It’s not surprising that a country founded on genocide toward native peoples, an economy founded on slavery, a culture permeated with religious differences and the usual rich-poor divide not to mention the racism endemic to the human race should find a few cracks in the multicultural democratic myth that sustains it. This is particularly true after four years masterfully manipulated by a Humpty Dumpty authoritarian President.
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory.'” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t–till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!'”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master–that’s all.”
One of the best novels on the would be multicultural experiment of America is White Teeth by Zadie Smith. While it was written twenty years ago in and about London it holds up well and is equally descriptive of an America I thought I knew, an America I hoped was or could be. Alas, that dream has shattered. Whether all the King’s horses and all the King’s men can put it together again is a matter of debate. God knows our current President is trying, trying so hard he stumbled racing up the stairs of Air Force One on his way to Atlanta. Anti-Asian hate has spiked as the blatant white supremacy of the debauched Trump years outlives its fading master. Here is a piece from Zadie Smith’s novel, Zadie Smith who bears not a little resemblance to our current Vice President.
This has been the century of strangers, brown, yellow, and white. This has been the century of the great immigrant experiment. It is only this late in the day that you can walk into a playground and find Isaac Leung by the fish pond, Danny Rahman in the football cage, Quang O’Rourke bouncing a basketball, and Irie Jones humming a tune. Children with first and last names on a direct collusion course. Names that secrete within them mass exodus, cramped boats and planes, cold arrivals, medical checkups. It is only this late in the day, and possibly only in Willesden, that you can find best friends Sita and Sharon, constantly mistaken for each other because Sita is white (her mother liked the name) and Sharon is Pakistani (her mother thought it best–less trouble). Yet, despite all the mixing up, despite the fact that we have finally slipped into each other’s lives with reasonable comfort (like a man returning to his lover’s bed after a midnight walk), despite all this, it is still hard to admit that there is no one more English than the Indian, no one more Indian than the English. There are still young white men who are angry about that; who will roll out at closing time into the poorly lit streets with a kitchen knife wrapped in a tight fist.
It’s long past time we deal with immigration and our love-hate relationship with it. If you like Chinese food, Mexican food, Indian food or for that matter fish and chips or pâté de foie gras you better get a grip on your feelings about people whose skin and hair and styles and even culture is different. The great American melting pot has been our strength, not our weakness. More recently, however, the inherent difficulties with multiculturalism have been exploited by those whose purpose is to divide us. Must we throw out the baby with the bathwater?
The spelling of Amerika in the title above is not accidental. It is the name of a novel, the first and unfinished novel by Franz Kafka. The opening lines of the novel are as follows:
As he entered New York harbor on the now-slow-moving ship, Karl Rossmann, a seventeen-year-old youth who had been sent to America by his poor parents because a servant girl had seduced him and borne a child by him, glimpsed the Statue of Liberty, which he had been observing for some time, as if in a sudden burst of sunlight. The arm with the sword now reached aloft, and about her figure blew the free winds.
… the arm with the sword. Is it a sword or a torch? This is a question for today. Who am I? What am I? These eternal questions hound us as they have always hounded us. Does the arc of the moral universe bend toward justice? Is the United States really a shining city upon a hill? Or is it a country inhabited by tight assed bigots who have their knickers in a snit? You tell me.