Should the Black Lives Matter Movement Matter to Expats?

My little family has lived outside of the United States longer than we’ve lived inside its borders. Our dinner table typically offers a spread of kimchi, momos, and curry. It also wouldn’t be unheard of to see roasted chicken, potatoes, and…cheese (when we can get it). My point is that our culture has become somewhat of a third culture the longer we live outside of the US. We are not (and will never be) Nepali or Korean, but we are also a bit of a conundrum to some of our American counterparts. As with many expat families, the third culture begins to form. 

While living outside of the US, I’ve received news of black lives lost to police brutality again and again. I remember opening my email on a morning in Korea in August 2014 to find the news of Michael Brown’s death. In 2015, the name on our newsfeeds as we walked Seoul streets was Tamir Rice. My son was born in Seoul the same year that Philando Castile was murdered in Minneapolis. In 2018, it was Stephon Clark’s name in our ears as we woke up in Kathmandu, Nepal. Unfortunately, there are many, many more. 

Each time I received news of another black death at the hands of police, my heart was drawn to my home country. “But what do I do from here?”, I constantly asked myself. At that time, there were no protests to attend in the country where I lived, no community-organized meetings for black lives. In some ways, being an ocean apart from the intense oppression and unrest happening in my home country made me feel more distant from the issue. While I had read books and articles dealing with systemic racism for years, attended protests and marches in the past, I struggled to see my role now, living as an expat in a foreign land. 

This past week, I’ve seen people in the expat community (and particularly the expat faith community) voicing frustrations with the Black Lives Matter movement because they have experienced and seen oppression in other areas of the world. They cry out for the unheard voices in other countries while America’s eyes are on black lives. At its root, I think this sentiment comes from a long and deep investment in the lives of people away from their home country. However, I’m here to say something to expats living in other lands:

Please. Please. The Black Lives Matter movement should matter to you too. See this moment in history for what it is. 

When we say “Black Lives Matter,” what we’re saying is that black lives have been targeted, black communities have been held back by laws and prejudices, and black voices have been silenced, for far too long. Of course all lives matter. God created them all. But right now, at this moment in America’s history, we are in a reckoning for the atrocities against black lives. As people of faith in particular, we must acknowledge history, lament the sins of our nation and ancestors, and work together toward racial equity. 

So, why should this matter to expats living in other nations? Because the same way we treat this movement, is the way we will treat movements in any country we live in that holds a marginalized group of people. The ability to come into a cultural landscape with open hands and heart, acknowledge wrongdoing, mourn over loss of life, and work together for change, is something we must practice and practice and practice. Especially for those of us who are White Americans, and have inherently internalized racism as a result of the society we grew up in. 

The same way we show up to listen to the voices of our black and brown brothers and sisters is the way we will show up and listen to the oppressed in our host country. On the flip side, the way we show up but DO NOT listen to the voices of black and brown brothers and sisters is the same way we will show up but NOT listen to the voices of nationals in the country we reside in.

We may not even realize we are at times showing up without really listening (again..cough, cough white supremacy) but it’s vital that we begin to recognize it. It’s vital we begin to first listen, then acknowledge, then lament, then work together. 

Please don’t step out of the room just because you work as an expat. And certainly don’t step out of the room because you are a person of faith. Stay in the room and Listen. Stay in the room and Learn. Stay in the room and let this movement change you. Because it will. It has to. 

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