November 06, 2008

Two Vignettes

I know, I know, Obama is a smart man and deserves the Presidency, and people tell me that his skin-color is irrelevant. But is it really? I remember two instances in Congo that make me value his skin-color.

She’s Never Seen Someone Like Us
In Congo two years ago, a colleague and I were walking on a large dirt road connecting patches of jungle to three- or four-hut villages. After walking for a bit, my colleague’s city demeanor, and my whiteness attracted considerable attention, and a group of men with their hunting gear (spears, machetes, shoulder bags, and flip-flops) feel in easy stride along with us, grinning, talking animatedly, and generally keeping pace. My colleague understood the local dialect a little bit, since his mother was from the area.

He started translating what they were saying:

“She’s probably scared of us. She probably thinks we are so uncivilized. Has she ever seen black skin before?”

After 5 minutes of chatter, my colleague answered in their language:

“Actually, you may not know this, but Condoleezza Rice, a black woman, is Secretary of State; and Colin Powell has a high position in the Government as well. There is a large population of black Americans there.”

I was floored that he knew my Government so intimately. I couldn’t have answered as well.

A nun who happened to be a nurse, asked me whether I had interacted with a lot of black people in my life. I laughed a little, telling her that there is a large population of minorities in America, including African-Americans, Asians, and Latinos. She was surprised, and asked me why so many Africans ended up in the United States? Did they immigrate there in a large numbers?

I answered that yes, there are quite a few recent immigrants, but really, it was largely due to slavery. Africans were brought in during the 1700 and 1800s as slave laborers.

While obliviously delivering my snapshot of U.S. history, her stern face quickly jerked back like I had slapped her with a leather glove before a duel. She was obviously shocked and dismayed by this fact, and was reacting physically to the notion.

Embarrassed and sheepish, realizing that she had idea about the existence of slavery in the United States, I fervently wished I had lied or said nothing at all. She avoided me for the rest of the day.

These are two little vignettes. They may seem inconsequential, but they have been in my mind for the last two days, and I can’t help reliving them. I am proud we elected a smart, capable, down to earth person to be president. The fact that he is black is icing on the cake.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting anecdotes!
So where did you spend the election night?