The United States of America, that country that I thought was so like Europe. That I thought to be the epicenter of everything Western. With the change in powers underway at the moment, the double feelings all come back in full force.
The Up and the Down
For four months I was able to live and work in the United States, to meet some of the incredible people working at the Baha’i Chair for World Peace and at the University of Maryland, where I was fortunate to engage in discourse that continually aimed at developing “a sound scientific basis for knowledge and strategies that lead to the creation of a better world.” I had long conversations about the reality of race, read many books about feminist thinking, and worked on my project: to conceive of a method of philosophy that is not divisive but based on the matrixial mode of being.
Then to return home every day (with traffic, my living in a suburb and not having a car, an adventure in itself!) to a place where I was approached as being a white elitist, an ignorant European that had no clue about the supremacy of hard-working Americans. I saw first hand the problem of knowing you’re right. First I told them I didn’t agree with them. Then I tried to give some nuance, that not all Muslims are terrorists, that women are also humans, that we can agree to disagree. But in the end, I stayed quiet. I turned off the television as I entered the shared rooms, as I couldn’t listen to FOXnews 24/7 like they could.
My love and my despair
In a country I grew to love because of its rich history of fighting for freedoms, its beautiful nature, its strange but entertaining customs, its cultural differences, a patriotism that warmed my heart – I also felt a deep despair regarding precisely those things I fell in love with.
The fighting for freedom started to include fighting for a freedom from human decency, a freedom from science.
The nature is seen as property to be used and consumed as economy sees fit. Those beautiful natural parks, I fear for their existence. The Indian reservations I drove through, where a people live whose wealth is structurally taken away.
Those customs… where in China I had to bring my own bags to the supermarket (gladly!), in the US the only question the lady at the register asks me… is whether I want it double-bagged. Observations tell me everyone says ‘yes’ and every over-sized plastic container of something containing too much sugar is placed in two plastic bags. By itself. Each double-bag is so small, or each product so large, that often only one product fits in one bag.
Cultural difference… for instance that people are much more open and approachable in the streets, easily talking to strangers – but the homeless people going through a psychotic break on the street, shouting, talking to the voices in his head, is left alone, is not seen, at most people get upset and tell him to go away.
Patriotism of flags flying high everywhere, too many to count, but it’s hard to know what this means. It is not as if you don’t know you’re in America, there are no borders close by, there is nothing that is threatening for them to no longer be American… And then you wonder, is it a pride in a set of American beliefs that are better, or a pride in being better because on is American?
Overall, I learned to see things with different eyes. I learned things about my own eyes, and the way I have always looked at things. I’m privileged, and I’m still figuring out what that means, and as now I’m back in Europe, I realize that even though I still have no clue what this means and how it works and what I can do about it, I do see that in Europe this is not even out in the open. But I do know I don’t want to be a fighter for complacency, as this author so beautifully said in response to someone who doesn’t realize she is not equal, even though we’d like to think so.
I’ve learned that I never wanted to call myself a feminist, because I was raised in a time in which it was no longer necessary to fight for equality. It felt like putting a finger on a difference we were better to forget once existed. But the more I learn to consider reality with my new eyes, the more I realize how male thinking is still the norm, and this has never changed. Yet.
If I should point out one thing that has stuck to me most from my time in the US, it is that it is time to listen to black women. (And in the European context: any minority women… for our histories are different, but our present is scarily similar…)