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Xenophobes for McCain

I expected this presidential election to go negative. I’m sure we all did. They always do, don’t they?

I expected racial slurs- though coded, as well as a few age slurs flung about, character assassinations attempted, a scandal or two or three, death threats made by the hundreds, even perhaps an ill-advised actual assassination attempt (though I’m sure the Secret Service would have thwarted it.) I think it’s safe to say that that’s the nature of the beast. All par for the course.

There have been some surprises, though. None too pleasant, either. And, the latest surprise is by far the least pleasant of all.

I was surprised that someone as heroic as John McCain and someone as soccer-momish as Sarah Palin- the so-called Country First ticket- would, with a few ill-chosen words, actually incite a large group of supporters- hungry for change, eager for leadership- into a drooling, eyes-glazing, slur-hurling, lynch mob. I simply didn’t think it was possible, and I certainly didn’t expect it to be…tolerated.

I feel so naive today; like a child that just learned that a very affectionate Uncle he adored was actually a pederast. I feel humiliated and violated, too. McCain wants to unite xenophobes under his banner of Country First . Ok…there’s nothing wrong with that. Xenophobes have as much right to vote as those homeless people in Ohio being dragged off the streets by taxi drivers to register to vote. Obama needs every vote he can get and his supporters are doing whatever it takes to get out the vote.

But what is McCain up to? Where is he going with this new strategy? Is he leading these people, who are desperate for a leader to guide them, and would follow his every command, towards the voting booths on Nov 4th, ballot in hand, or to a suburb in Chicago, Molotov cocktails and torches in hand?

From the recent rhetoric, I think the latter.

I have a little experience with xenophobia. I’m currently living in Japan (’nuff said). But, I must admit, before coming here I thought xenophobia was one of those conditions doctors and pharmaceutical companies got together and created to market a concoction they’d stumbled upon as a side effect while developing a drug to keep men erect or women wet.

Before I moved to the land of the Rising Sun and lowering birthrate, I didn’t know much about the Japanese. The predominant characterizations I’d learned about them was that they were passive to a fault, polite to the extreme, and xenophobic as all get out. The first issue I could live with. I figured with my natural NY aggression I could thrive in such an environment. But after 30 something years of living in the Brooklyn Zoo I was a little worried I’d miss the directness I’ve come to appreciate. I envisioned some kind of superficial society where people constantly hide their true motivations behind masks of gentility.  But, I figured a little politeness wouldn’t kill me.

The latter, xenophobia, however, gave me a moment’s pause.

I remember the first time I encountered the word. I was watching the news one day in 2001, the summer before 9/11, coincidentally (or not), and the anchor said that the US was withdrawing from the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Xenophobia and related intolerance (held in South Africa, ironically) because of certain hateful language that would be used against Israel. There are some who thought the issue of  Reparations for African-Americans for the crimes (committed by the US) against humanity that the American slave trade represented, which was also to be discussed at this conference, was also a reason for the withdrawal, but that’s debatable. The withdrawal was, ironically, issued by, then, Secretary of State Colin Powell.

I remember reaching for my handy dictionary to look up xenophobia, and not knowing what to make of the definition: An unreasonable fear, distrust or hatred of foreigners or anything perceived to be foreign or different. hmmm…

Where I lived in Brooklyn, xenophobia wasn’t, well, feasible. My neighborhood was like a UN of Developing Nations. Nearly every country in the Caribbean and Latin America was represented. Fear of foreign or strange was beyond unreasonable…it was downright ridiculous. It meant fear of leaving your house, or in some cases, your bedroom. Hatred of foreign or strange meant fighting for your life every day, because your school, your neighborhood, and even your apartment building was full of these so-called foreigners with their strange smells and languages and accents, customs and fashions.

Living like this, you learned intimately about other people and cultures, and more importantly how to interact and find common ground. Metaphorically, I lived in a training ground for Americans. Perhaps you made jokes about other cultures among your own. You definitely got into heated discussions about whose culture was better. But you couldn’t rationally harbor hatred or fear, and your silly stereotypes would be challenged on a regular basis. In this environment, not only were the stereotypes present, so were the exceptions. This was the beauty of Brooklyn, to me. The world (or at least representatives of a majority of it) was in my face everyday. In my neighborhood, if you thought African Americans were stupid, shiftless, and lazy then the first one you would meet would be someone like me on my way to work. I’m no genius but I’m far from stupid. If The News told you that Haitians brought AIDS to the US and Hollywood told you they stick needles in dolls and raise people from the dead, then you’ll find out that the girl you’ve been lusting over is Haitian and she’s the most beautiful creature you’ve ever seen. And once she’s your girlfriend you go to her house and learn over dinner that Voodoo is not what Hollywood taught you it was. If you thought Jewish people were cheap or racist, the Jewish kid next door would be one your best friends and your best supplier of the marijuana you smoked together daily. You wake up in the morning tapping your foot to the bachata your Dominican neighbor plays every morning (that you’ve come to love) , smelling the fried chicken and waffles your mother’s hooking up for breakfast in the kitchen while your older brother is trying to creep his half-Chinese / half-Jamaican girlfriend, who’d spent the night, out of the apartment while your mother’s distracted.

But, I guess, living in this “Ghetto” I was spoiled. From my perspective, I grew up in that Melting Pot that America boasts to the world as the ideal. The only thing homogeneous in my community was the milk. And, with my NY arrogance, I came to believe that this was what the whole country should be like, one nation under the groove… That this was the only way America would ever be at its best; the IDEAL America (minus the crime and extreme poverty and the other social ills, of course)

Not to say that Brooklyn wasn’t segregated. You better believe it was! Bensonhurst was Italian, Brighton Beach was Russian, Bay Ridge was Jewish, and Brooklyn Heights was, well, rich- dare I say WASP. And, a foreigner (meaning non-resident or not resembling a resident) trespassing in those areas would be subject to, at best, harassment from the police and at worst some kind of citizen arrest, which have occasionally turned into lynchings in my life time.

So, naturally, I was well aware that there were places in our country where my presence would, at a minimum, draw looks and perhaps fear and hatred. I drove from NYC to Montreal once, through upstate NY, and I was shocked at how different NY is outside of NYC. I stopped for gas near Saratoga and I thought the gas attendant was going to call the police he looked so afraid.  But, I have the tendency to give such people the benefit of the doubt. They’re simply ignorant, I tell myself, not racist. Plus, they see more stereotypical images of me than they see the real me so the stereotypical tends to be more real to them than the real. I imagine they actually begin to feel like they know me and thus they actually feel that their fear is rational. I might very well be high on Crack, angry as hell at the “Man” (meaning him) and have an Uzi in my glove compartment, looking to smoke some fool, for all they know.

Not to suggest I don’t have an angry bone in my body. You better believe I do. Several! But, I would never harm, fear or hate someone for being different. That’s not in my make-up. But, push the wrong fucking buttons and I could be all up in your shit right quick. That neighborhood I described was, in the 70’s when I was being reared, an angry place. The rhetoric that Reverend Jeremiah Wright was lambasted for is soft porn. He was holding back. Some of the teachers in my elementary school would make Wright look moderate, and some of my friends in High School make Wright look white! But, just like Barack could sit in that pew and listen and derive from whatever rhetoric he heard what was useful and what was useless, what was important and what was trivial, what was intelligent and what was stupid, what was rational and what was ridiculous, so could I. And what I’ve come to believe and accept as my personal truths sustain my anger, (some would say unfortunately, but I don’t.)  One of the things that angers me is the hypocrisy in our country. We claim to be tolerant but when it comes time to showing and proving it, too many of us turn into an angry mob.

The Japanese suffer from the same ignorance, only they have a better excuse: They don’t boasts of not being, nor aspire to be, anything but homogeneous. So, like today, when people refused to stand near me on a crowded train, some actually leaving the car and going to the next to avoid being near me, and when a woman, upon noticing me, yanked her child away from me in the convenience store, snapping, “abunai” (dangerous!) and when over a dozen people raised their hands in a defensive posture as they pass me in anticipation of a blow or some kind of assault against their person that I was likely to commit, I still gave them the benefit of the doubt. After all, I tell myself, they have good reason not to trust foreigners, don’t they? Look at the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, damaged at the cellular level for generations to come, their children born with a genetic death sentence.

Nevertheless, I tell myself, they are simply afraid of the change I represent, because I carry with me, like a neon sign, the promise of a society where they won’t have the comfort and security of having a strong inclination of what the other person is thinking and feeling because that person has the same or very similar values, upbringing and indoctrination, and thus his ideas won’t be that distinguishable from your own.

In Japan, I am decidedly The Other. I am, as McCain so succinctly put it, THAT ONE in this country.

I say to whoever would listen that America is proof-positive that it doesn’t have to be that way. That I am the product of a culture that while yes, it has a long way to go before it can be truly considered a successful experiment in multi-culturalism, (freedom, justice and equality for all, and all that jazz), that it is well on its way.  And with Obama’s political ascendancy, my words hold a validity that they didn’t before. And thus, I, like Michelle Obama before me, for the first time in my WHOLE life have been feeling proud to be an American. Even as the mistreatment I receive here continues I’ve managed to keep my head high (figuratively speaking.)

It’s not easy to convince yourself not to hate people that mistreat you for irrational reasons. I know now how my parents must have felt back in the 50s and 60s. I had only experienced their humiliation vicariously until now.  A couple things have enabled me to stay afloat (psychologically). One is…yeah, you guessed it: Obama! I ponder his path from Hawaii to Washington and I think, wow! And I ask myself, when I’m faced with ignorance that would incite violence in most people, “what would B.O. do?” The answer is usually one of patience, grace, and, of course, strategic thinking as opposed to being reactionary. The other thought that has sustained me as I go through these daily assaults on my relatively good nature is the thought that MY country, sweet land of liberty that it aspires to be, is in the process of showing the world that we are truly the greatest nation on…


Now the world turns on the News and sees video of a mob of Americans shouting “Kill Him” “Terrorist” etc, and they, at least the Japanese, say “Yappari!” (Just as we thought).  Aren’t we lucky and wise that we don’t have a multi-cultural society? See! Those kinds of problems are unresolvable. People of different colors, religions and ideas can never live together without violence. They are a stupid, immature and impatient people and culture. One day they will learn what we have learned long ago and through many centuries of civilization: One nation and one race equals peace and tranquility. (I’m paraphrasing, of course, based on the conversations I have had over the past five years.)

I know John McCain and Sarah Palin want to win. I even understand that he feels he’s entitled to win. I can imagine what it must feel like to a man of his accomplishments, war veteran and what not, to see himself snatching defeat from the jaws of victory due to his poor judgment and his affiliation with the Party that is being held responsible for the economic crisis. While a relative neophyte prances around talking change and exposing his weaknesses. Like he said, “it’s not fair!” But, to win at any cost, Just because, as he says, “I know how to win?” To tear down the country so he could get credit rebuilding it if he should find the wherewithal to do it, though I’ve seen no evidence of it?

John McCain…you might get the vote of every xenophobe in America, and you might strike fear of the road ahead in the heart of a majority of the people in this country who really want to move forward. And that might bring you the desperately sought victory you place before your honor and integrity and even your country. But, even then, you will be known as the man that stoked the flame of the hate Americans have been trying to douse since the founders of our country set out to make a more perfect union. And for that, I promise, you will wish you had sacrificed your raging ambition and acquiesced to the apparent will of the American people.

Why? As a result of your dirty deed, there will be such a groundswell of the likes that America has never seen. And not just within her borders, but around the world. A virtual tsunami of not so much Anti-American sentiment, but Anti-YOU! Much the way Barack has become a symbol of what America truly aspires to be, YOU will become the angry, bitter, petty symbol of what’s wrong with this country, and perhaps the world. YOU will preside over the anti- PEACE, anti-HOPE, anti-PROSPERITY presidency.

And you’ll still be talking about “I know how to win” (evidence to the contrary).

We deserve better!

Obama/Biden 08

  1. mas
    October 10, 2008 at 6:43 am

    well said!!

  2. October 10, 2008 at 7:58 am

    I’m one of the erect men you mention. You make some excellent points. I don’t think there’s any place in the world like NYC, everything you described it above is so true, and is a perfect example of how the NY experience (not the downtown/midtown/uptown manhattan experience, I mean the real NYC) is a global education in itself.

    of course, regarding molotov cocktails, Ayers already has that covered.

    The xenophobia is the fuel of the media. Even when they pretend to decry it, they prominently show it. The “news” wants this race to be ugly and they’re doing their best to make it so. It’s the Jerry Springer approach to journalism.

  3. October 11, 2008 at 1:26 am

    What McCain said about “bring troops home with victory” based on this condition is obviously seen as..”give more budget and troops to the wars” Ooh..lovely! And wait the worse condition in US..just wait

  4. Bruce
    October 11, 2008 at 2:30 am

    I grew up in small town white Midwest U.S. After college, I lived in NY for 15 years and now in L.A. for 6.

    The roots of my family are racist, although my mother always taught me not to be prejudiced.

    I have always abhorred any kind of prejudice or views of “other”. i LOVED living in NYC where it was such a melting pot. Of course there was prejudice there of all sorts, but there was also incredible acceptance and honoring of cultures as well. And of course I preferred to be part of those who loved the mix.

    It’s time for America to live up to equality and get over racism, bigotry and prejudice.

    And for that, and so MANY OTHER REASONS –

    Obama ’08!

  5. October 11, 2008 at 3:48 am

    My cousin lives in Japan. Maybe you’re my cousin. *thinks about it*

    Keep up the good work.

  6. barbara
    October 12, 2008 at 5:11 am

    You have put so much together here that is passionate, practical and begs to be said.

    I was born in ’58. My dad was a conservative…a journalist/reporter. Nixon praised him in at least one letter. I disagree(d) with my dad fairly consistently.

    He was for the Vietnam War hook-line-and sinker. I was just a kid, but I had my doubts, big ones. But, for whatever mistakes I beieve he made in his thinking, he,my dad, was always “for America.”

    He’d come here from Canada (not an oppressed immigrant, but an immigrant, with big eyed designs on the country of promise, nonetheless)…

    He died one year ago. He was given a journalistic Hall of Fame award recently. I wonder how he’d feel now…I’m sure he’d accept his award. But, the world, the context, has changed. He’s too young for William Murrow and too old for Fox News. He interviewed Winston Churchill back when..

    I believe Barack Obama is going to be our next President. Thank goodness. But it’s not without some serious fight.

    I just want to say thanks for your thoughts; in the end.

  7. expatforobama
    October 13, 2008 at 2:47 am

    Barbara, thank you for responding. I do feel very passionately about this election and strongly about the hateful path McCain has decided to take to victory. Your Dad sounds fascinating! I have conservative friends (actually one 1 (-; ) and love to kick it with him. would have liked to have met him…
    Steadycat, I don’t know if I’m you’re cousin but he sounds like a great guy. thanks for responding.
    Bruce, we’re gonna pull this off, no diggity!
    Avto, McCain is a warmonger to his heart. I really want to know how he became an authority on winning. Doesn’t he mean “surviving”? He didn’t win the vietnam war, he just survived it. He must think he’s Rambo, only he never came home, still fighting the war in the jungles of his twisted mind.

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