Since returning to the University after studying abroad at the London School of Economics five months ago, I’ve struggled with what my follow-up will be to a blog post I wrote a year ago. I’ve thought a lot about how my life has changed. But after considering my various epiphanies, revelations, setbacks and surprises that have caused me to alter my worldview considerably, I can now see how limiting my first piece might have been. I now wrestle with what might be the hardest part about writing the capstone to my trilogy — the story I will now tell.

Before I left for London last spring, I set an agenda. It seemed simple at the time. I wanted to escape what seemed like a place that wasn’t a good fit for me — the University of Michigan.

I wanted to leave the place that seemed so stifling and gray, and exchange it for what I assumed was the big city life of London. And, if I liked my time in London, I assumed I would switch schools altogether. But I did not expect that my time in England would help me value being a student at the University, and a citizen of this country.

London is a powerful city — it surpassed my imagination. When I landed I immediately began to understand why England, and its capital city, were regarded as the seat of the British Empire. This forced me to navigate a complex cultural scene of race, class and status. Parts of me felt privileged in ways that I had never experienced before. My politics and my reality just didn’t fit in.

Students at LSE are as diverse as the nations representing the Group of 20 finance ministers and central bank governors. I learned that the social consequences associated with the classification of race are different in the U.S. than they are in the U.K. Justice, for instance, seemed to be grounded in class and nationhood, not race.

Standing in the line to go through immigration at the airport in London, I noticed how quickly certain people were going through, while others’ paths were less comfortable. What I found interesting was that there seemed to be a pattern of behavior: the color of one’s passport seemed to dictate the respect security officials showed passengers. Americans and people from Western Europe, were surveyed with less suspicion than those from Eastern Europe or Africa. But when I witnessed the experience of Southeast Asians, I was shocked at what I saw. Southeast Asian passengers were met with anxiousness and nervousness.

Once again, national identity — not race — defined social status.

Thinking about the different ways I was being viewed as an American (and not as a black American) felt surreal. Even talking with my black British peers in the halls of LSE, speaking about the differences between British colonialism and American expansion with other students from Estonia and Germany or being uncertain of why philanthropic gifts to higher education are less common in the U.K. I was being asked to see difference through the guise of an otherwise unusual identity — to truly experience myself as an American.

When I put all these questions together and reason why Black History Month in Britain focuses on black American achievement, I also wonder why there is limited representation of Latinos in Britain, or even questions of identity and immigration. I was often curious about the concerns of nationhood and ethnicity when exploring why a disproportionate amount of London’s underclass is preoccupied with the Southeast Asian experience.

Being in London was helpful. My experiences in that city, similar to the one I had in southern India, helped me think about the definition of nationhood, the imagination and local reality of citizenship, and the different visions of globalization. When put together, all these experiences both confuse and inspire additional meanings.

All this and more has led me to further explore the symbolic meaning and realities of the American Dream.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.