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Lately, living abroad as an American has begun to feel like a series of never-ending “walks of shame.” You know the dreaded “walk of shame.” Heavy bags under your eyes, clothing scented with hints of last night’s escapades, and the embarrassing moment you're forced to walk past people wondering what the hell you’ve been doing all hours of the night.
Having lived abroad in Western Europe on/off since 2001, I oftentimes find myself the lone American in the group. Unknowingly, I’ve become the overseas correspondent on anything and everything to do with the U.S. of A. And, while initially intrigued by people genuinely wanting to hear my perspective on America, I’ve started to find the recurring conversations wearing me thin.
Remember in June 2017, when the United Kingdom was teetering from the London Bridge terror attacks? Instead of supporting one of the United States’ closest allies, the president used the opportunity to promote his proposed Muslim travel ban. To make matters worse, Trump turned to Twitter to question the mayor of London’s response to the tragedy. These were hardly actions you’d expect from the leader of the free world. As an American living abroad, reading the news made me feel like burying my head in the sand.
Previously, when America-related events happened, I would join in the light-hearted banter with my English colleagues. However, this time was different. Lives had been lost. As I scrolled through social media, I noticed no one was questioning the president’s foul comments. I knew the majority of my friends weren’t subjected to the same misconceptions I was as an American abroad. But, their silence made me wonder whether they cared at all.
Sometimes during a “walk of shame” you get lucky, and the people you’d least like to see are nowhere to be found. However, Trump’s public criticism would allow the world to form their own opinion versus relying on my narrative. I felt ashamed to be American, and I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it. Serial travelers likely can relate to this feeling. It’s similar to the nervous sensation you get before handing your American passport to border control in unwelcoming countries. That moment when you’re fearful of being the next person escorted into a windowless back room for questioning.
I never thought I’d feel that disgusted with America again. Then, I read the allegations of Trump referring to Haiti, and African countries as "shitholes" during a meeting on immigration. As a Ugandan-American, born in the United States to immigrant parents, these comments were a slap in the face.
My father grew up along the shores of the River Nile, in a sleepy village called Budondo. After emigrating to the United States in the 70s, my father finished his residency and started his own Cardiology practice. Anytime me, or my siblings acted like privileged children, my father would tell us stories of studying by candlelight, and walking several miles each way to school. My father paid taxes, put three children through university, and saved lives on a daily basis. And, while people from my parents’ generation emigrated to the United States in search of a better lives, their countries didn’t deserve to be labeled as shitholes by the president.
As my dreaded iPhone alarm rang following the news of Trump’s comments, I hit snooze several times thinking of my English coworkers and their questions. All I wanted from the day was get on with my work. The president had multiple opportunities deny the "shithole" allegations, but nothing of the sort happened. Trump’s nonchalance reminded me of the time he addressed a mostly white crowd while asking African-Americans for their vote. After patronizing African-Americans for living in poverty, the quality of their schools, and unemployment rates, Trump said, “what in the hell do you have to lose by trying something new, like Trump?” After watching the events and commentary of "shitholes", I’m afraid the answer is EVERYTHING. And, If this is what “Making America Great Again,” is all about then the American dream is in fact a nightmare.
And, what happened to my parents who emigrated to the United States in 1975 to chase the American dream? Five years ago, they returned to their supposed "shithole" country. When I ask them how they feel about the move, they say, “We wish we moved back earlier.”
Jonah, co-owner of lifestyle brand KampInd, is a multimedia artist, entrepreneur and UK-based digital strategist focused on shifting perceptions through design and fashion. You can find Jonah on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at @KampInd and check out KampInd inspiring multicultural leaders to change the world at www.kampindusa.com.