The usual choice of US citizens in a foreign country to isolate themselves in the American military compound (which my family chose not to do) meant there was a good possibility that the people we interacted with had never before met Americans, and possibly would not after we left either. My father informed his children of this fact, adding that this meant, to those people, that we represented the US. Consequently we should make an effort to be well behaved and well-spoken, so that the foreigners (to us — obviously we were the foreigners to them) we met would think well of the US and its citizens. I confess I was quietly proud to be an American as I did so, even though I have no idea if I was any good at it. I never felt (as a shocked but well-meaning acquaintance put it several decades later) that this was too heavy a load to lay on a child. Consequently I was delighted to read the following from Walker: "Remember that you, yourself, are America. The U.S. Behave as if you are the entire country and carry yourself with humility and dignity."[13]

I found this statement particularly poignant considering Walker suggests at that point in the text that we deliberately visit where Americans are hated — including North American reservations as well as foreign or U.S. colonized countries — so that we might listen, learn, and perhaps try to befriend. I emphatically agree with Walker when she writes:

I believe Americans are predominantly good. That they are generous and warmhearted. Kind and often passionate about freedom and justice. Any struggle for peace, freedom, love or justice I have found myself in has been thick with Americans. This is one reason foreigners have considered Americans 'lucky.' It has never been only our materialism they have admired, but also our spirit.[14]

Again, as a child living abroad, it was through silent observation that I realized it was not the governments who were encouraging international peace and friendship. It was we, the individual peoples of all these different places and cultures, who were befriending and helping and learning from each other — and going home to our native countries to tell of how very nice our friends (as in: the people of this or that country) were… how much they were like us, and we were like them. Consequently I was delighted to read that Walker too believes the best way to promote strong, deep international friendships is not through high level governmental interventions, but rather through the simple people themselves sharing in companionship:

How do you wish to meet new people? By sharing recipes, and cooking and eating dinners together; by learning their medicines and dances and gardening techniques, their wisdom and philosophy; by listening to the sound of their language and trying to learn it? While sharing what you have?[15]

Following along with her reasoning as I was, I am now better aware that "[u]nderneath what is sometimes glibly labeled racism or sexism or caste-ism, there lurk covetousness, envy and greed. All these human states can, through practice, be worked with and transformed."[16] I too wish to be part of this changing new world, and it is a relief to know that just because I may still have bigoted beliefs does not make me a bad or evil person — it is refusing to change those beliefs, such that I harm others, which constitutes the real evil.

Thus I can now also understand my personal struggle with unconscious racism is an ongoing battle which I firmly intend to someday win — just as others struggle with their sexism or racism or other -isms. If nothing else, this understanding has taught me compassion for others who struggle; I hope patience and compassion will be extended to me as well as we work towards a better, more generous, more socially just world. I felt, therefore, particularly moved and encouraged upon reading this: "To bless means to help. HELPED are those who are enemies of their own racism: they shall live in harmony with the citizens of this world, and not with those of the world of their ancestors, which has passed away, and which they shall never see again."[17]

I suppose I should note here that patience and compassion did not and do not always come easily to me. I'm aware of Martin Luther King's biblical quotation regarding perfect love casting out fear, but I'm also aware I have never been able to love perfectly. It was the Dalai Lama who first made me aware several years ago that compassion is based in trust and love. I remember keenly, at that time, incredulously shaking my head and admitting to myself that I was emphatically not ready for that level of trust. I was still too afraid of being emotionally hurt if I let down my internal walls, because I had no idea how to tell who was worthy of my trust, as opposed to who would attempt to deceive me — and I knew quite well that "You cannot be led to a good place by anyone who lies, because obviously they have lost the way."[18]

I further agree with the author's comments regarding "banning and censorship as attempts to avoid the pain of encountering subjects that frighten or hurt[19] … an attempt to protect the fragile self. But we may find ourselves cut off from friends and possible allies in this way; an undesirable side effect."[20] While my own censorship may have been only internal — a refusal to open myself up to trust and compassion — I know now that it most certainly cut me off from possible friendships. Such a level of fear, I now believe, includes a strong vein of internal distrust and dislike, and possibly for some it also weaves in greed — both material or intellectual. I do not think a deep, generous, and perfect love is truly feasible in such an emotional state; I cannot help but wonder if this fear or greed, this lack of love, is an integral component of interpersonal aggression, up to and including the ability to selfishly steal, to arrogantly colonize, to make war without compunction upon those weaker than ourselves.

 


[13] Walker, We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For, 190.

[14] Ibid., 140.

[15] Ibid., 141.

[16] Ibid., 103.

[17] Ibid., 134.

[18] Ibid., 231.

[19] Ibid., 186.

[20] Ibid., 189.

 

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