The American Psyche
I’m quite sad today. Sad. Disgusted. Angry. Troubled.
I also feel a bit lost. Utterly without answers.
My race has always been an interesting topic in my life. Growing up, I was surrounded by white kids. I went to a private K-8 and high school. During my high school years, I read The Autobiography of an ex-Colored Man. At this point in my life, I have vague recollections of the text, but I finally had a name for how I felt. “Passing.”
For African Americans, the notion of passing is well worn ground. For my parents’ generation, there was the brown bag test. If you were a child of mixed race descent and you showed up at a door, if you were darker than a brown paper bag, you were treated one way, lighter than, another.
Even Spike Lee addresses this topic on School Daze, an unremarkable movie in the Lee canon, but the dichotomy of light skinned blacks and dark skinned blacks haunted me as I left for college.
At the University of Pennsylvania, I become much more acutely aware of racial issues. There was one cafeteria, Class of 1920 Commons, where it was literally whites on one side, blacks on the other. I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now.
My light skin has often put me into positions where I hear things not intended for minority ears. Offensive things. Terrible things.
I also have had some pushback from African Americans who tell me, in no uncertain terms, that I don’t know what it’s like to be “black.”
Here’s the thing. Life is hard enough without all of us trying to find ways to separate ourselves from one another. Hurt each other. Kill each other. We all have to get up every day, raise our kids if we have them, go to our jobs if we have one, and hopefully find fulfillment along the way.
My experience isn’t unique per se. It has put me into strange places where I hear how people talk about race in America. Where they talk about how they really feel, when “other” ears aren’t listening. So much of what I have observed seems to stem from a lack of connection and understanding between people. These same problems extend to many of the religious wars which have occurred in the past 2,000 years.
Removing the black white nature of the most recent killing of Philando Castile, there should be little reason for Americans to be afraid of their law officers. We aren’t making the police officers jobs easier by allowing anyone to have a gun at any time. However, jumpy cops should no more be afforded the right to have a weapon than any other person who is ill trained or ill prepared to handle a weapon.
All of the cop-on-black crime of late is pissing me off. We are at a unique point in history where there is no way to whitewash the news any longer, sweeping these things under the carpet. Live streaming, for better or worse, plus cell phone cameras have and will forever change the name of the game.
With that as preamble, I have been thinking quite a lot about the American psyche. Why are we having these problems? What is driving it?
Initially, I hypothesized that there is a general level of discontentment which is uniquely American. That makes me even more sad. What follows are some Google autocomplete for queries.
It was that third entry that caught my attention. According to Google, the third most likely search about kids is why they hate their parents. So I asked myself, “who else is worried about being hated?” It turns out, a lot of Americans.
Seriously. What. The. Fuck. About the only thing that assured me that this wasn’t a bug in Google, was the next two. It is also super creepy and a whole lot of ewww. Incest and child abuse. Awesome.
The post was originally going to be about just this odd behavior of Google autosuggest. However, this morning, while ruminating about the most recent cop-civilian crime, I wondered what the same experiment would reveal about the relationship of Americans to cops.
Look at that last one. “Why do cops kill black.” The logical finishing word there is “people.” Corruption. Cheating. Excessive force. Killing blacks. And donuts.
This is where we are as a country. It scares me. It makes me angry. It makes me sad.
Is this a uniquely American problem? To answer that, I used the same feature on Google, but for different countries. I started with Canada, as it’s our kind neighbors to the north, and English is a first tongue. For the purposes of brevity, I am reducing the list of searches.
So Canadians have some similar worries, though the differences are interesting. Farting kids. Canadian husbands appear to have far different perceptions of their relationships with their wives. Whereas Americans wonder why their wives love them, Canadian men wonder why their wives don’t love them.
What about the UK?
Apparently the kids don’t fart, wives do. But UK parents do not worry about their kids hating them.
I have a conversational level of Spanish, and so I decided to do my best to tackle this problem in other languages. There are going to be some issues with this approach. I am not a native speaker, so I am doing direct translations, and will likely miss things like nuance or alternative words. With that said, I wanted to look at Spain and Mexico next.
So in Spain they are worried about their kids not wanting them, not growing, grinding their teeth at night, and not having friends.
Wives are worried why they are not understood, not desired, not touched, and not being slept with. Ouch.
Husbands worry about being lied to, not being made love to, not having relations with them (twice). Also yikes.
Workers worry about not being appreciated, being ignored, treated badly, and getting scolded.
Coworkers are wondering about being bothered by their co-worker or dreaming about them.
Worrying about why their kids use the bathroom (translation issue?), not being obedient, not eating, and not speaking at age 2.
Wives would like to know why their husbands don’t want to make love, kiss them, have relations with them, and no longer touching them.
Husbands wonder why their wives are angry all the time, is indifferent to them, doesn’t want them, and is angry a lot with them.
Employees wonder why their bosses don’t value their work, doesn’t take them into account (presumably for their work), touches their arm, and ignores them.
Coworkers wonder why they aren’t spoken to, are bothered by the people they work with, dream about them, or like them (presumably in a romantic way).
So it would seem that even our Spanish speaking friends have similar issues, though some are slightly different. Creepy arm touching bosses, and yelling wives notwithstanding, what was clear to me from just the Spanish speaking auto-suggest was that we have far too much hate in the world, and not enough love.
Google provides some pretty amazing tools, including their translation site. So I tried my hand with French and German as well. I have no proficiency in either language.
I might be using the wrong word for kids. Or French parents simply do not care what their kids think.
Wives are wondering why their husbands don’t love them, tells them wrong (translation issue), drinks, and hide things.
Husbands wonder why their wives don’t want to make love to them, lie to them, not getting pregnant, and being wrong.
Employees wonder why their bosses aren’t dragging them (translation issue), and not firing them. The last one is about the employee stapling their boss, so I’m guessing this is also a translation issue, or they have some serious Swingline action going on in France.
Much like our Spanish speaking friends, there are some very similar themes, though they are missing out on love, farting, and yelling.
Parents in Germany wonder why their kids hurt themselves, hurts (in general?), understand what they are saying, and sleepwalking.
German wives wonder why their husbands are doing things to them, or hurting (unclear if this is hurting the wives or hurting in general).
German husbands, on the other hand, wonder why their wives don’t have desire for them, have no pleasure (sexual or in general?), or want to sleep with them. The juxtaposition of the German husband and wife issues is quite polar.
Employees have a strange relationship with their bosses. I am guessing this is large a translation issue, but the wonder why their bosses are interested in them, burnout, or kidnap movies. So, yeah.
Coworkers wonder about what to get their coworkers for Christmas, and expect of them. This one didn’t appear to work as well for translate.
I guess I expected more provincial answers to surface from each of the individual country explorations. Lots of anger, hate, suspicion, etc. That was sad to see. Really sad.
Which brings us back to the relationship of the citizenry and the police force. Would we see similar issues to what we saw in the USA?
Spain & Mexico
Strangely these were identical for both google.es and google.mx
Are corrupt, can’t vote, are womanizers, and eat donuts.
blank, don’t pay tickets, not able to enter universities, and not able to vote.
blank, called chickens (slang thing?), are chickens, why 22 cops (not sure about this one — maybe some recent event, or has something to do with squad size?)
blank, why the police rather than the police (translation issue), why municipal police (likely to do with different types of police), and why they come to a home.
Cops doesn’t translate.
why police are blue, no longer green, ??, blue light. I was so hoping that “warum polizei arnold” was a strange reference to a terminator cop.
There’s a little bit of corruption and abuse of power in Canada, some in MX and ES, but nothing about killing people. The European countries seem to have quite a positive relationship with their officers. Which begs the question: why?
What is it about the police forces in the Americas? I don’t have any answers. I am curious to hear others’ opinions. I often hear that we have militarized our police force, but I don’t have enough of a sense of what the police forces are like in other countries. I do know that the first time I saw a semi-automatic rife, it was being worn by a police officer in Mexico.
My speculation was that it has to do with the diverse set of cultures, values, and ethnicities coming together in these police-citizen relationships. Is there common ground between those who are citizens and those who are sworn to protect and serve?
How often are the police members of the communities they are policing? Never mind if they are the same race, or ethnicity; how often do they live in the same neighborhoods, and are emotionally invested in the well being of the relationships they have with the citizens they are supposed to be protecting?
At the risk of sounding like a hippie, which as a die hard capitalist I am unlikely to ever be called, we need more love and understanding in the world. Husbands loving wives. Kids loving parents. Bosses loving employees — well, not “loving” them in the way that some of the searches suggest they would like to love their employees.
Technology is an amazing thing. With freely available tools, I was able to write this article and publish it to the world, complete with translations in languages I don’t even speak. Cell phones with cameras connected to social networks allow for instantaneous capturing of life events, for good and for bad. Technology can help solve many problems.
My challenge to fellow tech entrepreneurs: instead of more ad tech or another social networking app (which, if we are being honest, is really about selling ads, not some altruistic coming together in a social cohesion), what can we do to bring more love and understanding to the world? To our communities?
To the cops out there: stop shooting black Americans. They are American citizens. You are sworn to protect and serve them. I’ve never been a cop, and have no idea what the stresses of even a common traffic stop must be. That said: stop. killing. black. americans.
As to the gun rights folks. For a long time I have believed that the 2nd amendment was an important one to uphold. When it was written, a good man could fire 3 aimed shots in a minute. The armed militia was meant to be able to oppose a governmental army. However, that army had similar weapons. If we as a people decided to go to war with our government, the outcome would be quite bad for the citizenry. The weapons aren’t even close in comparison. The only way it would be fair, or close to it, is if we ended up fighting a similar war to what is going on in the Middle East, with IEDs, and illegally imported weapons, at which point we’re no longer talking about a 2nd Amendment issue.
I was at a party a few weeks back. Someone walked in with a gun on his hip. He wasn’t a cop. He did not have a conceal carry permit. Apparently the state allowed open carry. Until that point, I had never seen this before. It was weird. And super uncomfortable for everyone at the party. No one there knew this person, and he walked in with a gun. When I am on the road, I know with a high degree of confidence that the people in other cars have licenses issued by the state after passing a test with mandatory training. Why are we not doing the same with weapons. When any person, in any mental state, can walk into a shop and buy a guy, I don’t feel safer at all.
Put another way: find every mentally unstable person you can. Find every drunk you can. Find every person who has a score to settle. Find every teenager you can. Now give them all a car and set them loose on the road in a small city. Then get in your car and you go out. Tell me how safe you feel. Now, replace “car” with “gun.”
This post was all over the place; I get it. I just had a lot on my mind, and tried to piece it together into a cohesive narrative. I am sure an editor would have a field day with it. I can’t wait to see the comments and feedback.
Originally published at Many Niches.