Our racist policies didn’t work in Cuba.
At least not in the way it worked back home.
Because while Americans were all for hanging Blacks out to dry, Cubans were fervently against it.
Cubans — Black & White — rose up in unified, adamant protest against our racist policies on their island.
But a lot of good it did them; we reluctantly responded by allowing a minimal number of Blacks back into the sectors of society we had originally ousted them from — but we reinstated those Blacks in a segregated format.
Brown cops had to be separated from White cops, Brown soldiers could not share barracks with White soldiers, etc. Wherever we gave in to Cuban outcry against the banning of Blacks, our reinstatement condition was always that Blacks be separated from Whites.
Hence, the U.S. was responsible for the re-introduction of segregation onto the island of Cuba. Victor said the effects of our systemic racism still exist here today – just as it does back home.
Which, of course, we’re all in denial of.
Well, all except minorities.
But Victor said we did good things in Cuba, too. And I noticed that where the Browns in our group had been riveted by Victor’s history lesson from word one, it wasn’t until this part of the lesson that the Whites in our group began listening intently.
“Of course we did good things here,” someone (White) piped up righteously. “We always help other countries.”
“That’s true,” someone else added. “And that’s the real America. That’s what we do. It’s what we’re known for.”
The silence that followed was eerie.
Waves of God-only-knows-what-emotions came slamming silently but powerfully into our group from the hovering group of Cubans. Even Victor seemed to be struggling with something.
Finally, he took a deep breath and said softly, “That is not what America is known for.”
Karli & I exchanged looks. This moment was painful to be a part of. We both felt it. I think we all felt it.
Strangely, I had an urge to run away. I didn’t want to hear any more.
I didn’t want to think about what it all exposed about America…about our legacy of violently racist imperialism revamped today as a righteous war on terrorism…about how deeply divided we are still, by color, even as we protest this fact with patriotic claims of equality.
And what about what Victor said, about America not being known for our benevolence? I’ve heard this before in other countries, from other foreigners. But that only started happening when I began venturing far outside the confines of tourist areas where foreigners aren’t so compelled by profit to make nice with Americans.
After the coddling of tourist towns, it’s a lot easier to dismiss less loving foreign views about America.
Unless the topic of 9/11 comes up.
Standing there in that loaded silence in the museo, where even the background noise seemed to recede, I had a sudden flashback to a conversation with a group of Israeli backpackers I met on layover in Heathrow airport last year.
I wrote about it, but remember? That journal is laying on the bottom of Blood River. God, I still can’t think about it without launching into shoulda-coulda syndrome. I should have dived in. I could have saved it. All those stories & mementos…washed away in the red rivers of outlying Africa. My heart & precious memories were in that fat book…
Stop! Can’t go there again. Feeling all tight & teary inside. What’s gone is gone. The end. Get over it. Just let it go, already. Okay. Anyway. Heathrow. En route to Madagascar. Me, a few Brits, 2 other Americans, a couple from Norway, and a group of Israelis.
We were all sitting/leaning/laying on our packs on the crowded airport floor, waiting for flights to resume following a horrendous storm. We got hungry, took turns watching each other’s stuff while we went to buy food, then sat around eating & talking.
Somehow the topic of 9/11 came up. The conversation went something like this:
“Terrible,” said the Brits.
“So awful,” said the Norwegian couple.
They didn’t meet our American eyes when saying this. I remember having the distinct impression that their expressions of sympathy rang false. If felt like when you have spinach in your teeth and everyone can see it, but they’re all telling you you look great.
“We’ll be next,” one of the Israelis said.
It was a surprising comment to me, since I wasn’t really familiar with the goings-on of Israeli.
“Why?” I asked.
Everyone except me & the other Americans. Our facial expressions must have prompted the next question.
“You have no idea why you were attacked, do you?” the Israeli asked us.
“Those people did not deserve to die,” I answered rather prickly.
I don’t know why I answered this way. I’d traveled around enough to learn that most foreigners are much more direct than Americans. But the way he had posed his question made me feel suddenly defensive about my country.
One of the other Americans backed me up. “It doesn’t matter ‘why’ we were attacked. It shouldn’t have happened.”
The Israeli stared at us strangely for a minute before asking, “You think it doesn’t matter why?”
“Whatever the reason, no one deserves to be attacked that way,” I answered firmly.
“Unless your country is doing it?” he asked.
It felt like a slap in the face. But when I looked at him, I saw genuine curiosity instead of malice. His question wasn’t a slight. He really wanted to know.
“You call it an ‘attack.’” another of the Israelis said.
“Because that’s what it was,” I responded.
“It was a retaliation,” he countered.
“Retaliation for what?” I shot back.
The looks I got from nearly every foreigner within earshot made me want to reach up to feel my head for antennae.
“We are familiar with retaliation,” the Israeli said. “You are not. I understand. It was your first big one. So, maybe that’s why you don’t recognize it for what it was. Like your country, ours does not name it ‘retaliation.’ Like you, we name it ‘attack.’ End of story. We don’t talk about ‘why.‘ But we all know. We just don’t say it. And we hang people who do.”
One of the Americans was a guy. He stood up suddenly, and said, “Hey man, why don’t you back the f*ck off this topic?”
He was pissed. His face darkened, his body language was confrontational, and I’m pretty sure his aura was a deadly shade of black & blue…
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“Diary of An American Girl’s Journeys to the Forbidden Land”