12 May 2009. America and The Race Issue

042265mUnsurprisingly, after months and weeks of ushering away this national problem, I finally find my attentions turned towards one of the most controversial topics still alive in the United States today. Aside from the death penalty and other humanitarian issues like abortion, race discrimination continues to be one of the most pressing issues in current American society. At ground level, particularly in a city like St Louis, there is very clear evidence of deep, insitutionalised thinking on race that exists in many pockets within cities. It drags it’s heels, wanting to latch on to as many generations as it can, supplying oxygen to the central issues explored in the film Driving Miss Daisy; something that comes as much of a surprise and an abhorrence to myself as it does to many other Europeans. While Europe has it’s quota of discrimination issues regarding race and ethnicity, the manner in which these issues are handled psychologically and socially are completely and utterly different. With all the dubious opinions that the US holds on EU policies and the rights of our governing bodies, the historical curve to leave for dead the era of slavery, has been turned a long time ago.

Thanks to rapid globalisation, the world and it’s socio-political structures affect a greater demographic of people because the world as we know it, has become a smaller place. Nowhere else is this more apparent than my hometown of London, England. Famous for being the melting pot of multiculturalism, it has in recent years come to beat even New York’s claim for cultural diversity with a stick. Albeit controversially and to the fury of many natives, a large proportion of this 8 million people do what foreigners have always done in London, and that is, to bring with them a stubbornness to leave behind any of their culture. What this means is that London, over the course of many years, has repeatedly had several cultures living side by side over the centuries. Unlike that which is found in America, these cultures are in no way adapted, in no way Anglicised, in no way integrated. Many of you would stand up at this point and declare that this is exactly the downfall of the Judeo-Christian values Britain was built on, and I won’t argue with you on that. However, the point that I wish to make of this, is that to a degree Britain’s subcultures have gradually become more and more colour-blind; the chances being, that you are, in all probability, an immigrant yourself and have no room to talk anymore. There still remain problems with racial tolerance in few pockets of a diverse and liberal city like London, but nothing, nothing to the scale of what is found in America. Why?

I was speaking with an American relative recently who has practiced law for many years. Of all the things that piqued my interest, she made one statement that stuck with me. America is an aggressive country. At many levels, it is evident that American thinking and ideas present themselves in quite an aggressive manner; often found in marketing, advertising, petitioning and media, and this is no longer a quality unique just to the American market. But this aggression can be found both commercially in a positive light and sociologically, quite negatively. It is here that we find a different strain of racial tension than found in other parts of the world, one involving particularly latin, black and white enclaves. This is one which engulfs whole communities with a climate of hostility, making a feature of knowing looks, aversion, fear, aggravation, confrontation, avoidance and ultimately, the curse of unforgiveness. A lot of investments are made with the race factor taken into consideration, whether it is employment or property and real estate. This only heightens the tension that years of history have already allowed limescale to build over. You only have to flip over to a Tyra Banks’ talk show and listen awhile, to see that racial tension, overtly aggressive or passive-aggressive, especially amongst these three groups, is still a deep rooted issue in today’s society in this country. It is sad, it is ugly; yet what are people doing to eradicate the barriers that have been built up around these communities and caused segregation for an excessively long time? Not enough it seems.

There may have been a breakthrough moment in having a black president in power, I do not discount that for a moment. But aside from coming to your house, knocking on the door and dragging your entire family out to the “other” side of town to shake hands, kiss and make up, I cannot honestly see how the President of the United States can be expected to repair the damage racism has done to every single community in the entire country. That is plainly the responsibility of the people who perpetuated this stinking thinking in the first place. If it has become the NORM in Europe that black, white, brown, purple and blue people can overcome a dark past, sit on a bus together, be the best of friends and consider each other equal, America seriously needs to play catch up for the sake of the generation being handed the keys to the future of their country.

  1. Diane Fernandez said:

    Interesting reading.

    While I’ll respect your right to speak freely, I’d also call to mind your short stay, to date, on this side of the pond.

    Additionally, I’ll tell you that you have landed in a place whose dust I shook from my heels lo! these many years ago — and that chief among my reasons for getting the hell out were the small-minded parochialism and the godforsaken weather. (Gary did not take too kindly to my statement, at the time, that the heat had fried all their brains…..). While there are any number of people in St. Louis whom I love dearly, I can’t live there.

    Entrenched racism is a fact of life that is exacerbated by the mass media: think about the Arabs and Israelis who’ve lived as neighbors and friends for entire lifetimes, yet the worldview is that they all hate each other. Same goes. We have both black and Arab neighbors right here on Morris Ct., as well as Jews and one notable family of borderline-redneck origin. We, all of us, get along just fine.

    Cultural assimilation is a whole separate issue. I believe that we, all of us, have the right — sometimes the obligation — to maintain our cultural integrity, identity and customs; I do not, however, believe that the taxpayers should pay to educate immigrants and their children in their native languages. Because we’ve been doing that, a backlash has been created and sub-cultures abound; how on earth can these people be a part of this nation when they can’t communicate? One more huge injustice foisted upon both the immigrants and the American people, with “only the best of intentions”.

    Yet, those of us who question these sorts of things are viewed as racist! Go figure…..

    Keep paying attention, Carolyn. Being an observer of human nature has huge value.

    • thebritishmittentree said:

      An interesting take on things. I must say I completely agree with your stance on taking advantage of government funding to educate immigrants in their native languages; this is the sole responsibility of the parents should they choose to deem it necessary for their family. This stunting of growth is commonly seen amongst new immigrants arriving in Britain who refuse to learn the language of the land in order to integrate. There is no justification for the freeloading that is unashamedly practiced by the bad apples of the proverbial tree of immigrants. Such a crop deserves to be cut down for usurping the fertility of the land meant for all. However I do believe that it is the responsibility of both sides to simultaneously dissolve previous malpractices/ostracization and enter into some kind of agreement, a social negotiation if you will, much like the one present on your street. It would make such a difference if this was the norm and not the exception. I do concur, that these observations I have made are the result of a short stay in the US thus far. Perhaps it will take a new environment to change my point of view, as I currently hold the same opinion of St Louis as you. Eyes peeled and at the ready.

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