When I leave Amsterdam

This blog was written sporadically over the course of my 22-hour trip home. As I said goodbye to this experience, I began to reflect upon about what I am leaving behind in Amsterdam.

In the United States we often critique white privilege, and rightfully so. However, as black scholars we do not reflect enough on how we are constantly straddling the line of marginalized and privileged. Throughout my time in Amsterdam, I have been forced to constantly acknowledge and reflect upon how others perceive me. I realize that I as a black woman take up a lot of space in this world. Between the stares I’ve received, the invasive questions I’ve been asked, and the hurtful micro-aggressions cast upon me, I have seen how my very presence in white spaces makes their white fragility cringe. My white counterparts remain confused as to why I do not live up to their Massa-minded narrative of what constitutes a black woman. Thus, in leaving Amsterdam, I leave behind a discomfort imposed by those who feel insecure by my strength.

When Nyle Fort, a graduate of Morehouse, came to speak at an event in Amsterdam. He pointed out that humans are semi-permeable membranes. We let in both the good and the bad. We also let out some of that good and some of that bad. Yet all too often, we hold on to what is toxic for our spirits. In the last few weeks of this journey I noticed that I have had many accomplishments but not enough of the good stuff left inside of me. I'm talking about the good stuff that makes you laugh until your stomach hurts, nights so full of happiness that I wished it would never end, or the kind of joy you can only get when your heart is at peace. I realized that I was not present in my accomplishments. I was not living out my goals; I simply existed around them. Thus, by leaving Amsterdam, I leave behind the shell of my former spirit.

Much of my new-found confidence stems from the research I conducted during my time in the Netherlands. The project was a qualitative study of how black women experience love as a form of resistance. Towards the end of my study, I was asked to speak on a panel for the International Documentary International Festival in Amsterdam (#IDFA). I felt completely humbled as the crowd looked to me, the sole black woman from the United States, for answers on the our collective experience. I was proud of myself. While sitting on the stage, I realized I hadn’t let myself soak in that emotion enough. Thus, in leaving Amsterdam I leave behind insecurity in my ability to impact.

Though I have spent much of the blog speaking on what I leave behind in Amsterdam, I also want to touch on what I take with me from this experience. In dedicating my research to the brown and black people around the world, I have experienced many moments of existential growth. I take with me the spirits of my interviewees and the refugees that have inspired me throughout this journey. I carry their hope and their love. This world has tried so hard to break us. They may break our bones and our backs, but I take with me the fact that they can never break our resilient spirits. Resilience is just as much a part of blackness as the magic that lives within us.

When I landed in America and started walking to baggage claim, my feet slowed and my heart raced. After all this time, I was finally seeing some of the people that mattered most.

So why did I feel so anxious? Nervous? Overwhelmed?

I felt different. I felt changed. The experience of being away more than a third of a year from America and my family has made me grow.

I realized then and there that I was and I am a new Synclaire. My family could never see what I've seen, speak what I've spoken, or experience what I've experienced. Yet, as I felt their arms wrap around me one by one, I remembered that just like God, they were with me in spirit every step of the way. That's the thing about going abroad...it doesn't matter that our family and friends might not understand everything we have gone through. We understand it. It was our journey. Coming home isn't the end--it's the beginning.