This is a guest post by Ankhesen Mié, who reads and comments at swpd as Moi, and who writes about herself, "I’m an Ambazonian-American author who digs the unusual. I blog a lot about race, I’m allergic to seafood, and I have a weird thing for really old men."
I just had a very interesting evening at a bar with two white guys. For this post, we'll call them Jay and Tim; Jay in his mid-20s and Tim is in his late forties (at least) -- just FYI.
Our First Topic -- Stack
So we're having drinks and talking about Andrew Joseph Stack and the apparent hesitation to brand him a terrorist (which he was, by the way). Jay, like most people, doesn't consider Stack's actions terrorism because they weren't on the same scale as 9/11 and didn't incite as much fear. I argued the media and FBI were deliberately trying to avoid inciting fear, and Tim and I explained to him white denial, etc. in the face of a "white threat" in order to maintain that "us-vs-them" mentality. Tim and I also had to repeatedly explain terrorism, its basic definition, and how Stack's actions fit that definition to a T.
Jay maintained that anyone who would fly a plane into a building was merely crazy and immature, and he didn't see how Stack's actions intimidated anyone. Jay apparently hasn't been paying attention to the news, because the intimidation is most definitely there...so again, Tim and I had to explain the social and sociological factors which most people ignore in these situations (e.g., Americans regularly joke and criticize the IRS, so there's been no major outcry in its defense, even though 190 innocent people were almost murdered -- regular people just like them. And yet folks can't seem to link our everyday sense of IRS "humor" to the creation and maintenance of our insensitivity towards its employees' lives).
Tim and I quickly realized that all this wasn't sinking in for Jay, because Jay was hung up on the scale and aftermath of 9/11; with Stack, he couldn't see the idealogical aspect [read: religion], nor could he see the organizational/brotherhood aspect of McVeigh -- even though we explained repeatedly that a terrorist does not have to belong to an organization.
And so there sat Jay, doing that common white thing -- he stubbornly insisted that both Stack and the 19 men who took out the Twin Towers were simply "crazy and immature."
Our Second Topic -- What Caused 9/11
So I abandoned Stack and went with 9/11. I asked Jay and Tim to honestly, seriously, tell me the root of terrorism, and why someone would resort to it. Jay laughingly insisted on mental illness, while Tim solemnly talked about hatred, fear, and the desperate desire to change things. Jay scoffed out how bringing down the Towers -- full of innocent civilians -- could never solve any problems. I said the point was not to "solve" a problem -- those 19 men were not delusional. Terrorists are not actually "crazy": they do what they do for a reason, but Jay couldn't divine it for the life of him.
So I dropped some words: social inequality (both domestic and global), exploitation, subjugation, and colonialism.
"See," Jay rolled his eyes, "this what bugs me about that -- 'imperialism,' ' colonialism' -- who cares?!"
"Bingo!" I pointed at him. "That right there? That is what makes America -- civilians especially -- a target for terrorists.
"Victims have long memories. You 'don't care' because you have no clue what it's like to have nothing. You may be poor by American standards, but you have no clue what real poverty is -- and neither do I. You don't know what true, blatant, raw dehumanization is like. I have African parents, I was born in Austin, TX and have spent most of my life in America. For the brief period I lived in Cameroon, I had nannies. I went to a private school. My family is prominent in our home province. So while I too could never see myself flying a plane into a building, I could see why my parents or grandparents -- who were born and raised under colonial rule -- would.
"My father sat me down when I was young to explain how such life was for an African child. He went to a Christian, British-run boarding school, and didn't see his kin for months at a time. When there, he could not go by his African name; he had to use his English one. He couldn't speak his native dialect even if some of his classmates were members of the same tribe. He could not practice any ancestral beliefs, but Catholicism instead. And most people in America don't know this, but it was -- for a very long time -- colonial educational policy to teach African children that their ancestors who built the pyramids, temples, kingdoms, and palaces whose ruins still stand, and who featured heavily in the recited histories of griots and scholars (yes, Africans have always had their own historians) -- the children were taught these ancestors were white, and that they [the children] had neither history nor legacy."
Now mind you, Jay's face was red through all this; he was not speaking, and he was avoiding eye contact as though his life depended on it. So I just went on about how colonialism and chattel slavery will never be practiced against Africans again, and not because the Western world has become so evolved, but because Africans will die before they allow it to happen. Same thing here: if white America decided to displace Native Americans from their reservations right now, Native Americans would not just sit back and let it happen. What happened before will never be allowed to happen the same way again in this world.
Tim added how America has not evolved; it's young, and doesn't have the extensive the historical lengths of other nations. It's going through its own attempts at imperialism right now, though it will neither recognize nor admit to it. I then added that when the conflict between colonialists and Native Americans first became dead serious, the colonialists were no doubt being told, "This is not your country. These are not your things. Either deal with us like civilized people or go back to wherever you came from."
"Sound familiar?" I asked Jay. "No? Here's another hint."
I explained that Middle East Asians, when talking about their history of mistreatment by Westerners, don't start their story in the last 20-50 years. They start it with the Crusades. Since the time of the Crusades, the Mid East has endured cyclical invasions --but Americans don't know that. And like most countries today, the modern Middle East has spent years wrangling with arrogant American politicians and "diplomats" who basically show up to dictate how things will be done (even Western European politicians complain of this type of treatment). The conflict we are witnessing now is no different from America's conflict from centuries ago: the Mid East will not back down. The war drags on unsuccessfully because our previous administration erroneously assumed these broke, "backward", brown people could be brought to heel, as brown people have been before -- no. They will die before they let that happen. Listen to how they react to American presence on their soil: "This is not your country. These are not your things. Either deal with us like civilized people, or go back to wherever you came from" -- does this sound familiar now?
Jay could still not see why Arabs would target American civilians. I explained it's because American civilians have not been listening for decades. Oh, they know their government does some "exploiting" here and there (Jay actually said things along this line) but they don't know the gory details.
Americans don't understand how it feels to have heavily armed foreigners show up and order them around with slurs and threats. They don't care to know. Genocide was going on Rwanda long before America got involved. Why? Americans didn't care (once again; Americans have forgotten their initial negligence, but I can assure you Rwandans have not). Americans put a dim-witted butcher in office and left him there for eight years to the detriment of themselves and the extreme detriment of others, but have already forgotten the "put him there" part and talk as though he just "became" President out of nowhere. Americans knew he was being a bully to others, but didn't stop him. He killed their children, disfigured some others, and massacred hundreds of thousands of humans on the other side of the world, and Americans paid him a fat salary all the while. Americans don't know Arabic history, don't understand or respect Islam, don't pay attention to their crimes against the Middle East, feel entitled to the rewards they reap from beneath Eastern soil, don't care if their president is committing atrocities in their name...and yet Americans have the gall to wonder why 19 Arab men would go directly after them.
Jay, who'd become a lot less humorous and animated, still insisted on the "insanity" defense, causing Tim to shake his head at him. Tim then used an example I hadn't thought of -- Appalachia itself. All three of us have spent the bulk of our lives in Appalachia, and Jay is perhaps the most "Appalachian" of us three: he was born here, he's unable to stay away from it for too long, is currently working for the state researching and writing grants to help provide homes and jobs for the homeless population, and like most Appalachians, Jay refuses to leave in the foreseeable future.
Our Third Topic -- Appalachia
FYI, most Americans can't point out West Virginia on a map (don't ask me what they put down as the 50th state whenever they came up one state short in elementary school geography). West Virginia, in case you're wondering, is the beating heart of Appalachia to some folks. To "outsiders" who have some knowledge of its existence, West Virginia like a "Third World Country," populated solely by illiterate hicks who are often the stuff of horror films and the butt of incest jokes. Most Americans don't know WV's history, nor why, how, or even that it separated from Virginia in the first place (it was an anti-slavery state, just so you know).
Appalachians have been poor and neglected for generations -- there has never been a "Golden Age" in this region. Like Africa and the Mid East, WV is, ironically, brimming with natural resources: vast forests, huge coal mines, abundant natural gas, natural springs, and long rivers. For generations, outside companies have come in, taken what they've wanted, and then moved on, leaving massive poverty in their wake. Out of all Appalachians, West Virginians in particular have come to loathe "outsiders" (and in Southern WV, where poverty is severe, political officials and state employees are almost never greeted pleasantly). And while their distrust continues to hinder their economy and education, it has kept their distinctive identity -- and historical memories -- intact.
'Cause again, kids, victims have long memories.
Our talk was finally starting to sink in a little for Jay, and I wasn't shocked that it took the only other white guy in the talk to finally break through to him (however, I was refreshed to see an older white guy schooling a younger one about the need to see things from the "Other Side." I was also elated when Tim brought up John Brown and how his raid was -- and is still sometimes -- considered an act of terrorism).
Now, Tim and I had been vibing quite well this whole time, smoothly backing each other up with insights and historical tidbits, much to Jay's visible discomfort. It was late, and the bar was getting too loud for us to keep talking, so I began to say my goodbyes. Tim and I cheerfully thanked each other for the conversation, but Jay was deeply concerned I might be angry with him. Needless to say, his worry baffled Tim and me, considering how I had not expressed any anger at all. Why would I? Tim demonstrated exemplary supportiveness, global historical knowledge, and astounding insight; our intertwining dialogue had been excellent...and all Jay had to say was he feared I may never speak to him again??!?
Jay uncomfortably insisted he still "just couldn't understand" how anyone would think terrorism was an answer, and that they'd have to be insane to actually fly a plane into a building. Sighing and giving up, I simply assured him I wasn't angry in the least, but insisted on heading out (I figured Jay might talk to Tim more comfortably if I was absent). I accepted Jay's hug, and let him walk me to my car.
Hope he and Tim are having a good talk.