The USA: Glorious Diversity or Cruel Contradiction?
Mon 24th Sep 2012
Mine - by the Right of the White Election!
Mine - by the Royal Seal!
Mine - by the Sign in the Scarlet prison -
Bars - cannot conceal!
Mine - here - in Vision - and in Veto!
Mine - by the Grave's Repeal -
Titled - Confirmed -
Mine - long as Ages steal!
America is a land of contrasts. These contrasts are only partly down to the country's vastness. These contrasts are also not fully explained because of its wonderful racial, ethnic and religious diversity. The contrasts lie in America's image, self perception and ultimate existential reality.
There is a monument in Boston Common, overlooked by the State House, which speaks volumes about America's skewed vision of itself:
"To the Fifty Fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Infantry
The white officers taking life and honor in their hands cast in their lot with men of a despised race unproved in war and risked death as inciters of servile insurrection if taken prisoners - besides encountering all the common perils of camp march and battle.
The black rank and file volunteered when disaster clouded the Union cause - served without pay for eighteen months till given that of white troops - faced threatened enslavement if captured - were brave in action - patient under heavy and dangerous labors - and cheerful amid hardships and privations.
They gave to the Nation and the world undying proof that Americans of African descent possess the pride, courage and devotion of the Patriot soldier. One hundred and eighty thousand such Americans enlisted under the Union Flag in MDCCCLXIII-MDCCCLXV."
A careful reading of this inscription, despite its historical context, says it all. The white man is fine but the black man has to prove himself worthy of giving "…the Nation and the world undying proof that Americans of African descent possess the pride, courage and devotion of the Patriot soldier." He had to do so "without pay for eighteen months" before he is accredited with any sort of validation!
That typically American construct has not changed much despite the excitement engendered by electing the country's first black President.
Anyone visiting America, even briefly, will quickly spot the iniquities in its social structure. Nothing has changed since the fifties and sixties when Stephen Sondheim wrote the movie lyrics for West Side Story (not used in the original theatrical version)
"Everything's free in America
For a small fee in America.
Life can be bright in America.
If you can fight in America.
Life is all right in America.
If you're all white in America."
Alas, all too true. Ask the hotel for a porter to carry your bags and a black man appears. Ask the concierge for an adaptor for your European shaver and a black man delivers it. Get into a taxi in New York and the driver is certainly never white. Buy a sausage sandwich on Fifth Avenue and the seller is black, Arab or Latino. Watch out for anyone with a broom and he is black. Turn your eye to beggars and the majority are black. Get your railway ticket checked and it is punched by a black man. Look out for a sandwich board and a black man is wearing it. Look for a street cleaner and you see a black man. Railway porter, ticket collector, hotel doorman, rubbish collector... Even the soldier standing guard at Grand Central Station is black. They quietly go about their daily business following the advice of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man's father to keep a low profile in order to gain power by silent stealth.
And where are the African names inscribed on Ellis Island? They are nowhere to be found.The African was considered cargo that went where he or she could be sold to the highest bidder.
America used the story of the ‘Curse of Ham’ out of the Old Testament book Genesis to justify hundreds of years of slavery. Just as the Israelites used it to justify the enslavement of the Cana'anites, with today's parallels seen in the enslavement of the Palestinians.
Following the Invisible Man's father's advice might be the answer. However, the only issue is that the African Americans have not gained power by any method.
It is true that hard work pays off in America. It is true that the American Dream is there for anyone willing to have a go. But it helps to be white. And it certainly helps even more to pretend to be a Christian. You do not actually have to act like a Christian, just pretend to be one. You can lie, cheat, steal and even approve of persecution and murder as long as you profess a belief in God and occasionally intone a few meaningless words for His ears only.
Only in America can you pray fervently and sing earnestly whilst supporting illegal Israeli settlers beating up Palestinians because you believe that your god chose them and promised them land that belonged to someone else.
It is such contradictions that make American diversity so frightening and so destructive.
Priscilla Shirer tells us that a Christian woman's duty is to submit to her husband's authority. As a feminist she is wrong. As a Conservative Bible teacher she appears to have built a new paradigm for feminine teaching that combines a naïve blend of traditional revivalism, modern mania for Christian blind obedience and a gabby intimacy of puerile relativistic culture. Rather an ugly combination to say the least. But then, in America, disagreeing with such views puts you in a minority.
That icon of the great American Dream John F. Kennedy said once that "the great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie -- deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."
These words encapsulate America's contradictory character so succinctly.
In conclusion, American diversity is truly beautiful. Its contradictions are not. Being white Christian in appearance and profession, though not necessarily in behaviour gives you a better chance of attaining the American Dream. Others have to struggle, prove themselves, and often meet with a stone wall in order to fulfil their American Dream - which often ends up being their American Nightmare.
As a visitor, ask any passing American for help and s/he would overwhelm you with their kindness. The individual American is truly a lovely person. It is the collective that is diseased with its contradictions and apparent hypocrisies.