Thursday, May 26, 2016

Sydney - Different Day, Same ****

St. Joseph's
Well, here I am in Sydney Australia.

I am staying in a retreat center that houses a convent

I am meeting wonderful tellers from all over the world

I am seeing friends from North Carolina, the industrious super studious David Novak is here.

I have had a wonderful time in the two short days I've been here.

I promise to blog about this experience as soon as I finish having it!

Until then, here is what is happening!!!!

At the Airport

My Sydney experience started with some confusion at the airport. The shuttle I was taking was delayed, my phone didn't work, and I was afraid I was stranded. Luckily, that sorted itself pretty quickly, and I was on my way to Baulkam Hills where the convent/retreat center is.

The van driver was pretty fascinated with my being an American despite the fact that I have no doubt she meets lots of Americans.

In the almost two hour car ride where we inched along in the traffic, she decided that I had to answer for everything that had happened in America in the last fifty years that she thought of as bad, undignified, or horrible. She relished in telling me how horrible my country was.

Our discussion was far ranging. Here were the things about which she demanded I answer.

- Mass Shootings
-America's extremely foolish gun laws. Why didn't they take a page out Australia's book on that one?
-America's crappy health care system. Why were we so determined to kill our citizens?
-Donald Trump....don't Americans realize the rest of the
world is laughing at them...or me in particular
-The poor turnout at voting time in America. Why isn't voting mandatory?
-the recent war in Iraq, which apparently I gave the orders for personally
-Americans are stupid and have short attention spans...why didn't I fix that?
-Americans are rude

-Americans are overridden with gangs and meth
-Americans are ignorant of history
-Americans don't even know how their own country works

-Americans are destructive and wasteful

-Americans the thing that is really wrong with us, I got asked why as if all Americans are exactly the same and quite stupid in fact.

I resorted to pointing out that absolutely nobody in the world called me and asked my opinions about any of these topics except to add me to some anonymous poll. I don't have access to anyone who makes these decisions, and I am not responsible for them.

I mentioned the fact, ever so briefly that Australia has just adopted dumping policies that are threatening the coral reefs, and she shut that down immediately by announcing she knew nothing whatsoever about that. I had to smile. Apparently, Australian public policy was not on the docket.

I was very amused by this. Perhaps, if I were the sort of American who believes in the shining city on a hill, I would have been very annoyed by this and taken umbrage.

Some of you get the pic!

Perhaps if I were the sort of American who just moves along in a 'I am an American' happy place, this would have struck me as being some sort of personal attack.

Perhaps if I were the sort of American for whom life is quite privileged, and I never had to challenge my own thoughts in order to live in the world around me, I might have been shocked.

Luckily or unluckily, I'm not that type of American. I'm an African American.

What does that mean?

That means that other Americans have been trying to make me answer for every other African American most of my life. The types of questions I get are quite something else.

-Why do African Americans join gangs
-Why do African American women talk so loud
-Why do African American people need all of those other hair products
-Why do African American people have such high crime rates

-why do African American people name their kids such weird names
-Why do African American people have such different hair
-Why do African Americans all use food stamps
-Why do African Americans have such high unemployment

-Why do so few African Americans go to college
-Why do African Americans talk like that
-Why do African name it, I've been asked as if being black means I have some kind of handbook about being black in America that all of us are supposed to consult as we move through the world.

People ask these questions as if the premise upon which they are asking them is completely reasonable, and I have to answer for them. Just like the Aussie shuttle bus driver.

My Aussie driver seemed somewhat annoyed that I wasn't in full throated defending things that frankly, are kind of indefensible. She got quite passionate, and I just pointed out that I wasn't responsible for most of the nonsense she hears about. I'm not taking meth, I'm not promoting Donald Trump, I don't own a fire arm though I grew up in a military family where we learned to respect them enough for me to know I didn't need one on my house. On, and on I simply answered her questions with my own personal opinion all the while telling her that I'm not responsible for American policy, and that often her view of what she was saying was skewed by wherever she was getting her information.

She asked about my family and said they sounded very intelligent and industrious. she asked about my job, and noted that it was unusual.

I tried to divert the conversation into pretty much any other topic, but she really wanted to talk about what was wrong with America.

She actually got to the point where she asked, a bit belligerently, "Do you vote?"

I replied, "Yes, in every election including the special ones, the midterms and the presidential elections. I always vote. I vote for bond referendums, when they have special votes for policies, and I read about the candidates and pick the ones I feel are best for my country and community."

Finally, she said to me, "You are not like most Americans. You sound very educated and well spoken. You really seem to know what you're talking about, and you've put lots of thought into these subjects."

It was sort of her way of letting me know that I was not conforming to her stereotypes, and therefore, my attitudes, answers, and thoughts not only didn't really count, she could ignore them and happily go about not reassessing her view of Americans because my presence meant pretty much nothing.

It reminded me of all of the times I've heard the phrase, "You're not like most black people."

So, I crossed America from DC to Los Angeles; flew fourteen hours over the ocean, and wouldn't you know it.....I got treated like a minority!

On the plus side, she didn't think of me as an African American...just a plain old regular, there was that.

When the driver finally dropped me at the convent/retreat center I couldn't help but laugh.

Different day, same...well, you know.

Happy Traveling!

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