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Note for Non-Americans on Race relations in the USA

22 July 2013

Having spent about twenty years in dozens of countries, I have some idea about how we are viewed abroad. When it comes to race, many people look at America as black and white. In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. We are a bunch of mixed breeds.

One of my siblings recently got a genetic test. We are all over the map, including a trace from Sub-Saharan Africa. Apparently I have black grandmother or grandfather in my tree.  Mostly it turns out we apparently are Northern European, but still we are mutts.  My incredible wife is darker than many so called African Americans.

Insofar as “white” culture in America, there is no definite white culture that most whites belong to.  Many whites are with some form or another of black, Asian, or Hispanic culture, and the inverse is true. Keeping in mind there is no “Asian” culture any more than there is a “white” or “black” or “Hispanic” or “European” or “Thai.” We truly are mixed up with each other, which is one of our primary strengths.

Do you know how many cultures there are in Thailand?  There are so many that I do not even have an idea. There must be a hundred, and even more if we count fusions. Just as Europeans — I spent about six years in Europe — often think America is black and white, we project the same onto other countries.

There must literally be thousands of “Indian” cultures. The varieties are tantamount endless. It would take most people a year just to memorize the names of the languages, dialects, and peoples of India. Indian banknotes are inscribed with about 15 major languages.

There are many “white” cultures in America. I do not know how many. I have traveled extensively to 48 states and it became confusing. A white man from the mountains of Western North Carolina has a completely different culture than a white man from Manhattan. On language, the man from the mountains will understand the dialect of the man from Manhattan, but the Manhattan man might not understand a word the mountain man says.  A Russian immigrant will have a dramatically different culture than an Austrian immigrant.  All will be lumped as “white.”

I relate with “black” culture in my hometown much closer than with some of the “white” cultures I encountered in the USA.  I have far more in common with black kids I started first grade with than with a white man from Budapest.

I understand blacks on a cultural level in my hometown because we grew up together seven days per week for years on end, but some of the “white” American cultures I have encountered were foreign to me. We spoke the same language but I did not always understand where they were coming from. For instance, the idea that a man should flee his home and not protect his family during a home invasion is utterly foreign. I have no idea what planet they got that from.

During my US travels, I found that both many of the blacks and whites in Baltimore were fantastically racist to the point I thought it was kooky. Same down in Miami and over in Los Angeles. Especially racist were many of the blacks who would treat me like an enemy, when I was thinking, “Man, if you get hit by a car, I will pull you out of the street. Why are you acting like this???”

Insofar as “black culture,” again, there is no specific black culture that all subscribe to. Blacks are all over the map on cultures. Some blacks are fantastically racist, while others just take people for what they are.  Gullah speakers in South Carolina have little in common with folks from inner-city Detroit and Jamaicans in Miami.

I see racism in every country I go, which is nearly 70 so far. America is downright tame by comparison with racism in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

The United States has huge and vibrant media and communications base that can magnify and blast our every freckle out to the universe, largely in English.

English is an official language in about 80 countries and territories with hundreds of millions of speakers.  This is important: when big news hits in Japanese language, few people will see it because there is no global focus on Japan, and their media is in Japanese, so only a trickle leaks out, while big news in America generally is a global event.

America is not black and white, and not all blacks hate whites. We got along pretty well in my hometown. There was racism, sure. We saw it plenty. Believe it or not it was usually instigated by blacks but not always. I am specifically referring to my generation in my town. In previous generations it is clear that racism was more instigated by whites.

More interestingly, millions of immigrants today were not around during the slavery and years of severe oppression.  They had nothing to do with it.  A Norwegian or Russian who immigrates today was not around during those times yet if he is involved in some tragedy involving a person deemed as black, most assuredly many people will lump him with the slave owners.

Chinese, Koreans, and Indians who immigrate to America will, when push comes to shove, be lumped in with whites, though they had zero involvement with historical grievances that are being pathologically dragged down the roads of America.

Many immigrants see the situation more clearly for what it is than do many native born Americans.  These immigrants share no guilt or guilt complex.  They are more likely to call it excuse-making.

Many of these immigrants came from backgrounds that make previous US oppression look like playground fights and yet they thrive and move on, which gets them lumped with whites, just as Chinese tend to succeed around the world which in part creates anti-Sino feelings with much violent precedent in many countries.  Chinese often are called “The Jews of Asia” because they succeed, and as pejorative striking two with one stone.

George Zimmerman himself was born in Peru to a Peruvian mother, and reportedly is also of mixed African decent from his mother’s side.  But this matters mostly only to severe racists.

This may sound confusing to non-Americans, which again is my target audience for this dispatch.  Many Americans know most or all of this and more.

To add to the mix and to explain more why emotions have been running wild in the Zimmerman-Martin case, Zimmerman’s first problem after the shooting is his name.  Zimmerman is a common Jewish name, and so not only was he seen as white (sight unseen), but a Jew.

Anyone who has spent much time travelling around America knows that anti-Semitism lives, especially among black cultures.

We know that anti-Semitism is entrenched deeply among many peoples globally.  Among American blacks anti-Semitism must be among the highest.

To be sure, I saw plenty of anti-Semitism in Europe, and in the UK, and of course in the Middle East.  I personally know American whites who are anti-Semitic.

Yet the severest anti-Semitism I have seen in Europe or North America came from American blacks, some of who seem as anti-Semitic as Iraqi Arabs.

It is no coincidence that our special relationship with Israel began to tank the day Obama stepped into the Oval office.  Israel is loaded with Zimmermans and if Obama were viewed as cozy with Jews or Israel that would undermine his base.

George Zimmerman had a packaging problem.  Some people would side for or against him because he is half-white, and millions of others would side against him because he is “Jewish.” In fact, he is Catholic, yet there is no doubt he would lose net support with a Jewish name.

This means many whites in America and abroad who may have otherwise sided with Zimmerman based on the facts, likely would jump ship because they wrongly saw him as Jewish, and so would not check the facts so that they could go with a narrative that leads to their desired endstate.

There is yet another complicating factor: Guns.

Most people realize that guns are as charged a topic in America as is racism.  This topic brings out severe emotions.  To say to many Europeans or Americans that you own guns is tantamount to saying you are a Satanist.

“Castle” and “stand your ground” laws that allow homeowners and others to defend themselves are seen as barbaric.  “How dare you shoot someone just because three young men approached you and your wife and daughters on a dark night and said give me your money and keys! (And wife and daughters.)”

Vice President Joe Biden himself, on national television, said that he gave his wife Jill the advice that if someone breaks into their home, go out to the balcony with the double barreled shotgun and fire two shots into the air.  Any combat troop or law officer will say that is about the worst advice imaginable.  The list of reasons why this is terrible advice would be longer than this dispatch.

Millions of Americans want all guns swept off the streets.  Anyone who uses one, even in self-defense, will be taken as a savage and used as a sacrificial lamb when possible.  Obama wants the guns.  Zimmerman the white Jew (really half Latino and Catholic) used a gun to defend himself.  He was a perfect political tool for Obama.

This was a recipe for madness, especially so among Americans who will often loquaciously comment on articles and then admit they did not bother to read the contents.

There was a joke in Afghanistan – factually based – that if you say something three times to Afghans it becomes “true.”  The first person who says something three times is right.  The new truth becomes entrenched.  “These aren’t the Droids you’re looking for.”

From a propaganda perspective, whoever got there first owned the message.

Millions of Americans are similar, and millions of Americans are not sufficiently literate to read this dispatch.  If you are a foreigner whose first language is not English, and you understand this dispatch, your reading comprehension is no doubt as high or higher than most Americans.

If Zimmerman’s name was Gonzales, a typical Latino name, there is a high probability few of us would have heard of the case.

One of the best ways to ameliorate this severe racism is to stop accepting the race card without proof.  When racism happens, we must call it out no matter who displays it, including the President.

We must stop accepting the race card as a coupon that can be exchanged for gold, and start remembering that two lynchings do not make a right.


Michael Yon

Michael Yon is America's most experienced combat correspondent. He has traveled or worked in 82 countries, including various wars and conflicts.

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