The Little One in the form of an Owl...(but don't tell her I said that!)

May 13, 2012

Racial Profiling

          This weekend we went to a barbecue hosted by a colleague of my mothers.  It was a far better experience than I had expected.  I had expected a bunch of development people throwing acronyms about project plans involving players, all of which in no way clarify what it is they actually do.  Since this was a family dinner, I also expected children playing and significant partners chatting about.....partnering, or parenting, or some such things, which are subjects that, though I find much more interesting,  I have not much credibility in and therefore nothing to contribute.  Instead, I imagined I would have no choice but to awkwardly answer uncomfortable questions which would expose me as a fraudulent grown-up deserving judgment, condescension, and dismissal (it may be I have a skewed perception, but I have found myself in such scenarios enough to know that I am an annoying anomaly in the networking landscape).  

           It is true the small gathering did consist of five couples; my mother and I were the only singles, but as she is older than everyone, she rocks that whole token African grandmother shtick pretty well.  Almost everyone worked in the same field, and all, but I, had direct and mostly current experience parenting small children; I was an anomaly.  But none of my prophesied humiliations came to pass; instead I was fully and wholeheartedly accepted as: 1.) My mother's daughter 2.) My daughter's mother 3.) A grown up.  Huzzah! Individuals felt free to share intimate anecdotes about their lives as if we were......equals.     Having understood that I was jobless, everyone assumed this was a temporary and expected glitch in my transition, showed curiosity in my interests, and gave sincere advice to push me forward.  Similar things have happened while doing the play, but with the much more familiar tinge of judgment or at least.....wariness and disconnection (they are all British).

            It was only when we were leaving that my mother commented on the common thread amongst all those present, which I had overlooked: all the foreigners (except us) were Canadian, the host was Tanzanian but has been working with Canadians for many years (and has family there).   

            Canadians (even the French small doses) are so very nice, it can leave one confused.  I was confused: "wow! I!!"  They possess quiet amiability, humble pride, sincere curiosity, and a genuine receptivity to others.  Canadians are unabashedly unaffected.

            It is a pity they are generally lumped in with American and European whites (who make it a point to distinguish themselves from each other).  They are actually very unique in the white population; I don't think they know how nice they are; I don't think it's ever occurred to them.... (Oops, did my own ignorance just show? I guess this whole time I was referring to White Canadians-though one of the women at the party was Mexican Canadian-anyhow, the disclaimer is in the title, so pffft.)
            It has come to my attention that there are certain organizations in Africa that are owned and operated by Black Americans who use their race as a badge of expertise and empathetic fraternity when bidding for money for humanitarian projects in Africa.  This is a load of shit.  Black Americans are invariably explicitly derogatory and condescending towards Africans (even worse than Jamaicans).   

            My sister always said, she never knew she was black until we moved to America. Guess who told her?  I was only five when we moved.  School, for me, was simply about survival, about adaptation.  I was willing to be accepted by anyone who would take me.  It was white people who accepted me (well at the time I thought they were white, it wasn't until I got to college that I realized was taught New Yorkers make a firm distinction between Jewish New Yorkers, and White New Yorkers; it was the Jewish children who were always the kindest).  It was almost as if they, the Jewish whites, already expected my "otherness", while the blacks took offence to it. They readily shamed me for not having personal awareness of their history and the intimacies of slavery.  Even what I did know was not enough, because I wasn't angry enough, I wasn't.....wounded; I acted like that history was not mine (which it wasn't).  

           The American slavery system and decades of systematic racism were known to me in the same way I came to know of the Holocaust, the Apartheid System, Australia's history of native decimation, and so forth.  This was very confusing and unacceptable to them (right through to university this caused a lot of tension with my black classmates; despite the fact that we otherwise had similar socioeconomic and education backgrounds, the absence of a chip on my shoulder meant I was a sell out-an Oreo. Sorry dears, I'm just AFRICAN). Perhaps they had been taught to think of themselves as related to Africans-a historical fact, but a cultural misnomer.

            When Black Americans talk about Africa, or visit the developing world (including the West Indies), they are far more disgusted by the inconveniences of daily life than any other visitors: the heat, the lack of certain modern appliances, the animals, all the dark-skinned people.....and so forth.  No, really! They make a very big point of these things and do so loudly, almost as if (psychobabble in 4, 3, 2......) they are instinctively trying to distinguish themselves for that which they've been conditioned to themselves.  Growing up in America, for sure the cruelest most disgusting jokes about dark skin came to me from the black children.  I would go so far as to argue that most middle class white youths (at least in New York) who become prejudice or racist as young adults, learn their hate-filled humor from their black classmates.

          I've been feeling romantic 
again lately.  This is a very romantic time of year for me, that's for sure.  And it helps that I am becoming more social in Dar, though everyone here seems to come in couples only form-minus that douche from awhile back.  Due to the supposed "threat" I pose as a single mother in her thirties, I have decided to create a boyfriend I've left back in Uganda.  Since we began dating before I moved or decided to become a mother, the relationship is fragile enough to leave room should something better turn up, but hopefully reassuring to the women I meet that I do not want to steal their husbands (the feminist adage of my generation still sticks: chicks before dicks, simple and catchy).

             There is something wonderfully fantastical about thinking about romance when you are in no position to have any of the real thing.  It really stimulates the imagination, brings one back to the "when I grow up" days of promise and unyielding faith;  It keeps one from going insane and/or humping the gatekeeper.  

              As it is finally clear to me that I will never be satisfied with dating someone who looks just like me (apparently I have been this way since I was child), I have been musing on what race I would like my fantasy guy to be, like in the Sims, or some other such online world (I am such a nerd I don't even need the Internet to live an alternate life).
             Last week I apparently missed a Dutch throw down that had everyone but everyone there (thanks for telling me cast members).  I came home and lamented, "Damn! I missed my chance to make out with a Dutchie and find a husband!!"  My mother and Ms V were both sympathetic.  But I did the Dutch thing back in Uganda, and two years later I still can't get that man out of my system.  Dutch men are so casually complex and tiresomely enigmatic.  I don't think I'm up for it.

              American, British, (Canadians are too nice?) men would make sense, except, unless they are 60 plus, I would bet any man from those areas who relocates here would come with wife in hand.  Those men would be way too afraid to begin alone here.  Dar is a place to import a family; coming alone would be......uncivilized.

              The question then becomes, who would be likely to show up untethered and within an appealing age range?  Indians, for sure; South Africans, for similar managerial networking positions.  Both groups can be utterly racist, derogatory and oversexed, and hedonistically fun-I am interested in none of those situations.

               Then it hit me:  I want a man who is not bothered, nor even aware of societal conscripts about age and lifestyle; a man who easily immerses in other cultures without feeling an ounce of threat towards his own; a man who does much, thinks less, and knows everything worth knowing; a man who would find the intensity that I present an amusing challenge, and thus challenged by me, would feel committed by his own sense of loyalty; a man who believes in character not circumstance because that is how his mother raised him; a man who believes everything his mother ever told him.  He sounds deliciously fantastical, yes?  Well, it IS my fantasy! But the truth is, I have caught a glimpse of a more realistic version of this man a few times in my life, and he was always Irish.  

         I have never dated an Irish guy, these glimpses always happened at inopportune times when the subject could not be pursued, but this cowboy image has lingered in my memory.  I know little about Ireland, and obviously I don't want someone straight off the boat (though Irish men tend to get around anyhow).  Yeah, in my ideal fantasy world, I'd have to say, I want me an Irish bloke.  

          It's not like I'm losing my mind per se (my therapist is on holiday, but I'm sure she'd agree) but transitions, like grief, go in stages:  First there is the overwhelming physical stimulus of a new place-the way the light falls, the night sounds, the air smells, etc.  Then there is the nesting, the withdrawal into yourself, your home, your sanctuary, to clean, prepare, and make pretty.  And now I find myself in the level of emergence; I am not yet a part of this new world, I have not yet found my niche, but I have rested and rearranged myself for my big debut; the necessary step in finding where my prepared Self shall fit in-my niche-is to categorize this new environment in schemas based on past experience; it is with these schemas as my weapons tools that I shall brave this foreign jungle and conquer it as men women Expat Warriors have done time and again.  Thus Canadians: may seem bland, very nourishing, easy to find and cultivate; Pretentious NGOS: predatory, toxic, to be avoided at all costs.  Irish Single Men: potent, deliciously satisfying, though elusive, would be worth the hunt.

The question is, what is in season?

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