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“I don’t want to raise my children in this country.”

I’ve seen many iterations of that sentiment on social media, and I get it. As should anyone who pays any attention to the news and/or has personally experienced the permanent and occasionally paralyzing anxiety present when raising a little Black or Brown boy or girl in the United States of America of today. I understand wanting to escape to a utopia where all people are actually judged by the content of the character. I just don’t know where that place is. I’ve even been guilty of thinking about living the expat life and chunking up the deuce to my home country. Then I remember that the first negative interaction that I had with police happened in the land of liberté, egalité, et fraternité: France.

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I was on the way from one small town to another, a trip I had taken many times to see old friends. There was a train stopover for about an hour, so I decided to get eat something instead of staying in the small station. I had been in that town before; visited friends, shopped in its little shops, gone to its bars all without incident. After I ate, I left the little restaurant, walking briskly to make sure I had enough time to get my preferred seat on the train. That’s when I saw two police officers. I smiled at them, as I do most humans, and continued on my way. A few steps later they said “Mademoiselle!” and asked me to stop. I was confused and assumed I had dropped something, but then they asked for my papers.

Confused by why I was being asked, I racked my brain to see if I had made any transgressions in the past few minutes. I hadn’t jaywalked, but I was walking fiercely. For anyone who has never been asked for proof that they belong where they are in the universe, it’s an incredibly insulting, dehumanizing experience. I asked them if I had done something wrong, in French, while my shaking hand grabbed my passport. The pair seemed nice enough, but it was too late. Tears had started welling in my eyes and I asked again, if I had done anything wrong. After seeing the dark blue of my American passport and seeing my visa and that I wasn’t “illegal”, they tried to comfort me, but the damage was done. “Mademoiselle, are you okay?” one of the officers said in accented English. “I’m fine. Can I go now?

It took that incident for me to realize that my idealized vision of a better life, a better country for Black Americans in France, didn't exist. I felt the same othering then and there that could have been felt when being followed in an American store by a profiling salesclerk or asked by an American cop if the car I was driving had been stolen. In this sense, France was no different thSet featured image an Ferguson.

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Had I not been American, I have little doubt that I would have been questioned longer and possibly detained. Definitely would have missed my train. My brown skin and origins made me the victim of unwanted attention and humiliation, but at least my blue passport saved me from further action.

I called my parents sobbing and they feared the worst. I told them I was physically fine, but emotionally messed up. My dad’s heavy sigh let me know he remembered being a kid in Pasadena, Texas and being stopped by police once for being suspected of stealing a bike.

4,000 miles and an entire ocean wasn't enough to distance me from the type of racial-based harassment and fear many of us deal with here. Sure, I wasn't detained or arrested, and my experience pales in comparison to those who've had their rights violated (or worse), but that stench of racism — of assuming that a Black person doesn't belong just because they're Black — extends past our shores, and we'd be foolish to assume otherwise.

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And, about that whole "leaving the country permanently" thing.

Wither shall they or I go?

Je sais pas. I’m not sure.

Kayle Barnes reps Texas (Houston) by way of seven different states. She dabbles in writing, and makes a living and a life working at a nonprofit. She is not a hipster, she's just hip a lot.