Tonight I was reading an interview with Randall Robinson , and something resonated in it for me. Randall Robinson is an African American, raised in Richmond, Virginia, who has moved to St. Kitts, where his wife is from. He’s written a book called Quitting America: The Departure of a Black Man from His Native Land.
I’m not black, I’m not underprivileged, and I’ve never been the target of racism, or even taunts any worse than kids in grade school yodelling my last name, but there was something in what he said in the interview that made me nod “yes, yes, yes".
While I agreed with his assessment of Bush, Powell, Rice, and their ilk, it was two things that happened today with Nathaniel that triggered a deeper resonance.
The first happened at Trader Joe’s this morning. Rachel took Sebastian to Berkeley, and Nathaniel and I went to Trader Joe’s. We had our usual early morning shop (early morning is the only time to go to Trader Joe’s around here, trust me) – he climbs on the front of the cart, I push him around, he asks for everything sugary and shiny, and I let him have one thing that he really really wants (today it was a pint of chocolate milk). But what was different about today was that half a dozen times I heard him say “what the…", quite loudly, and in a tone of voice that made me sure he was about to say “what the f-ck?!". Where did he get that from I wondered?
The second thing that’s been happening is “like". “Daddy, can I like get a chocolate milk?". Grrrrrrr. I stopped to explain (yet again) that “like” can be used to say things such as “I like you", or “something is like something else", but we will not be having valley girl talk in our house thank you very much.
What was it about these two things that caused me to resonate with Randall Robinson’s interview? I think it’s knowing that neither of these would be happening if we were still in Cornwall (never mind the fact that he would still have his English accent…which he has been forced to give up for self preservation, i.e. to stop the other kids asking why he talks funny).
Here’s Randall Robinson:
We also have a daughter who was eleven at the time. We wanted her to have a normal, fun adolescence, and it was just undoable. When we lived here [the US] and went to a shopping center or someplace, we’d tell our daughter, do not get out of our line of sight. Now she’s in a place [St. Kitt’s] where she can walk around at night and we don’t even have to think about that sort of thing.
That’s right. It’s not really about Nathaniel saying “what the f-ck?!” or “like", it’s about the larger issue of growing up in America. Growing up where we have to drive him the 1/2 mile to school. Growing up where we can’t let him play down the end of the dock because of the bums who hang out at the liquor store. Growing up where the divide between the haves in Sausalito and the have-nots in Marin City has created a school district where most (90%?) of the white parents in Sausalito with children Nathaniel’s age send their kids to private school.
But it’s bigger than that even. Here’s Randall Robinson again:
I got a chance to be in a society [St. Kitt’s] where the barriers between classes – social and economic – are not insuperable, where money is not everything all the time. Americans have been manipulated into a space by those who profit from the arrangements of that system. People feel a conscious disease – a dis-ease or an unease – but I don’t think they know what causes it. We’ve been taught in America that big is best. That’s why people have to believe that they must live in the greatest country in the world, which is absolutely idiotic.
If this were the 70’s, I would be yelling “right on Randall".
How is it, I sometimes ask Rachel, that we [Americans] have been so manipulated that the majority believe that the status quo is ok? Why is it ok that we do not provide basic health care for all of our citizens? Why is it ok that we have the largest prison population in the world? Why is it ok that politics has become a matter of style over substance?
I’m not sure what the answers are, or what I can do about it, but I do know that if things do not start moving the other direction in my lifetime, I wonder what kind of America my children and their children will live in.
(Note: ok, maybe I’m being too pessimistic, maybe all is not lost)