28. The Chapter where I Lose my Friends.
Well first I want to talk about race. Not a Lance Armstrong race, but race. I still have fond memories of my first few minutes ever spent in the USA. Some fourteen or so years back, I flew into a beautiful San Francisco sunrise. I was so excited, I was travelling with an empty wallet and a youthful lust for adventure. Everything was new and exciting, I was even fascinated by the toilets that were full to the brim with water. Well actually at first I just thought that they were broken, I couldn’t comprehend at that stage that people would actually willingly waste so much water. America has changed, I did not encounter one sailable toilet this visit. Anyhow back to the airport and race. It was on a moving walkway in San Francisco airport where at the ripe old age of twenty six, I spotted my first ever black man. I was fascinated, I had never ever seen chocolate-coloured skin before. I rushed up to him on the walkway and stood there all of a few centimetres behind him and just peered at the back of his neck. I still remember clearly that his skin was different shades of chocolate. It did not look real to me, I fought the temptation to lick my thumb and see if I could smudge off the blackness. It was a weird, freaky and exciting experience. Unfortunately I was unable to overcome my natural shyness and actually talk to the person.
The point is, I had no idea that all these years later I would not have had the chance to actually talk to a black American peer. I did meet two black Americans in the Philippines, one was some kind of weird Muslim-witch-gun-smuggler guy and the other was a healthcare professional and a friend of a friend.
Fair enough, my American friends are mostly middle-class and are mostly either conservative evangelicals or teetering on the liberal end of the evangelical class. So naturally enough these people’s churches and their friends were mostly white. But the fact that I have yet to speak to a black American peer, shocks me. And what about the Hispanic population? There are almost as many Hispanics in America as there are white people, why did I not meet any of these people?
We did meet one person of colour. We went to this kind of cool party, but it was one of those parties where everyone knew everyone and no one needed to meet Sharon and I or this Japanese dude and his girlfriend. But when there are four Nigels(94) in a room, then a party can be a party. We sat down with this Japanese dude and his girl friend for ages, in fact to pass the time or maybe to create boredom we explained to them the rules of cricket. This party conversation was one of two encounters I had with a coloured person during this American visit. The second person I encountered was at a Sunday morning church service. This inner-city church probably had about twenty to twenty five percent of its congregation coloured. It was beautiful to see and I was excited of the possibility of hopefully getting to speak to a coloured person. I simply wanted to find out what kind of people they were. After church a group of about six of them stood in the foyer drinking coffee. I am shy and not naturally good at meeting new people. So I stood just on the outside of their circle hoping that one of them might actually bring me into their conversation. It seemed that in the foyer black people were speaking to black people and white people were speaking to white people. I watched these black people, they didn’t really act a lot different, I mean their hand gestures were stereotypically more exaggerated than many of us whities. But they looked normal, I hung off this group for about five minutes, couldn’t pluck up the courage to just bounce on into their conversation and after a while just gave up. But one of their kids was on all fours on the floor playing with a toy red fire engine, so I got down on the floor and played with him for a wee bit. This kid was the second coloured person with whom I interacted.
But that was my peer to peer encounters, all of them. However, really I did meet lots of Hispanic and black people, oh yeah these people groups were everywhere. That is everywhere in the service industry, serving us whities. Like airport check-in staff, gas station staff, rental car staff, department store staff. However, well-to-do stores had white people serving in them and cafes almost entirely had white people serving and drinking in them. I was totally shocked that multi-cultural America was a land of ghettoised social classes that a shy person like me did not have a chance of breaking through during a four week visit.
I once listened to a conversation between a male Russian and an American college student. One was advocating socialism and the other was advocating democracy. What an eye-opener into both cultures it was. The American dude seemed to be pushing strongly two lies. The first was that in American democracy, the person with the most votes wins. Not true, look at Bush verses Gore in 2000. Don’t worry about that, the other lie that this young white American lad was pushing forward was that the USA was the oldest democracy in the world. This is total trash and for goodness sake I hope this ignorant lad did not learn this in the school system. If universal suffrage is the hallmark of democracy then the USA did not become a democracy until 1965 when the black people were permitted by the whites to vote. With this in mind, then I can somewhat understand the existing economic racism in America. I am not saying that this is an intentional racism, but I am saying that holding an underclass of people hostage to the freedom of political power until 1965 is a wound that will take many more decades to heal and balance out. And to me that explains, fire-truck kid exempt, why one hundred percent of the black people that I encountered were serving me. I felt like a slave master, which clearly in American society is another healing but open wound. Why are we oppressors so stinking slow to become aware of, repent of and to attempt to rectify the injustices that we for so many years took advantage of? And of course in our segregated classest societies we mostly, but not necessarily totally, still unintentionally benefit from the wounds of racism that we created. We are still happily and firmly entrenched at the top echelons of society’s ladder.
Sure Obama is now the president, but one black man at the top does not come anywhere close to balancing out the millions of black people at the bottom of the ladder.
I can understand the Hispanic immigrant populations taking time to crawl their way up the ladder, that’s cool. But still, as I understand it there are quite different expectations on them in America’s school systems. Thus it appears that the playing field may not be level here either.
I just want to say that, like seemingly all of Britain’s colonies and attempted colonies, America never was white and any chance of making it a prominently European cast off culture were given away with the arrival of the first slave ship. So how about we reach out a little more and start trying to understand our African American and Hispanic American brothers and sisters? And for goodness sake let’s get that notion un-wedged from deep down inside out hearts that somehow we are slightly superior to people of other races. And maybe we are slightly superior, but that is not because of the colour of our skin or of the ethnicity of our forefathers, it is because many of us and our European forefathers are guilty of being the conquerors, colonialists and oppressors. What is slightly superior anyhow? All of our blood runs red, if our kin has been held down by ourselves or our forefathers, let’s lend a hand from our hearts and fight for emotional, economic and political equality.
And then there are the American Indians. As we say in Lithuanian ‘Aš nieko nesuprantu’. Or I very much so do not understand. But I will talk about them in context later.
Please forgive me if I have offended your nationhood. I am just an opinionated Kiwi who was blessed enough to be a visitor of your wonderful land and to meet many of your wonderful people. What would I know after a four week visit? I can tell you a not-so-secret-secret and that is, that most of our nations which were settled by the British have the same struggles.
For next issue, don’t miss my horrible chapter about a race that needs another horse..
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You may have noticed some bracketed numbers in this chapter. These numbers correspond with explanations and definitions that are in an accompanying glossary. To read the glossary you will need to by the yet to be released book. Sorry!
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