That Other America

Falling through the universe at the speed of life

By David Glenn Cox

It is our blessing, and it is our curse, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Sounds wonderful, but we don’t mean a word of it. Skin tone, accent, geography, religion, White. Then there are the sub tones of White; you may be White brother, but are you White enough, Mr. O’Leary? “Oh, you’re from that less White region of Europe we traditionally look down our nose at.”  Like the old computer punch card eliminating every possibility until it reaches the ethnic group of “Me, and my family.”

You could learn Mandarin and eat your food with chopsticks and move to China, but you would never be Chinese or French or Mongolian. Your mother must pay your fare for you to ride that ride. But give us your poor huddled masses yearning to be overextended on their credit cards. Willing to walk hundreds of miles across burning deserts with the dream of becoming hyphenated Americans. Looked down upon and spit at for aspiring to the same things your Grandparents aspired to.

My mother was the child of Irish Immigrants in racially charged and ethnically diverse 1930s Chicago. She claimed she only needed to walk six blocks in any direction to get beaten up by a different ethnic group. But those identities went away with hyphenated status. “I don’t want to join an ethnic gang; running through the streets singing Maria! I want to join the bowling league and move to the suburbs and name my kid Steve.” My wife was from Cleveland and bemoaned the decline of a part of town known as Slavic Village. An ethnic ghetto of first- and second-generation Americans who kept their yards trimmed and their houses immaculate to prove they were good Americans. Their children, however, didn’t see the need to prove that point any longer and moved away.

The log cabin was a Swedish design, and the Rodeo is a Hispanic term. Cowboys had to be taught to throw a lasso by the Gaucho’s. This country has no culture of its own, only what the immigrants brought with them. The Irish brought the music, and the Germans brought the beer along with a strange custom of bringing a tree into the house at Christmas! Country Music great Ricky Skaggs was told he played the fiddle in a Donegal style. Skaggs answered, “I’ve never been to Ireland.” But whoever taught you to play the fiddle has been there. But it is easier to assimilate when you’re the same color as the stew and when you weren’t brought here in chains. The implication that White people all came to America as business executives and bankers, Peter Minuit and let’s make a deal for Manhattan! They couldn’t have been drunken sailors thrown off their ship or ner do wells who came here trying to outrun the law. My Grandfather changed his name when he came to this country…I wonder why?

America is bible thumping Woodstock. Why, if you don’t have a religion by the time you get here. You can make one up! “Watch me look into this hat, I think I hear an angel coming!” Puritans and camp meetings becoming multimillion dollar media spectaculars. Why do Americans act so insanely? Because we always have before and I guess it’s our legacy. Trying to escape our own heritage to become a part of some mythical American heritage. My mother was Irish, I was an American. I was cut off from any of that in the suburbs and knew no more of Ireland than of Timbuktu.

I had John Wayne history lessons and once the director yelled “Cut!” all the Indians got back up and went home. “We’re going to give you twenty-six silver dollars for the whole Nebraska Territory, and you can come back visit any time you like!” Over a hundred years ago Eugene Debs asked, “What does the Black man want?” The answer was nothing, nothing but to be allowed the same freedom as everyone else. And coincidentally, Debs views matched almost exactly with young Malcom X. As Malcom warned that White politicians that wanted to help the black man were almost as dangerous as the White people who wanted to hurt them.  I watch a lot of older movies from the forties and believe the window on the treatment of African-Americans to be kinder than the truth and it exposes our shame. “White’s Only, Colored Waiting rooms and if you want ice cream little boy, you’ll have to go to the “other” window because only ice cream for White people comes out of this window.  Come on man; you’re putting me on! “I can’t breathe.”

Daniel Inouye fought in the 442 regimental combat team during World War Two. (combat team = you guys up front) Composed of Japanese Americans who fought in Europe, because we didn’t trust them to fight the Japanese. Inouye was wounded repeatedly and lost his arm trying to prove he was a good American. The Tuskegee Airmen were trying to prove they were good Americans, yet our pride in their actions hides the shame of their existence. Why were there Tuskegee Airmen? Why did an all-Japanese- American outfit, fight in Europe? Does including Negro League Baseball statistics with MLB statistics, hide the fact that fine players were locked out of the game by the color of their skin? Forced to play in subpar conditions, sleeping in cars or barns. Driving hundreds of miles across America while the White boys slept in a Pullman cars and ate steak.

But this is it, last stop on planet Earth! Open enrollment, we take anyone! Our diversity is our strength, isn’t that right Mr. Tesla? If your dream is to drive your German car to the Mexican Restaurant. While your wife orders Sushi online and the kids order genuine Chicago Style Italian pizza in Newark. There is only one place. But because America is so roughshod and thread bare don’t expect mental health, you’re on your own Bubba…it’s the American way! So, someone climbs a clock tower or shoots up a country music show or Asian Massage Parlors, and we act shocked. We watched the police murder George Floyd, and we act shocked. Like we weren’t all just standing there, like it hasn’t been going on for hundreds of years.

That other America, the one we don’t like to talk about much.

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