The Soul of Black Folk Revisited
I have been moving deliberately to answer the compulsion to write this the past several days, well before reading this morning that basketball great LeBron James noted “being black in America is tough” regarding a racial epithet scrawled at the entrance of his home in Los Angeles.
My line of thought entering my fourth week in Tokyo is: It is trying but strengthening, both mentally and spiritually (or mind/body/soul) to be seen as “black” almost anywhere in the world; and often just plain complicated being seen as “American.”
Of course the thinking is rooted in the plight of African Americans since our ancestors were captured and sold into slavery: What does not kill, or break your will, makes you stronger.
And there is the perspective that is worldwide except in the United States, and stems from our “Ugly American” ways, mannerisms and expressions, that has it “Americans are just different.”
First, being African American. The thoughts are unavoidable as you go about the routine of everyday life — as you are forced to lose your personal identity or sense of self and realize you are a part of a much greater whole as all around you people see you as different because of your skin color.
Much of the reaction to you is based on a lack of familiarity, perhaps a fear of the unknown; but most certainly derived from stereotypes conveyed by Hollywood and the news media, both which subjectively focus on the sensational or what comports to a narrative of white supremacy.
Last week I posted on Facebook a photo taken from a community board outside a Tokyo community police station displaying the images of wanted criminals, noting I look like none of them yet people seem to secure their bag and look over a shoulder when I approach or pass.
You try to not let it bother you. But, it cannot help be somewhat of a downer to the psyche and your sense of universality no matter how great your self-esteem and resiliency because of the constancy.
Yet, you cannot take out your discomfort on the people making you uncomfortable because somehow your mere appearance disrupts their sense of comfort.
So, you have no choice but to lose yourself and claim your universality.
You become an ambassador of the universe in dispelling and shattering the stereotypes; in giving all those you encounter greater exposure and familiarity to make known for them the unknown and bridge differences between you and they.
African Americans are more spiritual because of this reality of so often being seen as “other,” and having to find/claim our rightful place in this world through belief in divinity or a higher power than the fellow human beings who harshly prejudge or differentiate us.
This spirituality can be personal, as well as organized into a religion or system of beliefs; but it always is there as a guiding light and abiding spirit.
It is evident in the eyes and faces of other African Americans and people of color encountered here and wherever we are a distinct minority, as we look into each other’s eyes, give a subtle head nod or make a gesture with a hand or fist when we happen to pass on the street.
And one decides to have fun with the rest of the world. To live life with joy rather than apprehension, realizing the mantra I gained from a song title by Sananda Maitreya (Terence Trent D’arby): “Angels Fly Because They Take Themselves Lightly.”
So yesterday when a lady turned and grabbed her shoulder bag tightly as I passed, I grabbed mine likewise and looked back at her until we both smiled and laughed.
Our differences should draw us together towards greater discussion and understanding, rather than continue to divide and leave us all misunderstood.
On being seen as an American. Tokyo is very much an open city, with unhindered access along streets and through alleyways right up to the doors of homes and garages.
However, the other day: Bam! There was a barrier on the sidewalk, a police officer, and a sign that read: “The road is closed on this side as security against terrorism. Thank you for your kind attention.” And on the sign was a camera icon and the words: “No photos or video.”
Perplexed, I crossed the street and walked along with other pedestrians, wondering what in the world could be going on in this high-security, secretive building. Then I saw the flag of the United States of America. It was the U.S. Embassy, or as they say here the American Embassy.
I have regularly walked by the British Embassy here, and run by it near daily opposite Imperial Palace. There are security barriers in the driveway, and a couple guards, but nothing to impede pedestrian traffic or make a visitor feel unwelcome.
Why does the U.S. Embassy require such fortification, I wondered as I saw accordion street barricades that can be rolled in place in seconds, counted a dozen police officers and a half-dozen police buses — and the advisory signs posted in each direction?
I told a police officer that I am from the United States, and asked if I could take a picture? He smiled, and indicated in a light-hearted manner that I should not. So, I walked on and snapped photos from a distance.
I wondered why the U.S. Embassy required such security, and decided to check if such precautions were in place elsewhere or if this was paranoia that may have been implemented by the current White House?
Yesterday, I happened by the Russian Embassy, and it too had heightened security in place with maybe a half-dozen police officers and several police buses, as well as the accordion barricades that can be spread across the roadway. I passed the Embassy of Turkey, and there was no obtrusive security.
Today, I walked by the Australian Embassy, and like the British Embassy there were only the basic guards and driveway barriers. The same is true of the French Consulate, called the French Embassy here, which houses visa offices and well as serves as the residence of the Ambassador.
The question came was it the rogue nations — those bombing Syria into oblivion — that require heightened security; remembering a post from last week following the Manchester bombing that stated “without war there would be no terrorism?”
Without war I would be able to walk streets in the capital of another country and not be visually and psychologically reminded that “Americans are just different.”