can see it in nearly every tweet that cascades down the #mybloombergstory hashtag which, as described by Dr. Jacob Remes of New York University, is “filled with stories of harassment and worse from Muslim, Black, and Brown New Yorkers who lived through Bloomberg’s racist authoritarianism.”

In speaking to fellow New Yorkers who lived through the Bloomberg era, it’s apparent that this pain is still very much tangible for many of us, with deep, multigenerational harms that we are still recovering from and enduring. It has laid waste to our siblings, our friends and ourselves. 

Tiffany Caban, 32, Astoria, Queens

Photo Credit: Polly Irungu for

It was in early 2002 when I was politicized and became more aware of differences in our communities. My parents grew up in the projects and my dad got a union gig, and we were able to move in a small home in Richmond Hill. I went to public school in a low-income neighborhood for elementary and junior high, but went to a private Catholic High School in Fresh Meadows in an entirely different neighborhood. That is where I could see the jarring different signs on what neighborhood looks like, and specifically what overpoliced neighborhoods look like as opposed to other neighborhoods. My best friends were constantly getting harassed or roughed up by the police, or had police officers in school and getting suspended. There’s a palpable difference to walking into a school where people feel free to move, free to exist, and don’t have those kinds of other stressors in their life.

When you look at places where we’re overpoliced and over surveilled, what we’re also talking about is a lack of resources to allow people to deal with their trauma and heal. So, trauma begets change, which begets instability, which begets violence. We’re quick to draw these surface-level conclusions about what happens in certain neighborhoods and not talk about what the root causes of violence are, and how we can tie that to trauma caused by state-sanctioned violence.

[As a public defender] you also see an overwhelming amount of young Black and brown men. But when we pick up those cases, you know who’s sitting in the courtroom? It’s the girlfriends and their wives and their children, and that disrupts and affects their lives in very significant ways. Whether it’s people that are scrounging up their last dollars for bail, people that are risking losing their housing or their job. A lot of times when we’re dealing with cases, people think that our biggest concern or fear is like, “Oh, God, I gotta make sure that I don’t end up with criminal records on this case,” or “I want the best legal outcome.” When, in reality, the lawyers are doing more social work or other services. Because the real purpose of the person that’s directly affected is something else that has to do with their living situation or their family, in terms of how destabilizing the arrest and the court appearances are for their lives. 

Photo Credit: Polly Irungu for

I had a client who was charged with a misdemeanor, and he had been arrested a handful of times. So, the prosecutor was offering jail or probation on this misdemeanor sentence. We had this very real conversation where [the client] was like, “Ms. Caban, I don’t know. I think I might take the 45 days in jail because I will never last on probation, because these same cops are roughing me up every other day.”

It still happens every single day. A really easy place to see it happening is here in Queens with the loitering for the purpose of prostitution. Predominantly trans women of color are being stopped and arrested for existing and walking down the street. That is another iteration of stop-and-frisk. Nobody has ruled that statute unconstitutional, because we’re talking about people who are on the margins of the margin. Unfortunately, there is not enough political will behind it to have the organizing and movement that it took to get to where we were on stop-and-frisk, and being able to get it to the courts and have it ruled unconstitutional. 

We have consistently taken these stances without centering or allowing survivors or victims to lead, and instead said, “Hey, we’re going to do these really harmful things to our Black and brown communities that create the optics of safety for white wealthy folks, at the expense of actual safety of the hands of state-sanctioned violence for Black and brown people.”

Ryan Anderson, 34, Cambria Heights, Queens

Photo Credit: Polly Irungu for

Until this day — whether I’m driving or whether I’m walking — when I see a NYPD officer my heart specifically skips a beat. I’m terrified. I usually move over and brake, no matter how fast I’m going.

The presence wasn’t as there as much where I grew up. But when I would go to 40 Projects [South Jamaica Houses] or certain parts…when you’re playing basketball, and the cops will just roll into the park and put everybody up against the fence and start asking you questions.

Photo Credit: Polly Irungu for

We were walking down Jamaica Avenue [once] — this was senior year of high school. I was walking back from work. I would go to McDonald’s and then come home after work. Walking down the avenue myself — maybe two blocks away from Jamaica — two cops stopped me and asked me “where I was going.” “Sir, I just left work. I’m headed to the bus station. I’m headed home.” “Well, we’ve heard that there’s been some noises and some issues in the area. So we want to just check to make sure that you’re good.” They pushed me up against the wall and proceeded to search and, of course, I don’t have anything on me. The worst part about it is that there’s never an apology. You have to take it or you know what happens if you kick back. That’s when you end up going to holding [detention center], that’s when you may end up being folded — even if you are 100% clean.

It’s scary to say but I’ve hit double digits [in stops] — I’ll leave it at that.

Civil, [Age Not Disclosed] Bushwick, Brooklyn

Photo Credit: Polly Irungu for

When you think about Harlem and Bedford–Stuyvesant, gentrification is clearly occurring in these areas. but you still see a semblance of the culture. Whereas like Bushwick, the culture was ate up within the span of that police presence. Just use the Puerto Rican Day parade as an example. It would go on until maybe 10, 11 [PM]. Now you won’t even hear nothing. Like, you will hear one horn beep. Block parties are not the same.

Photo Credit: Polly Irungu for

One of my close friends’ son was born one day, and we went to celebrate around the corner at this Chinese restaurant-bar. There was a group of girls that my friend knew from the block…he’s just saying, “What up” or whatever. The cops come out — they’ve been tailing them — and then just start pressing us. They push all of us against the wall, start frisking us. One of the cops is like, shook. I can see he’s scared. I’m like, “This is how shit happens.” This guy has his hand on his gun, and they’re trying to tell them to leave the young girls alone. We were there for like, 20, 30 minutes.

[I’ve been in] uncomfortable situations where it’s me by myself being pressed by five cops. I’m late to go somewhere…and the line of question is like, they’re asking me about shit in the Bronx, even though I’m deep in Brooklyn. They took my ID, walked off for 20 minutes, and just seemed like they were trying to place me somewhere.

Candace Simpson, [Age Not Disclosed] Flatbush, Brooklyn

Photo Credit: Polly Irungu for

I actually went to the same [high school] Bernie Sanders went to — [James] Madison. Madison was the kind of school where people came from all over. I was coming from Flatbush; my boyfriend at the time was coming from Canarsie; people were coming from East New York. So there’s this bus stop where the B7 and the B82 meet. We would all hang out and congregate right there. We would take the bus to like Utica-ish — where like the Wendy’s and the McDonald’s was — or we would take the B6 to the Junction.

One time we were coming from Madison and we ended up near Midwood High School. These cops — I don’t know if they were NYPD cops or if they were school safety agents because they wore the same uniforms — stopped us, and I was the only girl. There was like six of us. Then the cop was like, “Oh, can I see your student ID?” and we’re what — 15,16. This was before my understanding that interactions like that could become deadly. So, I was like, very bratty and very, you know, “I know my rights, my momma’s gonna call my lawyer.” In my mind, I’m thinking that I’m good, but the guys around me were kind of shook. Eventually, we showed the ID, and the cop was like, “You guys just match the description of someone we’re looking for.”

Multiple things are happening at once with the uptick of stop and frisk. That happens at the same time as major landscape changes for socializing for Black and brown youth. Empire [rolling rink in Brooklyn] doesn’t exist anymore, the movie theater at Kings Plaza doesn’t exist anymore. There are very few places where Black children can go and not be policed. What stop-and-frisk did to us over time, was it helped people to see groups of Black children out and wonder, “What y’all doin’?”…the places where we would go are being demolished, resold…our owners are being bought out. There are so many spaces that meant a lot to me as a teenager that don’t exist anymore. 

Photo Credit: Polly Irungu for

[Ending stop-and-frisk?] That’s like asking people who were enslaved before and after the proclamation went out. Like, it’s not on the books anymore, but if we were to carry that analogy, people are still sharecropping. There’s still a disproportionate force of oppression on Black and brown communities. People say that stop-and-frisk ended as an official policy in 2017. I don’t feel a difference. If I feel a difference it’s because neighborhoods are changing.

My hope, is that we can really get to a place where all Black lives matter, and we don’t negotiate or sacrifice the most vulnerable among us. Because once we surrender and sacrifice someone, then the logic just becomes open, and it’s just a matter of time before it gets to you. So, just because you don’t have somebody who’s locked up doesn’t mean that you should not care.

Gregory Herrera, 30, Washington Heights, NY

[In the Early 2000s] cops stopping kids who were not in school for “truancy” was still a thing…I was absent a lot from school — pretty much most of my academic life for a variety of reasons like taking care of my younger siblings if we couldn’t get a babysitter, helping my mom do shit, or just because I didn’t want to go to school. My mom was like, “Fine, whatever, your grades are good, I don’t have to worry about that.” So if I had to go to the store or something it was very much like, “I’m going to run down to the store real quick and come back up fast, because if a cop stops you they have the right to come up to you.”…my sense was just like, “I don’t really want to come across cops. They stop kids for being truants and they’ll stick you in the back of a van.”

It must have been ’04, ’05. We had this, like, big bulky Hewlett-Packard computer and it had a virus. A [Puerto Rican] friend of mine from church was like, “Yeah, bring it over to my house. I’ll wipe it clean, delete the hard drive whatever, reinstall it fresh.” I was like, “Cool.” So I put it in a trash bag and just took it over to him…by J Hood Wright Park…like West of Broadway, a little bit past Fort Washington which, if you’re born or raised in the Heights, that’s the white people side of the Heights.

A couple days go by, I go get it. I must have made it like a block and a half…I noticed this like, pudgy, middle-aged, nondescript white guy. Then I hear, “Oh, what’s that?” and I’m so caught off on the question that I answered it. The next thing I know, he catches up to me and goes like, “Police, stop right there” and shoved me up against the wall. I’m so thrown off by everything that’s happening that I dropped the computer and it lands on my foot a little bit. I had some form of ID — eventually, he was like, “It’s just, you know, we’ve got reports of people stealing computers around here,” and then he walks away.

It was just terrifying, fast as hell. And it just made me just be like, “I got to be on guard for all types of motherfuckers,” because this guy was dressed regularly and he wasn’t dressed like a cop or anything. If I see [cops] somewhere I’m clocking where they are and paying attention to where they’re moving to, because I don’t want to be near them. I don’t want them to be near me.

There are still people that are being stopped, questioned and then frisked. So it affects my actual job [as a public defender] immensely. Several of my clients — the reason that they have criminal charges — are based on stop-and-frisk type interactions.

Check out 2020 primary election dates here.

Reckoning With Slavery In France

Originally published for Essence Magazine.

On the June 1st taping of the weekly French late-night talk show On N’est Pas Couché (ONPC, loosely translated to “We’re Still Up” in English), French novelist and regular panelist Christine Angot stunned viewers by using the appearance of writer  Franz-Olivier Giesbert and his upcoming Nazi-era Germany novel, Le Schmock (The Schmuck) to make jarringcomments comparing the Holocaust to the Transatlantic Slave Trade and subsequent colonialism, significantly minimizing the latter:

“The purpose with the Jews during the war was to exterminate them, that is, to kill them, and that introduces a fundamental difference with black slavery where it was exactly the opposite. the idea was instead that they are in good shape, they are healthy, to be able to sell them and they are marketable.”

A cursory glance at the basic facts of the Trans- Atlantic Slave Trade quickly debunks the distorted falsehoods that Angot fabricated about the nature of chattel slavery, a centuries-long brutality with an immeasurable death toll. The additional insult to injury, however, lies in the audacity of any of the press within France – one of the pre-eminent colonizers of the Caribbean and Sub-Saharan Africa – making distinctions in the harms that were historically imposed upon Black people, while simultaneously imposing a cultural norm of rejecting to acknowledge the nuances of race altogether.

The largest slave rebellion in history, after all, was the Haitian Revolution – a transformative insurrection against the draconian rule of French overlords, who, despite Angot’s convictions, worked slaves so hard that half died within a few years of their arrival, and very few children lived beyond a few years of their birth on the island. As opposed to improving the quality of life, it was in fact more cost-efficient to bring in new slaves, leading to the highest death rates in the Western hemisphere – the Encyclopedia of Slave Resistance and Rebellion estimates that over a million slaves lost their lives at the hands of the French, exclusively on the state of what was then named Saint-Domingue.

While slavery may have been formally abolished by the French Republic in 1848, the French stranglehold of colonialism remained throughout the French West Indies and expanded in Francophone Africa, utilizing barbaric tactics to stamp out any attempts at self-determination well into the 20th century, and even in tandem with the tragic events of the Holocaust. It’s a circumstance that the esteemed Martinican writer and politician Aimé Césaire takes pains to examine in his seminal text Discourse on Colonialism:

“It would be worthwhile to study clinically, in detail, the steps taken by Hitler and Hitlerism and to reveal to the very distinguished, very humanistic, very Christian bourgeois of the twentieth century that without his being aware of it…he is being inconsistent and that, at bottom, what he cannot forgive Hitler for is not crime in itself, the crime against man, it is not the humiliation of man as such, it is the crime against the white man, the humiliation of the white man, and the fact that he applied to Europe colonialist procedures which until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the coolies of India, and the blacks of Africa.  “

Modern-day efforts continue to show a failure to reckon with the nature of what the true harms of France’s legacy has imparted on its Black Francophonie. In 2005 there was a disastrous attempt to put into law a mandate for schools to recognize the “positive role” of colonialism in history, to huge protests from citizens in the French West Indies.  And while colonialism is formally over, the outre-meror overseas departments, remain intact, maintaining the last vestiges of France’s control of Black nations, from Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean to Reunion and Mayotte off the East African coast.

Presently, in the French National Assembly legislative building, there is a longstanding painting that is intended to celebrate the abolition of slavery in France – except the artist, Herve di Rosa, controversially applied what he insists is a race-neutral iconography but at first glance seems to draw immediate association to Sambo imagery or Tintin in the Congo: large protruding red lips placed over dark skin. In response, Mame-Fatou Niang, an Associate Professor of French Studies at Carnegie Mellon University known for documentary film Mariannes  Noires, in collaboration with colleague Julien Suaudeau, started a campaign to have the painting removed from the government building, stating that “this ‘work of art’ constitutes a humiliating and dehumanizing insult to the millions of victims of slavery and to all their descendants.” In response, di Rosa – a white man –  has dismissed this call to action as censorship of the right to freedom within the art form, no matter the context, with the National Assembly stating that they had no plans to take down the painting, irrespective of the feelings of France’s Black population domestically and throughout the outre-mer.

As part of Angot’s talking points on ONPC, she emphasized “c’est pas vrai que les traumatismes sont les meme, c’est pas vrai que les souffrance infligées aux peuples sont les mêmes. Et c’est bien pour ça qu’on doit être attentif, chaque fois, au détail, a la particularité”; it’s untrue that traumas are the same, that suffering inflicted on people are the same, and that’s why we must be attentive each time, to the details and particularities. She is absolutely correct: the specificities of our collective experiences are critical and important when exploring the impacts of our tragedies. Considering that, it’s even more unfortunate that she fails to recognize the need to apply any regard to the significance of the cumulative Black experience, especially as part and parcel of the country she calls home, before launching into an assessment riddled with inaccuracies in favor of advancing a particular narrative. If race continues to be a taboo topic in France, then history will never be confronted with the proper weight it deserves, and we will continue to be forced to untangle a web of competing myths while the reality of the Black French diaspora remains obscured.  

Black Loiterers, White Lingerers, and Starbucks Coffee

Originally published for the Intelligencer at NYMag.

There is a well-known stereotype of a particular kind of coffee-shop patron — an aspiring screenwriter or freelancer, scrupulously cobbling together their pitches or book proposals, courtesy of their favorite local haunt’s free Wi-Fi, electrical outlets, and comfortable furniture, paying for their mobile home office with just a $2 cup of bottomless coffee. This patron, of course, is usually white. The trope has been both parodied and celebrated, and it’s easy to find lists ranking coffee places by how easily they can be transformed into work spaces. Since this lifehack only works by shifting costs from the patron to the coffee-shop owner, some coffee shops have responded by either eliminating Wi-Fi services or furniture — but I’ve never heard of an earnest novelist being carted away in handcuffs for spending several hours after their last order writing character sketches. Continue reading

The Death and Afterlife of Stephon Clark

Originally published for the Daily Intelligencer at NYMag.

On March 18, Stephon Clark’s life was brutally taken by police officers in his grandmother’s backyard. Body-cam footage shows police, who were responding to a report of break-ins in the neighborhood, opening fire seconds after one of the officers yells, “gun!” All that was found on Clark’s lifeless body, however, was an iPhone.

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Originally published on VerySmartBrothas and The Root.

I have an older cousin named Halima. She lives in Nimes with her husband and five-year-old daughter, named Hikma, who is an avid Frozen enthusiast (called La Reines des Neiges in French) and Beyonce-in-training.

For the most part, they live relatively peaceful middle-class existences. But every morning, Halima makes the trek from Nimes to Avignon to go work at the hospital there — and every morning, she quietly recites the basmala to herself. Bismillahirrahmanirrahim – “In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.” Those few words help her muster up the strength to get on the train and face her sincere fear that her next day on public transportation could be her last.

It should be no surprise that anti-Blackness is a phenomenon that extends to Western Europe, considering that they were the initial settlers of what is now America and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. However, the concept that countries like France are these magical, post-racial havens for the truly evolved and erudite has been a concept that seems to have persisted from the Baldwin era. Visions of smokey rooms where elites hobnob with Black American intellectuals over cognac and transcendent jazz music continue to be the predominant perspective, drawn out from the near-reverent recounting of Black American academics and artistic contemporaries from the Harlem Renaissance and post WWI-era.

You even see it in present day with renowned race and culture commentator Ta-Nehisi Coates, who during a recent interview, said the following:

“..the sociology that comes out of slavery is a little different from the sociology that comes out of colonialism. France colonized all sorts of people—Asian people, black people, whoever. So the relationship is a little different. It’s not a good relationship. But America has a very specific thing with black people. Here, the people who get it the worst are actually the Muslims…”

While that may be a seemingly innocuous statement, it obscures a few key things. Most glaringly, there’s an implication that France did not participate in chattel slavery, which it did, as did most Western European empires at the time. Secondly, while it is true that the French colonial empire extended to parts of Southeast Asia, any map of the modern French colonial empire will make it plainly clear that their rule extended primarily over Black nations — and that autonomy over Black states extended well into the the 20th century. The country where my family is from, Comoros, didn’t obtain independence until 1975; which is to say, my mother was born under French rule, with a French passport, and a French birth certificate.

What is arguably most glaring is this attempted bifurcation of race and religion — identities, which in France, are almost inextricably linked. Yes, France has a strong case of Islamophobia, which is made quite evident by things such as the “secular” law banning women from wearing religious headdresses in public, as well as the recently passed law enabling French government to revoke the birthright citizenship of anyone convicted of “terroristic” activity — terroristic activity being this amoebic catchall that is yet to be defined, of course.

That said, the key oversight in that assessment is that of the millions of French citizens and residents that self-identify as Muslim, approximately 80% of them at last count were 1st or 2nd generation descendants of the African continent. Subsequently, it is these people who are consistently harassed; pulled off trains and demanded to show their papers, pushed into slum communities (also known as banlieues), denied jobs they are qualified for, quality education or service without cause, arrested with limited justification, belittled via “satirical” comics.

And yes, even murdered, as we are in the United States.

On July 19th, Adama Traore, a Black Muslim Frenchman, died on his 24th birthday in police custody. As I write this, the family still doesn’t have any concrete answers as to what happened during his transport. This is a tragedy that we are all too familiar with here in the US, but it is a pain that reverberates globally; the extinguishing of Black bodies with little disregard or concern for the communities that continue to sear with the remnants of that anguish.

It is for those reasons that my cousin prays. She prays to get home in one piece. She prays to not run into law enforcement. She prays for her daughter to not have to recall her in memories before she should have to.

This isn’t the part of France you will see on TV. It might not even be the part of France you see in person; the banlieues exist on the outskirts for a reason, and if you just stay in the 20 arrondissements of Paris with your American passport in full view you may just consistently be viewed as a tourist first. I would certainly assume that a writer of Coates’s stature would be of the means to stay close to the city center, nor do I deride him for that choice. That experience, however, doesn’t dismiss the suffering of large swaths of Black communities just a few miles south. Black neighborhoods are being torn apart by fraught relationships with both police and non-POC demographics, and they are crying for their voices to be heard. We should take pains to not erase that context in framing our own personal experiences.

Baldwin once said of America, “all you are ever told in this country about being Black is that it is a terrible, terrible thing to be.” That sober reality unfortunately still hold us tight in our clutches in 2016; not just in the United States, but in large swaths of the Western World. Anti-Blackness is everywhere, even in the home of the Age of Enlightenment; and it would behoove us to step away from viewing White supremacy as a uniquely American problem as much as it is a pervasive viciousness that has left its imprints on Black populations the world over.