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Presence

It was the smallest of changes.

I had just arrived back in the United States after spending 5 years as a teenager of living in the land of the Danes.  During my time abroad, I had often visited my father who still lived in the suburb where we grew up. And in those few months were mostly spent catching up with friends as well as American culture in general.  But it wasn’t until I had planted my roots back in the United States that I noticed the change.

Growing up in Oak Park, IL my family was one of the very few non-white people you would see walking around. During the 80s, there were even fewer interracial couples and mixed children. We were truly an anomaly. 

When I began college in the fall of 1998, I noticed that something had changed. When I walked around the downtown of Oak Park, it was still mostly white. But there were more brown faces walking around before. Not many, but a few.  

The only thought that occurred at the time was:

“This is different.”

After graduation 4 years later, I moved in with my girlfriend and returned to Oak Park less often. But living in the city of Chicago was when I noticed more and more interracial couples were everywhere. It seemed to no longer be the public act of defiance that brought the eyes of the room in one’s direction. And while this didn’t signal that racism was over. I did notice that the culture had begun to change.

One night after visiting my father and sister in Oak Park, I drove to the nearest gas station by the highway. I went the through motions that everyone does – get out your credit card, punch in the information, and begin pumping gas. And while I waiting for the tank on my girlfriend’s Chevy Corsica to fill. I took a look around and saw a sea of Black faces all around me. 

And the thought immediately raced through my mind:

“Where had all these Black people come from?”

What I didn’t realize then was that the first sign of change had arrived:

Presence

Growing up in the Chicagoland area, Black and brown people had often been hidden away in their own enclaves. Separate from everyone else, American society could essentially pretend that they didn’t exist. Their issues and causes were their own and bore no consequences to the greater America.

But as the years go on, our presence is increasing. We are no longer content to hide away. We now have platforms where we can speak and demands that must be met.  America recognizes that the world is now a global, connected place. There is no stopping this, no matter how much some wish to turn back the clock. And this recognition comes a new realization – that what is considered a minority in America to the world is a global majority.  The previous hierarchies of the world are collapsing and shifting. To some that brings the promise of justice and to others that brings deep-seeded fear. 

Change waits for no one. What was once a recognition of presence at that gas station over a decade ago has led to a reality where the world of minority and majority are even more intertwined. Conjoining in a way where our previous understandings of race and culture must be reckoned with. Understandings that many mistakenly thought over with the election of Barack Obama.

You see it in the TV commercials now feature more diverse people as well as interracial couples in their ads. How more people of color are becoming politically active and even running for office. In the span of a decade, a small moment when one looks at history, we have increased our presence tenfold.

With this, I see future that is better. But one question remains:

What additional pain will we endure in order to get there?

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