Farewell to America
July 1, 2015 6:56 AM   Subscribe

Foreign correspondents posted to America talk about the future, and the past.
posted by grubby (20 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm just gonna drop this microphone right here:

"Class offers a range of privileges; but it is not a sealant that protects you from everything else. If it was, rich women would never get raped and wealthy gay couples could marry all around the world."
posted by clvrmnky at 7:16 AM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


From the first article:
Whenever I have written about police killings at least one reader reminds me that black people are most likely to be killed by black people. This is both true and irrelevant. First, because all Americans are overwhelmingly likely to be killed by assailants of their own race, so what some brand “black-on-black crime” should, more accurately, just be called crime. But also because black people are not, by dint of their melanin content, entrusted to protect and serve the public. The police are.
This is the most succinct response to the racial crime statistic I've read and heard before.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:31 AM on July 1, 2015 [17 favorites]


"While reporting from rural Mississippi in 2003, I stopped to ask directions at the house of an old white couple, and they threatened to shoot me. I thought this was funny. I got back into my car sharpish and drove off – but I never once thought they would actually shoot me. How crazy would that be? When I got home, I told my wife and brother-in-law, who are African American. Their parents grew up in the South under segregation; even today, my mother-in-law wouldn’t stop her car in Mississippi for anything but petrol. They didn’t think it was funny at all: what on earth did I think I was doing, stopping to ask old white folk in rural Mississippi for directions?"

I just... that stands on its own, I guess.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:32 AM on July 1, 2015 [12 favorites]


I guess I'm not the only one who found this whole piece (the first link) engrossing and very quotable. This passage really hits home:
...[Angelou] said. “But black people have been living in a state of terror in this country for more than 400 years.” It is that state of terror that has been laid bare these last few years.

The American polity and media episodically “discovers” this daily reality in much the same way that teenagers discover sex – urgently, earnestly, voraciously and carelessly, with great self-indulgence but precious little self-awareness. They have always been aware of it but somehow when confronted with it, it nonetheless takes them by surprise.
posted by Wretch729 at 7:42 AM on July 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


If you are reading these comments before reading that first article (not that I ever do that), stop and go read the first article. Now.
posted by wittgenstein at 7:48 AM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Younge's piece is really nicely-written. The above excerpts definitely resonated with me, but this one especially:

"“You’re black.” It was a reasonable thing for a child of that age to point out – he was noticing difference, not race. But when my son looked at me for a cue, I now had a new arrow in my quiver to deflect any potential awkwardness. “That’s right,” I said. “Just like the president.”

He goes on to mitigate the impact of that moment in the next paragraph, but I liked it all the same.
posted by Thistledown at 7:57 AM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


I read Gary Younge's piece earlier today. It was pretty powerful.
posted by Nevin at 8:29 AM on July 1, 2015


I remember when Gary Younge first got posted to America and thinking to myself well this could turn out to be interesting.
Before I came to America from England, I asked an American journalist in London what kind of reactions to expect. "Well, when they hear an English accent Americans usually add twenty points to your IQ," he replied. Recalling that the authors of The Bell Curve had claimed that black people have an IQ fifteen points lower than whites, I was heartened to think that even in the eyes of the most hardened racist I would still come out five points ahead.
From Stranger in a Strange Land: Encounters in the Disunited States.
posted by adamvasco at 9:12 AM on July 1, 2015 [8 favorites]


Definitely a good article.

It's appreciated that one can glance at the comments and immediately see elements of the article justified by those complaining about it being racist. There's absolutely nothing racist, except the subject matter, about it. It's incredible the hostility that people can exhibit when they see themselves framed as something they don't want to be and amusing, at the same time, as their actions reveal them to be exactly what has driven up their ire.
posted by Atreides at 9:30 AM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


On one hand, I read Younge's piece with a growing sense of anger. How wonderful that he has the ability to run from our shared, commuted death sentence. How fortunate that he doesn't have to stay and fight like me. Like my friends and family.

But then I asked myself: if my passport was renewed and my partner could afford to relocate, wouldn't I run? If we later had (against all odds and plans) a child, who would most likely be read as Black, wouldn't I run, too?

And I paused. I definitely paused before saying no.

I believe there is a difficult line between taking care of yourself and loved ones and joining the ranks of people who will resist until we see the end in the horizon. I feel obligated to stay and fight, and I bear the weight of It the best I can. It is something I rarely regret. But that article definitely forced me to curtail the sense of betrayal I often experience when someone decides not to stay. We're in a sick system. Should I really be that angry that someone else managed to escape?

Tough stuff. Thanks for sharing.
posted by Ashen at 9:31 AM on July 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


I love these kinds of outside perspectives of cultural issues because they don't deal with the song-and-dance so many American media outlets feel beholden to. Compare and contrast Younge's candor to The Black Power Mixtape, in which White non-Americans (i.e., Swedish journalists) saw a pretty clear discrepancy in the pictures of America painted by White and Black Americans, and so decided the Black voices were actually worth listening to, contrary to the contemporary popular belief.

To paraphrase from the movie, it's not a matter of "Black Power" or "White Power" or anything because Knowledge is Power. And in that sense, I don't blame Younge for feeling some sense of relief—because he's already done a great service, even if this were his only published article on the topic.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 9:48 AM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Great piece (I'm not sure why it needed to be paired with—I almost said "watered down by"—Alistair Cooke), and I join wittgenstein in urging everyone to "go read the first article. Now."

> I read Younge's piece with a growing sense of anger. How wonderful that he has the ability to run from our shared, commuted death sentence.

You do realize he's English, right? Why would he have a responsibility to stay here? If you were a foreign correspondent in Russia, would it be immoral or cowardly of you to come home instead of staying to share the misery of Russians?
posted by languagehat at 12:52 PM on July 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


"While reporting from rural Mississippi in 2003, I stopped to ask directions at the house of an old white couple, and they threatened to shoot me. I thought this was funny. I got back into my car sharpish and drove off – but I never once thought they would actually shoot me. How crazy would that be? When I got home, I told my wife and brother-in-law, who are African American. Their parents grew up in the South under segregation; even today, my mother-in-law wouldn’t stop her car in Mississippi for anything but petrol. They didn’t think it was funny at all: what on earth did I think I was doing, stopping to ask old white folk in rural Mississippi for directions?"

This immediately reminded me a story that made it onto the internet recently having to do with the (UK) TV show TopGear, specifically the episode where they are driving through the deep south of the US. Of course one of the things the show is known for is deliberately offending people and, as he later wrote on the internet, one of the procedures thought it would be funny to have the hosts paint slogans on the sides of their cars designed to offend the locals. The slogans were things like "MAN LOVE IS OK" and stuff like that.

People who don't live in this part of the world sometimes appear to have the impression that people in the south are violent in a sort of comedic stereotype way, like a cartoon hillbilly with a shotgun full of rock salt or whatever, but that of course this is the modern world and people don't really act that way.

In fact, you're dealing with a culture of honor in which people are often racist or homophobic and they will, in fact, kill you for very little or no reason. A few years back, not far from where I grew up, a black man was chained to the back of pickup and literally dragged to death by abrasion. The TopGear crew was therefore shocked when people they deliberately offended for laughs took it seriously and tried to attack them. The man who wrote the article quoted above seemed to have the same misimpression that these sorts of things don't happen anymore as well.

I'm gay and while I don't normally care who knows, there are absolutely places in this part of the world where I go into stealth mode for my own safety. A black person certainly doesn't have that option. If I was black there was no way in hell I would have made that stop.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 1:11 PM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


The TopGear crew was therefore shocked when people they deliberately offended for laughs took it seriously and tried to attack them.

Not to dispute the larger point, but it being Top Gear the more likely statement is "The Top Gear crew therefore feigned shock when people they'd paid or otherwise encouraged to act offended and threatening did what they were asked to do by the producers of the show."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:23 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I read the Gary Younge piece a couple of time this morning. I was especially struck by his comparison between the U.S. and the UK and his rejection of the simplistic "at least we don't do that over here" that sometimes comes up in British conversations about American news stories. The juxtaposition between the sickening brutality of the James Byrd Jr murder and the brutality and shameful long-running institutional failures surrounding the Stephen Lawrence murder makes the point effectively. Our police may not have guns, but they certainly have racism.
posted by Aravis76 at 2:54 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


You do realize he's English, right?

I'm quite aware that he's English, yes. However, I recognize him as a member of the Diaspora. You should *probably* ask me about my politics first before assuming that I failed to RTFA correctly.

Secondly, your comparison does not parallel with what I wrote. It has been debated, but ultimately membership in the Diaspora goes across national lines. You are effectively asking me if, as a NJ native, I would feel obligated to stay at my job in Manhattan if turmoil arose in New York.

And also, a precursor to a sense of obligation to stay and fight, in this context (please note the difference in language used to describe this situation), is the realization that racism - and more specifically anti-Blackness - is pervasive and mostly inescapable in the global North. If it cannot be escaped, then perhaps it should be resisted.
posted by Ashen at 3:50 PM on July 1, 2015


... racism - and more specifically anti-Blackness - is pervasive and mostly inescapable in the global North. If it cannot be escaped, then perhaps it should be resisted.

If racism can't be escaped in the "global North," why can't Younge fight it in his homeland of Britain? Why must he stay in the US to fight it? But more importantly this statement seems at odds with your earlier claim that by returning to the UK Younge is in fact escaping:

How wonderful that he has the ability to run from our shared, commuted death sentence.

You can't have it both ways -- either Younge is escaping racism by leaving the US or he isn't. In my opinion it's probably easier to be a black person in the UK than in the US, but perhaps you disagree.
posted by crazy with stars at 4:13 PM on July 1, 2015


But then he isn't leaving the fight, he's going back to Britain where there is plenty of racism to deal with. I'm not sure why he should owe a loyalty specifically to the U.S., such that leaving that country for the country where his parents and brother live is an act of betrayal.
posted by Aravis76 at 4:14 PM on July 1, 2015


Or rather where his parents lived: I just remembered that he wrote a moving piece about migration in which he mentioned that his mother had died.
posted by Aravis76 at 4:18 PM on July 1, 2015


In my first post to the thread, I thought that I had clearly articulated the conflict I experienced regarding the sense of betrayal, or at the least indicated that it wasn't my final takeway. If I didn't - well, it's not.

You can't have it both ways -- either Younge is escaping racism by leaving the US or he isn't. In my opinion it's probably easier to be a black person in the UK than in the US, but perhaps you disagree.

Valid point. I am unsure that Black lived experiences can be neatly compared, so I can't really agree/disagree that to be Black elsewhere is better. There's a lot of sanctioned violence in the US, and it's definitely drawn international attention, but I'm honestly not sure it is better or worse than elsewhere.

Also correct, Aravis76, on the matter of loyalty to the US. I'm inclined to think that the amount of time spent here lends some degree of obligation? But I'm totally open to being wrong on that count, and see the arguments against it.

But I'm using a ton of "I" statements, and I really don't want to hog up a ton of space about my clashing thoughts on Younge's decision to leave, so I'm bowing out of the thread. I'm more open to parsing it out in MeMail.
posted by Ashen at 6:58 PM on July 1, 2015


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