Monday, December 27, 2010

Racial Blahs at SUNY New Paltz

I remember when I was still a greenhorn in the US having just gotten my green card and barely out of my teens, I was studying at the State University of New York in New Paltz. There was a black fraternity there. They used to march and chant some slogans. I could not make out exactly just what it was they were chanting but it did not sound friendly. Basically, they occupied a dorm in the back of the campus, and once I went there, and there were all these murals about how blacks were brought to America. The dorm folks there seemed to be united in some nationalistic organization with leaders and also, there were some Rastafarian guys with dreadlocks walking around. These were also kind of like spiritual leaders. I tried to talk to them, but they were giving me pissed off looks. There were also some intellectual black guys and they looked like revolutionaries lost deep in thought, and they were also hanging around that area with the other nationalists.

One day I found a black nationalist newspaper in my dorm. There were angry poems in it about how a honkey could not be trusted the same way a wild tiger could not be trusted. How they ( black people that is) were never meant to be in the US “ thanks to the boy with blue eyes”. The nationalists went campaigning from dorm to dorm and in one of their articles,they were comparing the white dorms to “cold snow”. It was winter, there was snow outside, and I felt so sad reading about the whole thing.

Eventually I met a black guy in my Spanish class, and I was assigned to be his tutor to help him with the language. He was one of the leaders in that dorm and he kind of relaxed a bit after he had found out I was an immigrant to the US and not a real “ honkey”. He was studying chemistry, and we got into many discussions on many topics, including racism. He had told me that after all his experiences of living in the US, he had decided to “stick with his race”. I told him that in a way he was perpetuating apartheid and segregation by doing that to which he replied sadly that well, that is how things were and that he was doing his best to adjust to the situation.

There was another black guy in my dorm, though, who was obviously gay and he did not belong to that nationalistic community. He hung out with people of all races and was very happy and was basically accepted by the theater folks he was always with. There was also a very black teacher there, originally from Jamaica, who was darker in color than coal but he was always hanging out with other teachers and did not seem to be sharing in the same sad spirit with the black dorm guys.

All in all, there was still a lot of anger and “pissed-off-edness” on that campus and it left an unpleasant aftertaste in one’s mouth after a month of being there. At that time, I was dating a black girl from Panama who was very African in appearance but very Hispanic in culture. She also did not accept the segregation, and wanted to make friends with everybody. Many black American girls though, did not like the fact that she was with me and made snide remarks about us being together.

I learned at that time that black people from the Caribbean or Latin America really did not feel the same way as many black people in the US. And they too, had been brought to the Americas as slaves. Originally, I mean. One Jamaican girl told me: “we do not consider ourselves black- we consider ourselves Jamaican”. I was also hanging out with some Haitian girls who were also pretty black but very French in culture and outlook, and who did not know the meaning of the word “honkey”. My friend and I used to visit them and practice our French with them and hang out with them eating and joking and just socializing. So, again, during that time I learned that possibly, in other countries things were different.

I was living in the section of the dorm with some African students. Some guys were from Tanzania and Kenya and also, from West Africa. These were mostly nice and I made friends with them, too, The anger was coming mostly from a certain contingent of Black Americans.

In my native country there were no black people and; therefore, I was still very new to the racial dynamics in the US but by observing this centuries- old strife I kept wondering- "well, why can’t these people who are writing about the evil honkeys just, leave, you know, and go to places where such evil feelings did not exist? Such as, well, maybe Panama or Jamaica? Or Haiti or Africa?

And maybe in those countries I could date black girls and we could all have fun together without having to deal with all this nonsense? I also met US whites who were guilt- ridden and who were dating black American guys to “make up” for the centuries of oppression. I, as a person who'd just recently got off the refugee visa but still stateless, was trying hard to fit in and get Americanized but I just could not accept the whole thing. I felt that this was really a gratuitous problem, totally unnecessary. But I guess it filled some people’s lives with the sense of martyrdom and cause.

I also learned that in case of non American blacks, some American Black people did not treat them well, and did not help them. They seemed to have got all their help from white people. There was virtually no mixing between American and non American blacks. Strange! What happened to all that black unity that was being preached?

1 comment:

Silas MacLendon said...

Interesting to hear the perspective of an immigrant on this. I could go on and on about it.

Academic John U. Ogbu did a study in a well-to-do black neighborhood and determined that black students lagged because their families did not emphasize education as much as other races.

This has been very much my observation too. I went to an elite private university, and 1.3% of my class was black males. Truth be told, some of these were much below average for the class (though not all). This liberal university was clearly embarrassed by this number and would have accepted any reasonable black males who applied. Unfortunately, blacks who try to achieve are dragged down by their peers, and are told they are acting 'white' and so on.

This reminds me of a joke that an Indian (India) person told me, and that all Indians seem to think is funny. A man starts a job at a crab processing plant. He sees the open boxes of live crab go by on a conveyor. He asks his foreman, "Watch out, those crabs will escape!" The foreman says, "Never mind. Those are Indian crabs. If one tries to climb out the others will drag him back down."