Monday, June 08, 2009

SOS Racisme

Ah, the old country, with their old fashioned ways... Coming back yesterday night in the last Metro, we sat across a guy who looked like he could have been from Pakistan or Bangladesh. A French man sat next to him. He looked like a fourth rate Alain Delon and sported a coif similar to Anton Chigurgh in No Country for Old Men (we should have known this meant bad news).
Alain Delon was apparently leaning hard against the immigrant on purpose. Immigrant tried to figure what to do about this aggressive intrusion on his space. Finally, as Alain pushed him noticeably harder, the immigrant politely asked him to stick to his space. Alain Delon reacted instantly with enormous hostility. What I could interpret from quickfire French and body language was, what is your problem; you don't think there's enough space? You want a fight? (The Paris Metro seems to have been designed with the likes of Coco Chanel in mind. Unless you are elfin, it's too close for comfort even when half empty.)
At first I thought it was a case of sexual harassment, but then it was obvious that it was worse: a case of pure and simple racist provocation, subtle and cowardly.
The argument escalated relatively mildly, considering the affront, with us thinking they were going to start pulling on each other any minute now, but the immigrant knew better and the French guy stood up and left at the next station, perhaps because there were too many people around. He knew on whom to pick. I bet he wouldn't have dared do it to a less mild-mannered foreigner.
I wish I could have intervened, but I simply don't have the French for a fight. I guess that the word motherfucker is universally understood by now, but it all happened too fast. The outrage came in a slow build up, moments later. The immigrant looked at us for confirmation that he was in the right and we exchanged looks of disgust and solidarity. He muttered under his breath: raciste.
It was appalling.
In my 16 years living in the US, the only time I ever witnessed openly racist behavior was on the night of 9/11, when some hoods were telling a shwarma vendor on McDougal St. to pack up and leave.
Now, before we go any further, I wish to state the obvious, which is that racism is absolutely everywhere; as natural a part of the human condition as breathing. However, I believe that in the US it has evolved into something more underground, more cautious.
Many Americans have embraced total pluralism in their personal lives. Not to bring up more of the obvious, but we only need to say three words: Barack Hussein Obama. Not only is he the President, but he is a living example of what I am talking about, which is extremely common in the US, a person with a plurality of ancestries.
Those Americans who are not as pluralistic, have learned to disguise their prejudices. They have learned to live with the fact that we are part of a truly pluralistic society, whether they like it or not. Political correctness, for better or for worse, is the standard American response to racism, pure hypocrisy disguised as good intentions, yet it's better than nothing. In America, we can credit the formidable Dr. King and the brave people of the civil rights movement for a revolution in thought, that as far as it is from being total or perfect, is one of the greatest advances for progress in the history of that country, and of the world. Of course Europe is full of well-meaning people who find racism aberrant and intolerable. But its history is different and Europe still has a long way to go.

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