Coming Back To America (the United States of America)   1 comment

I returned to the United States last Thursday, October, 20th.  I needed to be in Washington, D.C. so my two and a half weeks in the States started there. My great friend, Paula, asked me, how it felt to be back? I really did not have an answer. It was something I had never considered. I wondered how expats feel when they go back to the country of their birth. My response was inane. Maybe I said something like it is great to see friends again, which is absolutely true. I enjoy my friends. No, more! My friends are essential to my life. I had breakfast with Cora and Bill; dinner and almost dancing with Nasly; lunch with Gene; dinner at Karen’s; and breakfast with Beatrice and Maria. I missed Brian, Karenthia and Cynthia, Ufff!!! There is never enough time.

But what I did was avoid the crux of the question. It begged for introspection. Damn! Just like Paula to make me think – and feel! The true answer is I remain very much at odds with how I feel here. And I think that is in large part the fault of the United States. In this pre-election season the rhetoric of “smaller government” and “our government’s infringement on individual liberty” is being amplified. Playing to a very real base in this country, for me, such rhetoric serves as a continual rallying cry for “States Rights.” Intricately tied to racial categorization, which we still put above a collective national consciousness, such ideological anchors consistently undermine our ability to foster an emotional connection between our country and ALL of its citizens.

Dating back to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the concept of “States Rights” serves as a racist manifesto, guaranteeing that: if a state wants to enslave its people (historically); if a state wants to give its police the authority to stop any that looks like they are in this country illegally; if a state wants to under-educate its poor African American, Spanish speaking or Native American children – they can. The philosophy means that the parts, the States, are greater than the sum of the whole, the United States of America. A philosophy that has retarded our nation’s growth! I remember when President Obama proclaimed being a citizen of the world. The outcry from representatives of the majority culture was both archaic and retarded. And that is what “States Rights” has done. It has steeped within our nation a stew of racial and political discourse that undermines the deep emotional connection I wish I felt.

My friend Cheri, came down from Pittsburgh to hang out with me for the day. We have been friends almost all of my adult life. We like to find interesting places to visit and new things to do. My life is full of great memories of places we have seen and things we have done. This time we visited the National Memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Our first time there! Tears came to my eyes. Not from pride, which I did feel, but more because of the pain that continues to ooze from my soul because in my lifetime we, the United States, needed such a drum major for social justice. As I listened to the national park service officer – a 20’s year old tall lanky white guy in uniform and shades – talk about Dr. King, I was struck by how alive he made Dr. King. He would say, Dr. King is in the Birmingham jail having been imprisoned for leading the civil rights march on Birmingham when he writes “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” We do not relate to that concept in the United States. We continue to believe that we can live separate from the world; each state separate from each other; and each individual separate from one another.  In this the 21st century, this sense of rugged individualism is juvenile, at best.  At worst, it sets us apart, above for many, preventing us from solving some of our most pressing and fundamental problems.

Our next stop was the Corcoran Art Gallery. The lobby was full of life. Corcoran students were exhibiting, and selling, their work. They were chatting, eagerly greeting all of us who stopped at their tables, telling us stories of how they got there and asking who we were. I love D.C. it is so full of life, culture, art and food; all of the things that make Saturdays with friends unforgettable. We walk up the steps and were hit by an exhibit in the rotunda entitled, Duck, Duck, Noose by Gary Simmons. Nine white hoods, resembling those worn by the Ku Klux Klan, were sitting on stools in a circle about 15 feet across from each other. The center piece for this art installation was a rope hanging from the ceiling like a noose hanging from a very large tree. It was a vivid and emotional reminder of why there was a need for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was a depressing memory of all those that died in the struggle for social justice. I was hurt. More so, I was angry. Because I cried! Again!

The question of how do I feel being back in the United States is intricately bound by how do I feel being re-immersed in a culture that is racist and has treated me and others with injustice because of our race or ethnicity. I feel the struggle. I feel the pain. I feel my friends who have made it. I feel my friends who have not. I feel the judgments. I feel the fights. I feel the losses. I feel the triumphs. I feel my soul not being in peace but on guard. Being back in the United States means putting me back in touch with that which both ties me to and separates me from this culture – the complicated and painful issue of race. My times with my friends are glorious. I so, much want them to visit me. I want to share the relief that I have found and the peace that I enjoy. For all of its problems, with regards to race and indigenous people, Colombians are Colombians. Costa Ricans are Costa Ricans. Panamanians are Panamanian. Nicaraguans are Nicaraguan. First and foremost! I am in awe of their relationship to their country. I am saddened that the same was not born and nourished in me. In the United States of America, I am African American.

Posted October 26, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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One response to “Coming Back To America (the United States of America)

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  1. Hi, Wayne — Your blog post touches on an even more pervasive issue in the United States with roots that began as European explorers established this country, and that continued as the U.S. broadened their territory to the West — and later as this country felt it was its “moral duty” to inflict “democracy” and “our values” on other countries — often a blatant smokescreen for economic gain (read: oil and other natural resources).

    Our culture glorifies the pioneer, the trailblazer, the Lone Ranger. Aggressive behavior is found in U.S. culture at numerous levels — from sports in schools to executives climbing the ladder whose rungs are comprised often of the toes on which they have stepped. Bullying behavior is and always has been glorified in our culture, and you find it everywhere from the playground to the workplace.

    We, as a country, have for too long viewed the world through our own narcissistic lens. In general, people in our country have long believed that we represent the gold standard against which all other countries are compared. And, we’ve naively believed that our ways are better than the ways of other cultures. Such culture-centric myopia is causing our own downfall.

    We live in a global society. When working and communicating with a variety of cultures, one must learn to leave the cowboy hat on the shelf and engage in a more collaboration approach. Most organizations and individuals in the U.S. recoil at the collaborative approach and view it as too time-consuming and pointless. It’s high time this country took a good, long look in the mirror and had the courage to look even at the ugly parts of its reflection. The Lone Ranger must change its ways. The motives for such ostentatious hats are transparent to the world, and are no longer fashionable. They never really were.

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