australian aboriginal paintings
I heard a sentence on the radio news this afternoon that started, "How can the richest country in the world...?" I was so struck by that opening I missed the subject. It struck me so naïve I wondered where it came from. The richest country in the world? I've heard that all my life. In London a few different people referred to me a rich American. I said I'm not rich. I could afford to fly to London; they can't afford to fly to Disneyworld. Therefore, I'm rich. Therefore, Americans are rich. I saw on the telly one evening a commercial that pictured a boat and its big V wake on a lake in England. The visual zoomed onto the boat to Mrs So&So, "a rich American" who appreciates the English lake country, refinement, taste and so on. Being a rich American, she uses butter. No oleo margarine for the rich American. None of the people I was watching the telly with understood why I was laughing. It was too much to explain. Besides, it had to do with irony, and I really didn't dare attempt explaining irony. I'd been there long enough to have good understanding that my status as an American was way far below the lowest British subjects. I was regarded with an arrogance similar to what American black people get from white Americans. I realized that racism is only one of many varieties of outsider. Nationalism is about another kind of outsider us-them thinking. Be-true-to-your-school is another group for identity where outsiders go to another school.
Americans have been spoiled for a century or so by the people of the rest of the world looking at us in awe because we're rich. American tourists go anywhere in the world and we're welcomed happily, open-handed, Americans have money. I wondered how welcome I would be if I were black, or Malaysian, or from Pakistan. That was in the last years of America being held in respect. Nixon was the president lying to us at the time. Riding the Orient Express, the train, I went through what was then Yugoslavia, now Croatia and Serbia. It was a very different world from the part of Europe we think of as Europe. This southeastern extension of Europe was part of the Ottoman Empire until about half a century before I passed through it. The air smelled of Turkish tobacco. In this time, it was "behind the Iron Curtain," part of the Soviet Union. Signs were in probably Serbo-Croation and Russian. I saw how people lived in police state. Quietly. On the train I passed a group of people of my age, mid to late 20s, and they knew on sight I was American. They seemed slightly threatening. One of them said, "President Nixon," in a derisive tone of voice. They all laughed. I thought: I dislike him more than you do. This was the time of Brezhnev. They probably disliked Brezhnev more than I did. Americans were less appreciated internationally. Young Americans backpacking different places in the world would often fix a Canadian red maple leaf emblem onto the backpack. Less chance of trouble that way. They don't have to answer to American issues we have nothing to do with and can do nothing about.
In Athens, staying in a pension, having meals there, good Greek cooking, several college students from Chile appeared at the table one day. Most of them spoke English. I mentioned Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who was given the Nobel Prize that year. His picture was on the cover of Time the week before. One said, "He's a communist," and they all shut me out at that moment. From then on, I did not exist. It had not entered my mind to note that going to college in Chile with parents able to fly you to Athens could only be of politically right wing families. The communists were the working people. I had no experience with a Latin American country where communism was legal and politically active. Communism has been so eliminated in USA there's not a trace of it that can be taken seriously. In Chile, they keep the local Indians down. One of the odd aspects of racism is white Brits invade the new world colonies, kill out the Indian people, bring in black people for slaves. In the Spanish colonies, they swept away the civilizations, Mayan, Aztec, Toltec, Olmec, etc, an extended civilization, for gold. Too bad for the Indians that they were naïve about the value of gold. A song by the Psychedelic Furs plays in my head, "It gets so hard sometimes, to take it serious. It really gets to be a drag when, all we really need is love. Here come cowboys, here to save the world, here come cowboys, they're so inside the law, here come cowboys, they're no fun at all."
It's bizarre to me how white people took over the lands they discovered, killed the population and moved in. The survivors and descendants of the aboriginal people are regarded by the occupier as the lowest of the social order. In Australia, the white people are even more arrogant to the Aborigines of the continent than white Americans are to the Indians here. We name cities, rivers, mountains and so on after them, but they don't even figure. To the racist mind that looks down on them, the Indians are lower than black. It's the same in New Zealand with the Maoris. The Chinese occupied Tibet, and moved in a new population that regards the native Tibetans as low as Australians regard the Aboriginal people. Israel and the Palestinians. Somebody I knew years ago told me Indians are not human. I said, What? Right, they're not human. That was the first time I'd heard that one. I was maybe 22. From my first memories I identified with the Indian people that lived on this land originally. They were the people of my heart. I didn't know why. I'd never met one. They had a good way of life that kept the water and air clean for quite a number of centuries. Superior white man has turned the rivers to muck, and the air too, with superior knowledge. It's all ego. As long as we have ego, we'll have racism, nationalism, religionism and the other exclusive clubs to differentiate us from them, ultimately self from others.