There is something about America that lulls you as soon as you get there. As a white immigrant from Eastern Europe, I wasn’t able to identify that appeal right away. And I had no idea that it had anything to do with my appearing to be white.

Citește varianta în limba română aici.

I simply allowed myself to get excited by the experience of perceived freedom. In my case, the freedom I was enjoying in the first months after landing in Pittsburgh where I spent the first two years of graduate studies was fairly limited given the fact that I had nothing to live on day by day other than a tiny allowance provided by my scholarship. All I cared about however was unlimited access to the East Asian studies library at the University of Pittsburgh, where I had been accepted as a master’s student in Japanese studies. I vividly remember walking down the street from my apartment building to the bus stop, or perhaps it was to the Giant Eagle store a few blocks away and feeling like there was nothing wrong in or with the world. All I wanted and needed was there: that monthly stipend that came with my scholarship—just enough to pay my third of the rent in what looked to me like a huge three-bedroom apartment I shared with a Colombian and a German and cover utilities, food, and even have a little bit for books—great classes taught by excellent professors, and access to the library. For days, I walked mesmerized through the stacks in the Hillman Library, breathing in the smell of old books, stopping here and there to read a title or open a book. I could take any of them, I could read any of them, in Japanese, in English, in French, in Russian, even some in Romanian. They were all available, all there for the taking.

For the two years I lived in Pittsburgh, my apartment was in a neighborhood called Shadyside, and I thought that both the name and the area were simply adorable. I was enchanted with the shops on Walnut Street, the lawns in front of the apartment buildings and the houses, the trees, the squirrels and the bunnies hoping around. A small urban paradise. Almost like in the movies. To my eyes of then, I had in fact landed inside a movie, for America was what I had seen in Hollywood productions. And just like in the movies, the dystopian secret of that Stepford reality was still safely hidden from me.

I was blissfully unaware of anything around me, caught as I was between classes, and research, and the charming neighborhood. Just like a child who needs time to get used to their own environment before they being to explore it, it took me a few good months to realize that other areas in the city were not like Shadyside. The one I used to come closest to on my trips to the Giant Eagle, the neighborhood grocery store, was East Liberty (I would learn much later that in America euphemistic naming was often used to cover up the ugly reality behind). I remember staring sometimes in the distance at one tall building visible from the store’s parking lot and hanging strangely above the highway. It reminded me eerily of apartment buildings in Bucharest, a sight that I didn’t think I’d see in the United States (I was proven wrong many times afterwards). Even from afar, East Liberty seemed very different than Shadyside or Oakland (where the university campus was). And every once in a while, whenever you heard gunshots in the middle of the night, other students would say that they must have come from East Liberty. I learned later that East Liberty was a poorer neighborhood and that it was there that many Black people lived. And it took me a few more years and the experience of the South Side of Chicago and the congregation of African American neighborhoods there, to learn that it was not by choice that Black communities lived there, but due to one of the keystones of systemic racism policies of modern America, redlining.

Understanding the criminal nature of systemic racism policies perpetuated and encouraged in post-slavery America, such as the plethora of laws (mostly state and local as to avoid anti-slavery federal legislation), some limiting the access of freed slaves to voting, to holding public office, to owning property, others allowing for their arrest for every small crime imaginable because that put them right back in that state of semi-slavery that the penal code of the United States created for inmates, yet others limiting their relocation choices, their business opportunities, and, in effect, demoting them to the status of second-class citizens (although citizenship itself was a hotly debated issue for the former slaves) is a sine qua non exercise for anyone truly interested in finding out the roots of today’s inequality in America. Anchored as it is and solidly justified in the Americans’ imagination by racial differences, slavery was and was intended to remain one of the pillars of America’s success at home and abroad as the country was building its young empire.

And I won’t hold it against anyone for not properly grasping the enormity of racism in America, as even for white people living in the United States and, as such, untouched directly by the elaborate system of discrimination and inequity that has been perpetuated throughout the nation’s short history, its systemic nature is not always evident. Just like the rape of the land of Native Americans is glossed over in the education system giving young Americans the idea that most of the native tribes and nations were not conquered by the onslaught of betrayal techniques that became akin to a genocide, but rather willingly and smilingly made way for the “civilizing” force of the European invaders, the history of racism, and even of slavery as such is almost absent from US history textbooks. Not only that, but any attempt to introduce it has been and it still is facing extraordinary opposition and becomes akin to treason in the conservative propaganda, as it is the case with Critical Race Theory in the spring of 2021. (For after all, that is what history is, right? The survival of the fittest, the conquest of the weak by the strong!) Racism is not truly even discussed publicly until a major crime such as the murder of George Floyd suffocated under the knee of a murderous policeman in the spring of 2020 finally triggers it again and brings back to the attention of the mass media and the public opinion.

For white Americans, there is certainly no sense of guilt, no idea or interest in the fact that the wealth of the nation is indebted to stolen lands and to the forced labor of kidnapped people. And Americans and American propaganda have a way of twisting the facts to create a nice and tight narrative, and a heroic one at that: manifest destiny, God-given right, superiority of the white civilizing European, etc., etc. To this day, America is the only country built on stolen, occupied and un-ceded lands where the native occupants of that land are not acknowledged for their sacrifice, for the crime that has been committed against them. And what a healing process could start by adopting simple public acknowledgments of that sacrifice, as we see in places like Canada, Australia or New Zealand! Before every public gathering, every athletic event, every federal or state-sponsored activity to have instead of just the national anthem, someone say the sacred words, “We are gathered here on un-ceded and forcefully occupied lands of the [X Native American] tribe or nation, developed and built with the sacrifice of lives of kidnapped African peoples” thus acknowledging the right to be remembered of all those who were eliminated in order for white America to thrive today. But the deeply-seated racism of Americans and the perpetually ongoing indoctrination and state propaganda make any of these basic human gestures impossible.

And there can be no understanding of racism and its systemic nature in America, if you don’t understand the viciousness of the decades of the Jim Crow Era when American apartheid was established, when the Ku Klux Klan took off and started its reign of terror, and when, despite the adoption of the historic 14th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1868 only a few years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, former slaves and their descendants continued to be denied basic human and citizenship rights, leaving any attempt to establish their own communities and be prosperous be met with vicious attacks and daylight murder. The still very little known Black Wall Street and its tragic demise in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre when thousands of Black children, women and men were killed in their homes by a white mob, the redlining laws meant to keep African Americans outside white residential areas and the sundown laws enacted not only in the historically racist South, but also, and even more egregiously, in Northern states of the federation all stand testimony to that history of white entitlement, hatred and illusions of superiority are only some examples of that historic discrimination, one still very much present in American society today. So very evident was the racism and oppression of African-descendant peoples in the United States, that Adolf Hitler himself was inspired by them and was convinced that America will never start a war against Germany when the cause of purifying the Arian race was a legitimate and justified one. (And he was not wrong, since the United States only joined the European front openly in the summer of 1944 and then only because the Soviet counteroffensive was threatening to take over the entire European continent, as it is well known. But that is another story…)

For when it comes to equality, equity and freedom of property for all its citizens, the United States of America is heavily indebted to a discourse of mysticism and mythologizing of the primacy of the white race, a discourse that very slowly incorporated some immigrant groups, but not all. One according to which, only white, virtuous, hardworking men, God’s favorites, deserve to thrive and enjoy prosperity, while all other categories not only deserve, but should quietly and meekly accept, the fate that has been prescribed to them by Divine judgment. And we might be tempted to think that these people are a minority in today’s America. However, Donald Trump’s presidency has shown that we are in fact looking at about 50% of Americans who share this very weltanschauung. Activated by his discourse of hate, they are now pushing for their world to continue to exist. And they can only do it by maintaining the scaffolding of systemic racism. After their hysterical political leader’s defeat at the poles at the end of 2020, they have now proceeded once again to dismantling and further limiting American citizens’ right and access to vote. (to be continued)


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