Monday, May 16, 2011

Stories From the Past Looking Forward

Many years ago when I was a student of Tai Chi, and while lunching with friends from our group in Chinatown, I entered a small trinkets shop to ask, why were they selling small figurines of African, Black males, on display in the window? 

It didn't make sense to me, I couldn't on the surface of things and as I stood outside the shop wondering, why would an Asian shop owner have such items for sale?  When I entered the store and after looking around a moment or two, I asked the question of why?  Why sell black figurines? 

The shop owner was an elderly man who was kind enough to answer my question and with insight and at the same time; the shop owner also taught me a little something about Han culture.  He said that the Han saw American Blacks who had been oppressed for so long, but who had fought oppression, he said the Han saw them as role models, that their struggle to overcome suppression and the seeming timeless hatred and discrimination against them.  Blacks had survived so much against them and Blacks were to be admired.  His answer did surprise me, it was unexpected.

The Han shop owner went on to correct something I was completely unaware of as well and that was, my use of the word, "Chinese."  In our discussion, I must have used the name Chinese but, he was quick to note and to inform me politely that the "Chinese" were not really "Chinese." He informed and educated me to the fact that the so called "Chinese," are really of the Han people and call themselves Han. 

(Doing some research just yesterday on this, I found that there's more to what is involved and there are divisions of the Han people based on Dynasty periods and so forth but that's a side issue). 

Suffice to say, I treasure the memory of that day in the shop with my friends.  It was a moment and point of contact, and a sharing I never would have otherwise dreamed of. 

Alternatively, in another completely different context - yesterday, I shared a story with my neighbor as we made our way over to pick up some groceries.  I hadn't seen her all winter and we talked over ourselves often in our conversations but, I shared with her another story that I will share with visitors here. 

I told her of a young girl, perhaps twenty five years ago who lived in my neighborhood.  She was African American and lived in one of the less than luxury tenements in our neighborhood of million dollar brownstones. 

I saw this long ago neighbor one day and barely recognized her, she had grown up.  I hadn't seen her in twenty years more or less.  She told me she had just stepped off a plane from Japan and that she was a Japanese resident for many years.  She moved to Japan years ago and began teaching, started a family with a Japanese man she fell in love with but that day she was visiting relatives in New York. 

(Oddly, I saw her again on her last day of the visit, as she was preparing to board a plane back to Japan with her daughter who of course was fluent in Japanese.) 

She explained to me that she was making a nice living in Japan, teaching and singing in Jazz clubs. She also had other business interests of starting her own school, in other words, she had a whole new life. 

She also shared how her daughter was ostracized, made fun of for being African American and Chinese but you might think, that would be expected.  The Japanese are conservative people with certain set views on any number of things, interracial marriage with one of their own is one of their social taboos apparently.  Who can say? 

At any rate, she told me something I will always remember.  Her in-laws didn't particularly like her at first.  They were afraid of her and for their son.  She was American.  She was African American.  She had a gun.  All African Americans own and carry guns.  In parenthesis, all African Americans are violent. 

Why wouldn't the Japanese consider that the overwhelming majority of Americans across the country own and carry guns and that they are not African American but Caucasian Americans? 

My former young neighbor told me that, Japanese TV always showed Blacks in America as "being violent."  Her in laws were frankly afraid for quite a while, of her and what a life with her would be for their son.  Blacks were always involved in some violent crime or other, they had seen this countless times on Japanese television. 

I contrast the two scenarios here because they are fresh in my mind and because, they point to the importance of perspective

Yes, perspective, a right (or wrong) way of thinking, thinking freely or being brainwashed and, the necessity for each of us in our own way and time, for each of us to be be tolerant with each the other and to be free thinkers as much as possible.  If we could only get a handle on that, we as individuals and the we of nations would have come a great distance in terms of peaceful co-existence, brotherhood, fellowship and outright evolution of the species. 

Despite propaganda media, despite our obvious phenotype differences and freedom of restriction of freedom of thought and expression - we can chose the high road and thankfully many of us do on a daily basis. It's something that requires constant vigilance though.  I know, the statement above may sound too simplistic and maybe even, unsophisticated and naive but, be that as it may. 

One thing seems clear to me, when we let go of our God given ability to be free thinkers and fellows in this world of a multitude of others who do not think like us or look like us but who are "us" in the final, human analysis - we have lost our humanity or some vital part of our humanity. The loss of humanity is one thing.  The poor thing is barbaric or uncivilized or stupid or backwards or whatever but pathological fear of others who are different makes it easy and by necessity or by extension, some would say, easier to destroy or look to destroy the different ones and those who think differently.

Xenophobia is a pathology state.  A sickness that stems in part from from fear and misinterpretation of others who are different and who think and live differently than we do and those in our race, our group, our clique, our church, our club, our neighborhood or hood. The list goes on and on, doesn't it? 

We should not only struggle ourselves but actively teach our children to think clearly and freely as much as possible even as, we go globally into a darker period in our collective global times.  It is more important now than perhaps ever that we try harder to have the correct perspective and to teach our young ones the same.

But back to the story, apparently, the Chinese do not have the same media coverage that the Japanese do or if they do, at least some portion of the people chose, I should repeat they used their free will and chose (certainly at least in this instance of one Han man in New York city selling black male figurines); to  see American Blacks as heroic and not violent! Perspective.  

All joking aside about the media, it is one that has and does focus on Black crime and violence as we all know - somewhere in there, current day Han people put it together in small art objects, little black figurines, in order to make a statement and pass it on through display and sales to others.  They chose to see after coming to know that the struggles for equality and freedom of African Americans in America as heroic and worthy and beautiful. 

The Japanese don't hold all the conservative cards though, do they?  Han society is in many regards also conservative and there are present day issues with the arts and in other areas that point to the severity of government of China in terms of blocking information, Internet, discourse etc. With their long history and tradition, they too will have to grow up and let go of some of their conservatism as the future unfolds for them as well.  The growing up for the Han going forward will be more as a rejuvenation, a youthful turn of the tide away from conservatism. 

(They have a new relationship with Africa which is also interesting as their country grows and expands going forward.) 

Perspective and a lifetime of struggle to reach a correct perspective for ourselves and our loved ones who are presumably the future of this world is everything.  In contrast to the commercial of some recent times in which the slogan was:  "The right relationship is everything." 

Honestly, if the right relationship is everything it may only be in the context of the right perspective in relationships being everything. 

We owe it to ourselves not to be brainwashed as much as it is within our power to be free and, as much as it may go against the grain of society as our collective societies reach a decline (or as the kids say, "burst of the bubble"). 

Han China and Japan may need to grow up but we need to grow up in the traditional sense of the world. Our country is young.  America needs to grow up but in the true sense of the word, grow up from our our own brand of fears and class differences, of the threats and horrors of our past racist history, etc.  Tolerance, tolerance and more tolerance of others because, we live with so many different cultures and ethnic groups, our case is perhaps a special one. 

The correct perspective, so hard to come by perhaps but now more than every, correct perspective is what is so necessary.