The Naked Black Man at Narita Airport
Baye McNeil
443

Engagingly written, thanks!

I noticed a while back that the negative stereotypes among Europeans about tourists from the US show that African-Americans truly epitomize what it is to be a true American, at least in this generation —

Americans are noisy, over-consuming, flashy, rootless, and above all obsessed with cleanliness and shallow materialism. So goes the European down-the-nose objectifying gaze. Americans have vulgar tastes, are too quick to smile, credulous. They like goods with labels.

Americans yell across the room at each other, and disturb the conversations of those around them. You see where I’m going with all this — your article does indeed show that Americans abroad are seen with the same kinds of colored lenses that African-Americans at home are seen by the WASPish tastemakers.

I remember one autumn when I was newly out in the world beyond the east coast Jewish neighborhood that I grew up in and went to a luncheon at a traditional ladies’ society to find everything made up for Christmas, including the ladies’ white hair and red polyester suits, the tables decorated with poinsettias and the smell of mulled wine in the air. Suddenly I was a kinky-haired forest creature tracking dirt into the house. Call me naive, but I was genuinely shocked. Taken aback. These people were so nice, generally. Why were they acting like I was ruining the party? Why do I have to watch my mouth and check under my fingernails? They seemed to be thinking, ‘do those people have to show up everywhere? can’t we have a little peace and quiet?’

It taught me a very valuable lesson — don’t take it for granted that Jews get to be counted as white nowadays for most legal and social purposes. Emancipation is a whole lot better than the alternatives. Not all that we might dream it could be, but still.