Black White Man

My mother is black, and my father is white. I walk among you.

Archive for the ‘International’

The bi-polar immigration debate

Quebec’s immigration debate

The immigration debate seems very similar to me all over the world (here in the States, Canada, the UK, Japan).    On the one hand, there’s the fear that immigrants threaten our national culture; and on the other hand, the assertion that people should be able to express their own language and culture wherever they happen to be.    Both of these extremes (stereotypically the ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ viewpoints) posit something which I don’t find to be true: that culture is, or should be, immutable.  The ‘conservative’ view rests on the assumption that our national culture shouldn’t ever change, and the ‘liberal’ view rests on the converse assumption that one’s individual culture shouldn’t ever change.

I’ve spent a lot of my life living in foreign countries — a state which we often call, in our Americano-centric way, being an ‘expat’; but which we call being an ‘immigrant’ when it’s someone else.    When I’ve lived overseas I’ve always tried very hard both to learn and respect the culture that I’m living in, and to share the many great things about American culture with the people around me.   And I think that anything less is a loss for everyone.

I think that having people from other cultures is a great opportunity to assimilate new things.    Look at the wonderful invention of “Chinese food” here in the States.    It’s a cuisine that comes specifically out of Chinese immigration in the late end of the 19th century, and is completely unique from real Chinese food.  It’s also awesome.   Even without immigration, national cultures change because of new technologies, philosophies and artistic movements.    Holding onto a sense of static culture is simply unrealistic.

But conversely, whenever I’ve lived as an immigrant (or expat, whatever) the thing that annoys me most are my fellow Americans who refuse to participate in the local culture.   Whether it’s not studying the local language, not making friends with the local people, or overly frequenting ‘expat’ restaurants and bars — I believe that immigrants should make a concerted effort to respect and learn the local culture.    Now, there are times, as someone living in a foreign culture, that you want to eat some comfort food, speak your own language, or hang out somewhere that reminds you of home.   And that’s not only okay but healthy.   But there’s a huge difference between ‘sometimes’ and ‘always’.   There’s a difference between keeping your home as a bastion of your foreign culture, and letting it extend to your work, church, neighborhood and social habits.

Back to the original example of Quebec: I think, on the one hand, that denying people the right to wear their own religious affects is a completely atrocious infringement on civil rights; but on the other hand, I think it’s entirely reasonable that Quebecoises expect immigrants to learn French.    As in many things, the path to peace comes in a little perspective and compromise.   We all of us have to be willing to learn and change, and realize that accepting new things doesn’t necessarily mean eschewing the old things.

Is Liberia the Israel of Africa?

Of all the things that amaze me about education in America, one thing that stands out for me is that most Americans, and particularly most Black Americans, don’t know very much about Liberia.     During the anti-slavery movement in the middle of the 19th century, the US Government established a colony in Western Africa, the idea being that it would be a place for freed slaves to repatriate themselves back to Africa.   After just a few years as a colony, it was established as an independent country — the US really had no interest in serious colonization in Africa.    But freed slaves, particularly from the South, continued to move back to the Motherland, through Liberia, and in particular, it’s capitol city Monrovia.

The problem being, of course, that there were Africans who lived in the area and claimed it as home.    Despite what Black nationalists in the US have always maintained, we as African Americans are no more (and no less) African than white Americans are European.    Which is to say, we do inherit a lot of the culture, but we’ve also diverged quite a bit — enough so that we don’t fit in seemlessly when we go “home.”    In Liberia, the “Americans” quickly formed a distinct tribe and began conflicting with the other tribes in the area.    By all accounts, the Americo-Liberians felt that they were more educated than the indigenous Africans, and took an overly paternalistic attitude similar to the attitude of other (white) Western colonial powers.    What followed was a lot of strife which broke out into civil war in the 1990s and continued on until very recently.

Bearing this in mind, it surprises me that Americans weren’t more careful when we supported the creation of an Israeli state.   Just like in Liberia, the Jewish people have every right to go to back to their ancestral homeland, and attempt to redress the wrongs that pushed them out in the first place.    But just like Liberia, it was foolish for all of us think that the people who had continued to live in those places during the intervening years wouldn’t also feel some rightful ownership.

There are, of course, crucial differences between the two.    The main Jewish expulsion from Israel occurred almost 1200 years before the foundation of modern Israel, where the first slaves were taken from Africa about 400 years before Liberia gained independence.    Jews represent an 80% majority of the population in Israel, where the Americo-Liberians are a 15% minority in Liberia.   And of course, the Middle East and Africa have vastly different cultures in general.

But I maintain that there are crucial similarities between the two countries, as both being modern attempts to repatriate diaspora peoples.     They also have in common a history of support from the United States.

A Multiracial Manifesto for Internationalism

In the last few weeks, I’ve been focusing mainly on national issues, and mainly on issues that drive close to home for me: namely issues in Black and White America.    But, as I stroll through my backlog of links today and see so many posts about Malaysia and France and England, I’m forced to remember my feelings about how being an American — any American — and particularly being a multiracial American should leave us with a broader international perspective than we have.

This past year, there were riots in both France and Malaysia that were racially motivated.    There was ethnic violence against ethnic Koreans in Japan, and continued problems in South Africa and Zimbabwe.     Every country is unique, and we have to be careful not to generalize too much without trying to understand — but as citizens in not only the most diverse country in the world, but also the country with probably the worst record of race relations in the world, I think that we have useful insight and understanding into the amazing interconnected, multiracial communities that every country is slowly becoming.    If only we would start to take notice.   To care.

Now, I’m also biased because I’ve lived overseas a lot.    I understand that America is a big country, and that most Americans don’t feel a daily impact from overseas.    And that’s fair.   Hell, for most Americans the closest foreign country is hundreds if not thousands of miles away!    But the world where geographical factors like that are relevant is quickly receding.    Whether it’s understanding the various denominations of Islam, or being able to intelligently buy and sell stocks on the Hong Kong market, other countries (and therefore other kinds of racial and ethnic tensions) are becoming increasingly relevant for people.

So, what can Americans in general contribute?    Well, two things.   Firstly, as ‘experts’ from the school of hard knocks in race relationships, we can provide useful dialogue about race with other countries that are having trouble on that front — which is almost every country).    It does need to be a dialogue, though.   Because, every country’s ethnic problems are unique.   Secondly, and maybe more importantly, as the world’s only super power, we end up mirroring the problems that we have with race internally onto the rest of the world.   Whereas the problems between Europeans and Maori have very little impact on us, the problems we have with race in this country impacts New Zealand deeply.   Maori youth, like almost every oppressed urban culture in the world, looks to our Black and Hispanic culture for inspiration.    Maori intellectuals, like almost every intellectual from an oppressed minority in the world, looks to our intellectual thought-leaders on race (MLK, Malcolm X, etc.).   So, as Americans, we have a tremendous responsibility *to* the world.

Finally, as a multiracial person, I feel like I have a specific responsibility.    As I’ve moved around all over the world, I’ve found that my “race” changes from place to place.    In Bulgaria I’m a white American, in Ivory Coast I was “matisse” (“mixed”), in Japan I was simply a “foreigner” first and foremost.    Suprisingly to me, I felt most comfortable in South Africa, where the category “colored” exists to describe exactly what I am… no further discussion necessary.    So, I’ve experienced firsthand the way that few people get to that race itself if a culturally-specific construction.     As something of an outsider to the definition of my own culture, I have a useful flexibility that, I think, lends itself to an understanding of racial conflict elsewhere.

So, I hope to post a little more about the world than I have been in the past few weeks.

What we can learn from Paris

A very interesting post about racism in Europe, here:

I’ve often had this kind of argument with foreigners from all over the world (from France to Japan):
Foreigner: “Wow, you Americans have a lot of racism.”
Me: “Yeah, we sure do. But then, you guys don’t treat your [Arab, Roma, Palestinian, Korean, etc.] population very well, do you?”
Foreigner: “Oh, that’s different. You don’t know what *those people* are like.”

I’ve found that, for the most part, racism is a problem all over the world. In some places it’s worse, for sure. Not many places have the history of segregation, slavery, concentration camps, and genocide that the US has — but then again, more places do than you might predict. Certainly, Americans ought to be spending more attention to the race situation going on right in France, for two reasons: firstly because there are too many parallels to the plight of minorities in our major cities, and secondly because Sarkozy is so comfy with our President. If we’re going to be better friends with France, our electorate oughta understand it on a level deeper than “they’re cowards because they got their asses kicked in WII ha ha ha”.