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Jury deliberations began in the trial of three former officers involved with George Floyd's killing. But long before the trial Floyd's murder became a touchpoint and catalyst for some Black Americans who debated leaving the country due to racial and social injustice. Tiffanie Drayton, author of "Black American Refugee: Escaping the Narcissism of the American Dream," joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.
Jury deliberation began today in the trial of three former officers involved with the killing of George Floyd. The verdict is being closely watched in the ongoing conversation around police violence, accountability and treatment of people of color.
Those larger questions have led some Black Americans to question whether America is the right home for them.
Amna Nawaz has a conversation with an author about how she grappled with this very question.
It's part of our series Race Matters.
Judy, even before the murder of George Floyd, Black Americans have considered moving abroad, and some have done so, emigrating to countries around the world.
Tiffanie Drayton has had her own experience, one she documents in her new memoir, "Black American Refugee."
And she joins me now.
Tiffanie Drayton, welcome to the "NewsHour." Thanks for joining us.
I want to get to all the details in your book and the whole story, but I want to ask you first about the title, because the use of the word refugee for a lot of Americans conjures a very specific story. And I'm curious why you chose that word.
Tiffanie Drayton, Author, "Black American Refugee: Escaping the Narcissism of the American Dream": I think the word refugee evokes the sense that somebody is running away from violence, trying to escape desperate circumstances.
And that's precisely what my life had come to at that moment when I decided I could no longer stay here. As a Black woman that has fought her way through dealing with poverty, violence, being in neighborhoods and environments that are constantly under policing that you watch claim the lives of people who look like you, you start to feel and recognize your life is under threat.
Even as you live in one of the most — in one of the richest countries in the world, you can still be under threat.
So, let's start at the beginning for a moment in your story.
You were very young when you came to the United States, right? You were about 4 years old. Your mother had come previously from Trinidad and Tobago. She left in search of better work and opportunities, saved up and brought you and your siblings over.
So you settle into American life as a young child. Tell me what you remember about that time. What was it like?
Oh, the first memory I really have of the United States of America is landing in JFK Airport and flying over the — seeing the New York City skyline, like just the bright lights and all of these — like, the Statue of Liberty.
And my brother was like: "Look, they're lighting up for us." He swore it was our personal invitation to the country.
And that really is that moment that asserted for me that, yes, America was the place where dreams come true. And my first experiences with America pretty much showed that. I lived in this little, tiny bustling immigrant town. It was a very safe environment, one of those go out and play until dark and come back in environments for kids.
And it was just so freeing. And I was enamored really with my first experiences with the United States.
Your very first chapter has the title "Love Bombing," which is a very specific phrase. Why did you choose that? What does that mean?
My book compares the relationship that a victim has with an abuser to the relationship Black people have with the United States of America.
My thesis is that Black people are enthralled in an abusive relationship with America. And love bombing is the first part of the cycle of abuse, where the abuser will sell you this narrative that everything is perfect, you're meant for me, I'm meant for you, and we are on our way to realizing the ideal dream of this perfect union.
And that's precisely how many Americans, especially immigrants, kind of come to the country with these grand ideas of how amazing and how many opportunities they're going to have.
There's a pivotal moment in your story. That is the shooting of Trayvon Martin.
Tell me about what impact that had on you.
By the time the shooting of Trayvon Martin was a national discussion and there was this outcry over George Zimmerman's verdict specifically, I had already, through my own experiences and research, come to the conclusion that, hey, look, listen, I cannot live here. I can't deal with this racism.
And it was something I was trying to navigate for myself and help other people understand. But, in that era, people were not open to the idea that racism was a problem, right? The Trayvon Martin murder and verdict really forced people to grapple with the reality that they were looking at a child being killed, and, subsequently, his murderer not facing any charges.
And, for me, it was just really, truly heartbreaking. But, simultaneously, it affirmed what I had known for so long, and it felt affirming for other people to finally see and come to the same conclusion.
You make the decision that you have to leave. But I'm curious, what would you — what would you worry what have happened if you would stayed?
Well, at the time that I explicitly decided I could no longer stay, my family financially, we were just really struggling to get by. And my mother purchased a home, which was the only home she could really afford, in this impoverished, crime-filled area.
And there were many times I walked down the street and there were drug raids. There were oftentimes I went to sleep to the sound of men screaming up and down the street that demons are chasing them, because they're on drugs.
So, quite frankly, I was literally fleeing for my life, because I couldn't move again. I couldn't afford a safe neighborhood anymore. And I recognized very quickly that could mean danger.
Tiffanie, where do you live now? Where do you call home? What is life like for you now?
I live in Trinidad and Tobago, but in Tobago specifically.
The pandemic has changed everything around the world. But one thing that hasn't changed is this sense of home, just being able to go out into your neighborhood and walk around freely, and nobody's looking at you or your children because you're people of color, saying, you don't belong in this neighborhood, being able to go to the park and allow my children to run around and not be afraid of stares of people who think that they shouldn't be there.
It's just one of those really freeing, affirming experiences for me as a Black woman to be around other Black people who themselves are comfortable and safe and secure, and creating that environment together.
We should note this book grew from a piece, an essay you wrote, right, for The New York Times back in 2020. That was called: "I'm a Black American. I Had to Get Out."
I'm curious what kind of response you got to that? Did you hear from other people who were considering the same thing or other Black emigres who had done the same thing before you?
There was an explosive response, people firstly affirming my decision, because it was not only — at that point, not only Black people were having that conversation, but everybody was afraid of Trump.
Many white people even were like, can I live here? Am I safe here? What's going to happen with this country?
So it was a very affirming moment, again, where I was able to feel finally like the world understood my position. And it was — it continues to be something that really haunts me, because it's not something that you want to be right about. You don't want to be right that maybe America's not safe for many people.
You want to be proven wrong. And I'm still open to being proven wrong.
The very final line of that piece stuck with me.
"I admire the strength of Black people who remain in America and continue to endure. I hope and pray that one day they too will find freedom."
Do you believe that that's possible in America?
I have learned to believe in the impossible, because, you see, when you recognize that your ancestors came to a land or to a region of the world in the belly of a ship, and yet you still remain, and yet here I am, educated, publishing a book, these are things that, perhaps if I went 300 years ago and told my ancestors that I would be doing it, they would say, impossible.
And yet here it is, right? So I believe in what other people may believe is impossible. There is absolutely nothing that we cannot do if we put our collective energy in that direction.
The book is "Black American Refugee." The author is Tiffanie Drayton.
Tiffanie, thank you so much for your time.
Thank you so much. It was a pleasure.
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Amna Nawaz serves as co-anchor of PBS NewsHour.
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