The “B” word
Open mic, Wednesday evening, Brooklyn, New York. A black man apologizes beforehand to all the people in the crowd for using the word “black” in the song he’s about to perform, adding that he doesn’t mean to incur any cultural shock and to take “black” not as a color but as an absence of light. The crowd gets uneasy but nods accordingly, 90% of them are themselves black.
My jaw drops in shock of how much racism is still present in this country, all over the place, in these small yet dreadfully significant things. Because it IS about the real life details. Shall we look at the laws and books and the current american president, it all looks just perfect. But it is far, far from truth.
The frustration and pain I’ve felt were unbearable enough to trigger me to say my own word on the “black” word topic, on that very same stage, and now here.
If there are two terms I am profoundly allergic to in American English language, those are “Native American” and “African American”, for all the people belonging to those two categories are simply JUST AMERICANS in any other country in the world, except for their own. And this is beyond shameful, it is defeating.
It is defeating to find how still, in 2013, it is easier to come up with an officially polite, politically correct, sweetened racist term such as “African American” and “Native American”, rather than working directly on the prejudices underlying the words “black” and “indian”. It is not by changing the term that the discrimination will disappear, it requires a constant massive effort for a shift in mentality to occur, on both sides.
The 521 years of existence of this country rely on the most extensive genocide in the history of the human kind, that involved three continents for centuries, and yet these historical facts are still very poorly acknowledged within the US borders, from all the parties involved.
Without acknowledgement, the understanding, forgiveness and ultimately acceptance and peace with the past is impossible; and without this, also the prejudice-free future.
Racism is seldom a matter of direct offense , but it is perceived, all over the streets of Brooklyn, Bronx, wherever you go. On the buses, in the tube. It has to do with perspectives and expectations, what can one become, how far they can go, what should they wear, how should they talk, walk and act, depending on nothing else but the color of their skin and the place of birth.
Different grades of discrimination are present all over the world; as an Eastern-European immigrant in the EU, I have had my chance of experiencing this on my own skin many times over the years.
Yet, while I can somewhat understand the xenophobia as a product of the immediate fear of the unknown, that makes the newly arrived foreigner, barely speaking the local language, look like a menace (which doesn’t mean that I find it right!), I am still very shocked by a country so discriminatory towards its own people. There are no language barriers here, and after 500 years of common history, there should be no cultural ones either.
The saddest part is, it is all just a question of simple human empathy. If people were more capable of empathizing with the other, none of this would ever exist, racism, xenophobia, discrimination, sexism, ageism, and all those “isms”.
How do you grow empathy?
It seems to be a bit of a delicate flower to nurture nowadays, yet I believe that maybe exposing yourself to everything, without barriers and preconceptions, could be a good step to start with.