As the plane landed at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and my family of four exited the plane, my mind was whirling.
I hope we have everything…
I can’t wait to take off this mask and these travel clothes…
What procedures are in place for COVID at the airport?
Oh wait… Where are our passports?!
“Welcome to Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Immigration and customs will be towards your left and your luggage will be on carousell #17.”
That’s it? I thought to myself as the airport employee greeted us. No temperature check, no COVID-19 questionnaire about my journey from Germany to America…nothing. That moment was the beginning of what felt like entry into a parallel universe.
Moving in the Middle of Chaos
My family and I had just moved back to the United States from Germany. As 2020 would have it, the year we were scheduled to return to the States would also be the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, racial unrest, and a historic election.
We’d lived in Germany for work for a total of five years. (First in 2013-2016 and again in 2018-2020.) Once our assignment was over, we had to return.
American racism is debilitating.
One question I’m always asked about living in Germany is why did I enjoy living there so much. Well, one reason is the quality of life was better for me and my family. Life in Germany was easy going. It’s much safer than America. I never had to worry about our safety. It’s nearly impossible to own a gun and keep it in your home in Germany. And it’s very common to see children as young as 4 years old riding their bicycles without a parent supervising them. (I know. I had to see it to believe it myself.)
Finally, I didn’t feel like a Black woman as soon as I stepped outside the house.
In America, from the moment I leave my home, I am constantly reminded that I am Black and a woman. In Germany, however, I always felt like an American first, then a woman, and then Black. Now, I’m not saying that racism against Black people doesn’t exist in Germany, because it does—especially against the continental Africans who live there. But as an American, it’s a different brand of racism, one that felt removed from the vestiges of the Civil War, the American Civil Rights movement, and segregation that I was used to.
American racism is debilitating. It occupies and seeps out of the framework of our schools, justice system, government, healthcare systems, religious institutions… I could go on. White strangers can adore and swoon over my 3-year-old son now, but I know in 10 years they’ll treat him as a threat.
If you allow it to, American racism can leave you exhausted, numb, hopeless, and anxiety-ridden. And I was reminded of this once again during quarantine watching the murder of George Floyd from Germany.
“Are you sure you and your family are ready to go back to America?” my German, Polish, and Italian neighbors and friends would ask me.
I knew what they were really asking.
I feel like a stranger in my own home.
With 45 in office, societal upheaval, the mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, mass shootings, and racism, why would anyone want to raise their children in America? And they were right to question it. Hell, I questioned it.
But we had no choice in our return: Our assignment in Germany was over.
More Questions Than Answers
Three months before our arrival in America, we were deep into a lock down in Germany. The only places we could go were the grocery stores and pharmacies, and to pick up takeout from restaurants.
When I thought about moving back to America, what kept me up at night were my children. How would my 3 and 11 year old adjust? What about their safety? Their education? In what ways would their worldview shift again after living in an environment that was pro-children and which celebrated children’s curiosity and individual expression?
I don’t have answers to these questions. We are now four months into being back home in the United States, and it has been a hard reset for me as a Black woman and a working mother. It’s been challenging, but rewarding. This has been the most time I have ever spent with my children, and I am grateful for that.
But, this homecoming has taught me how delicate the foundation of America truly is. I feel like a stranger in my own home.