5-And-A-Half Stories About The Same Thing
I was walking through Amsterdam the other day when I crossed paths with two German women, one of whom stopped directly in front of me, looked me up and down, and turned over her shoulder to yell to her friend: "Damn, lots of blacks here, aren't there?"
She said this in German, obviously, probably not guessing in a million years that I could understand what she was saying ... but still ... hadn't she seen real-live black people before?
Then it occurred to me that, no, outside of music videos, maybe she hadn't. Some people really need to get out more.
When I was playing in Germany, we had a physiotherapist who was six months pregnant with the child of an American soldier. An African-American soldier. One day she was talking about potential places to live in America after she gave birth. She asked me where I was from. "Atlanta," I replied. "Georgia. Great place to live. You'd love it."
She looked worried. "Georgia?" She was confused, dumbfounded. "But how will we live there when he is so... "
She pointed to her arm and rubbed her skin ...
"And I am so different? I am hearing that they are not liking the blacks there. I have heard that they are hanging them from trees. They will not welcome a family like ours."
"No, no, that was ages ago. 40 years or more. It's not like that now. You'll be fine."
"Oh," she said. "Perhaps. But it's very still sad that people can treat each other like that. It is very shameful." Then she shook her head and sighed, looking off into the distance, deep in thought about America's sordid past.
And I agreed silently for a second, but then I thought: A lesson in 20th century race relations from a German?
It's incredible how immersed Europeans are in U.S. politics. During the 2008 primaries I was in Munich, at the Hofbrauhaus, and got into a discussion of the primaries with an old German man who was better-versed and more passionate regarding the American government than the average American. He was fiery, and prone to hyperbole. He said that George W. Bush should be executed for what took place at Abu Ghraib; for Hillary Clinton, he used a German expression that can probably best be translated as "power-horny."
Obama he used lighter terms for ("probably a crook, but who knows"), but most people I've met overseas basically worship Barack Obama.
In the hallway to the bathrooms at a club in Paris, I saw Obama posters everywhere. Obama as Superman. Obama and McCain as boxers, facing each other (High Stakes Fight! See it Live: Tuesday November 4th 2008).
Wow, I thought, they like us ... they really care! The thought makes the freedom fries go down even smoother.
Nowadays when you're black overseas, you will invariably be accosted by a street vendor; probably African or Indian. They will look you deep in your eyes, raise a fist in the air, and shout "OBAMA!"
The first four or five times this happened to me, I thought to myself, yes, OBAMA, indeed. The world is changing, I thought. The tide is turning. Free at last! Let freedom ring!1
Unfortunately, whatever enthusiasm I had was short-lived. A clenched fist held aloft in solidarity only ever held an imitation Gucci belt or an Eiffel tower statue. They were doing what any great capitalist would -- seizing upon the zeitgeist to make a quick buck off some sucker on the street.
Let this be a lesson to you, dear reader: Brown skin does not a brother make.
Nowadays when I hear someone run towards me yelling, "OBAMA!" I say as loud as I can, "GUANTANAMO!" and then head in the other direction.
I was in Paris at a bar, sitting around, when the bartender attempted to strike up a conversation. He started with the usual question: "So where are you from?"
Him: But where are you really from?
Me: Oh, Atlanta. But I live in New York.
Him: No, where are you from? Like, where were you born?
Me: New Jersey.
Him: But you're African, right? You come from Africa?
Me: No, I'm American.
Me: Yes, 100%. Both parents.
He stared at me skeptically, unbelieving, and sat silently, searching for a subject change. After a minute or so, he went down the bar to get someone else a beer. When he came back, he gave it another shot:
Him: So, really, 100% -- who do you think is the better player, Kobe or LeBron?
1 Fun Fact: In Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, he makes reference to a few seemingly obscure mountains.
"Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee."
Well, friends, I am from Stone Mountain, Georgia, five minutes from the actual mountain. Its significance in the speech is two-fold:
1. The KKK used to conduct meetings on top of the mountain.
2.There is a gigantic carving on the side of the mountain, featuring three confederate luminaries -- Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee.
Irony of ironies (or fulfillment of a dream): the area surrounding the mountain has changed tremendously over the years. It's overwhelmingly black now; there are 60-70% majorities in most areas with a "Stone Mountain" address. So now there are black people climbing to the top of the mountain, riding on the train around the mountain, and best of all, sitting in front of the carving every summer to watch the laser show.
[Funnest fact of all: At the end of said laser show, the figures of our beloved Confederate war heroes are lit up by lasers. Their figures flicker. They are seen to mount their horses and appear to ride off into the sunset. The South rides again! The spectacle is awesome. Everybody cheers.]