Monday, January 16, 2006

The Danish Girl Who Knew What Kind of Nation the United States Is

When I first came to Paris, I lived in the Cité Universitaire's Fondation Danoise. When meeting new people (most of them Danish students), I would sometimes get odd reactions when I mentioned my dual nationality. For instance, one time two girls seemed shocked that I would admit that I was also American. They couldn't seem to understand that I wasn't ashamed of that and that I wouldn't try to hide it.

(Among other deep thoughts I heard there were how China had become a model country under Mao and how, if anyone wore a turban and rode a camel, it was a sure bet that Americans would be stupid enough to drop bombs on them.)

One day, a slightly older woman passed by the Foundation. She was in her late 20s or early 30s, and she never smiled. When I mentioned the United States in the reading hall, it didn't take her a hundredth of a second for her to blurt out
Det er et racistisk land.
"It's a racist country." That was the judgment for 300 million individuals — no more, no less.

All of this was way before 9-11, of course, in my shy younger days, way before I had developed Americans Anonymous, so I wasn't that good at arguing, but I still attempted to throw in a few facts.

That's when her husband walked in.

He was American.

And he was black.

Jet black.

Neither of them ever smiled. It rapidly became obvious that there was no (or very little) love between the two.

It seemed readily apparent that she had married him for her convictions; she had not married an individual (of whatever color), and that for his inherent personality traits (I almost wrote for his strength of character). No, she had deliberately chosen a component of a community to prove (to the world, to herself) that she was part of the anti-racist élite, that she was superior to others.

Now, because the PC Gotcha Gang (with apologies to William Safire) is as quick to search for (and find) evidence of racism everywhere (as quick, indeed, as the Danish girl), it is necessary for me to make an amend here. I am all for people marrying whom they want. I harbor no doubts whatsoever that there are many (probably that most) relationships between people of different colours, races, creeds, and religions work.

But I also know this: No more than a white supremacist should deliberately restrict his pool of choices to a (wo)man of the same color should an anti-racist restrict his pool to a (wo)man of the opposite color.

Then again, I also know that love and friendship are too important for them to be reduced to posturing and peacocking for the outside world (and for one's own self), no matter how important the battle.

Finally, I know this: if racism and injustice are to be fought, to concentrate only, or even mainly, on the United States, is blinding yourself to a number of unsavory facets of countries throughout the planet (not least in Africa), racist or not, far worse than those that go reported in America.

Update: a Danish expatriate in America reacts

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