Don’t Ignore Your Passport Country

by Rachel Pieh Jones on August 17, 2016

I have a confession to make. I don’t pay much attention to news from the United States. I’m much more likely to click on the BBC or Al-Jazeera than on CNN or my more local, Minneapolis Star Tribune. I sort of follow election news, trying to keep my cynicism in check. And I follow the big stories, like the shooting at the night club in Florida, albeit mostly only reading headlines as I can’t bear the horror and grief of faraway places and close by places anymore.

Minneapolis

July forced me to reconsider this policy of simply scanning. Children with guns. Police officers slaughtered. Trump and Clinton. The shooting of a black man by a police officer after being stopped for a broken taillight with his girlfriend and a child in the car and caught on videotape that happened ten minutes from my childhood home. I can picture the intersection.

Something is happening in the country of my birth, something massive and important and heartbreaking and, I hope, something that will force the country to change. And even though the struggle and pain cut deeply, on top of cuts that are already deep and caused by more local and physically close hardships, I don’t want to miss this moment in history.

People living abroad talk about how September 11, 2001 carried a different kind of weight for them than it did for those living in the US. People abroad aren’t inundated with a constant onslaught of news, we have to search for it and people around us aren’t necessarily talking about it. So we can tune it out.

What is happening right now in terms of race in the United States seems to bear a similar weight to what happened on September 11. I don’t mean to draw a one-to-one comparison, that would be ludicrous, but I mean in the sense that this is a period of time in which my nation is being shaken to its very core, as it should be, when it comes to race and injustice.

And I don’t want to miss it.

Fellow expats, how many of us (myself included) shout out to the world when our host nations face crises, “Pay attention to us! Look outside your picket fence and see the world!”

But how many of us (myself included) are guilty of not looking outside of our own walls, outside of our own neighborhood crises?

home

When it comes to race (and sexual orientation, politics, gay marriage, gendered use of toilets, economics…) it seems easier to stick my head in the sand, to claim distance as an excuse, to say, “I am dealing with enough pain and injustice nearby,” than to get involved, educated, or upset about issues that are happening where I’m from.

It is true that there is a lot of pain in the world. But it is also true that ignoring it can be selfish and lazy. The trouble with being expats is that we have two neighbors: our nearby ones and our faraway ones, the ones we live among and the ones we used to live among and in all likelihood, will live among again one day. We need to engage with both. Yes, it is hard. Yes, it is heartbreaking. No, we won’t solve anything. Not here and not there.

But I, for one, want to be part of seeking justice and pursuing mercy all over the place and if I am going to be so bold as to ask people to care about my little corner of the world, I need to be willing to care about theirs.

How do you keep up with or engage in issues in your passport country? Do you think it is important, or no?

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About Rachel Pieh Jones

Rachel was raised in the Christian west and said, ‘you betcha’ and ate Jell-O salads, she now lives in the Muslim east, says ‘insha Allah,’ and eats samosas. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Family Fun, Running Times, and more, and she blogs for Brain Child and Babble.

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